UWF student brings original production to the stage
University of West Florida theatre and English literature student Deja Gamble will present her original play “Wishful Thinking,” March 24-25 at 7:30 p.m. in the Besser Theatre at UWF’s Center for Fine and Performing Arts on the Pensacola campus. Entrance is free and based on a first-come basis.
As a child growing up in West Palm Beach, Florida, Gamble was a natural creative dreamer. That creativity evolved into a love for writing short fiction stories and eventually, theatrical playwriting.
While still in high school, two of Gamble’s 10-minute plays were published and produced by Palm Beach Dramaworks which really sparked her love of playwriting for the stage.
The idea for “Wishful Thinking” came to Gamble when she was a senior in high school. “I saw a dandelion fly past me on a full moon night and thought that someone must have lost their wish,” Gamble said. “That sparked the idea and I went on to write the whole play in a span of two weeks. I have been rewriting and editing it ever since.”
“Wishful Thinking” takes place in a magical world of fairies who are responsible for granting human wishes. The main character, flower fairy Ollie Petal, finally gets to grant her first wish, but it is stolen from her. If she doesn’t find and grant that wish in one week, she will be executed by the king. It is a tale of goodness in a sometimes dark and scary world, and about the journey to fulfill a noble destiny.
In 2020, Gamble started her freshman year at UWF and found faculty in the theatre department dedicated to helping students hone their crafts and a community of students helping students.
Each week, theatre students are invited to attend a portion of the faculty meetings to provide input on potential department-sponsored productions and to submit proposals for student-led projects. In early 2022, Gamble was invited to hold a table reading of “Wishful Thinking” and later learned her play had received the green light.
“The energy at the table read was amazing,” Gamble said. “We laughed; we cried; there was applause at the end. It was a beautiful experience for me. After a few more rewrites, I thought the play was ready.”
Marci Duncan, assistant professor of acting, said once student proposals have been accepted, they are encouraged to begin searching for funding opportunities available through University resources.
“That search always starts with the Office of Undergraduate Research,” Duncan said. “Many of our theatre students have been awarded OUR grants to fund student-led productions, work studies, conference travel and professional audition fees.”
Gamble worked with the OUR team who explained grant opportunities and the application process. She was awarded a project grant through OUR and grants from UWF’s Alumni Association and Student Government Association. To fill in additional gaps in funding, Gamble made and sold backpack and clothing pins.
To help Gamble learn about getting a script produced and ready for the stage, she received an OUR work-study grant to develop the play under the mentorship of Duncan.
“Deja is smart, creative and very motivated,” Duncan said. “When she first started this process, she was very nervous about being able to write, produce and direct a play predominantly on her own. Since then, she has been gaining more confidence every day. I am so proud of how far she has come.”
OUR also encouraged Gamble to submit a proposal to have her play presented at the 2023 National Conference of Undergraduate Research in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. NCUR hosts almost 4,000 students from across the globe and features students from all fields and academic disciplines who present the results of their research and creative work. Gamble’s proposal was selected and “Wishful Thinking” will be performed by the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire theatre department at the conference in April. Gamble will be in attendance to introduce the play and to answer audience questions afterward.
“UWF theatre has taught me what I really want to do in life,” Gamble said. “Now I know that my passion can be my profession, and that is playwriting.”
As Gamble completes her last semester at UWF, she is focused on big plans for her future which include applying for internships with professional theatre companies throughout the U.S. and saving for graduate school.
“Through all of these experiences, Deja has learned how to ask for help, build her confidence as an artist and really put herself out there,” Duncan said.” All are skills she will take with her into the world and help make a space for herself creatively as a young black woman.”
For more information about UWF’s Department of Theatre program, visit uwf.edu/theatre.