University of Central Florida student Alex Hehr recently won the inaugural National Planet Earth Arts Award for the American College Theatre Festival for his original piece Biodegradable Seagulls.

The award, presented at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., was given to a play that addresses environment, climate change, or society’s impact on sustainability. 

“I was ecstatic to find out I had won the award. Trash, litter, and the mistreatment of animals were huge themes for my piece, so I am very happy it was recognized,” said Hehr. 

Hehr, who is graduating with a bachelor’s in theatre studies this week, was notified by the festival that his play was chosen as a top-four finalist for the national John Cauble Short Play Award, out of 16 regional nominations. He was invited to attend the festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. with the other finalists and selected other playwrights competing for or accepting national awards.

During his time at the festival, he attended workshops and performances with notable theatre pedagogues such as Mark Bly, former chair of the playwriting program at Yale University, and playwrights such as Migdalia Cruz, Moises Kaufman, and Robert Schenkkan.

Hehr also got to see a staged reading of Biodegradable Seagulls. His play was directed by Colin Hovde, artistic director of Theater Alliance in DC, and starred Tim Getman [Rockefeller in TV’s The Men Who Built America] and Justin Weaks.

Theatre associate professor Be Boyd has mentored Hehr throughout his career at UCF. “Alex is an extremely bright and talented student. He is also a gifted playwright. His insight into the human condition is unique for someone his age,” she said.

Biodegradable Seagulls is a beautiful story of a happenstance friendship that turns into a story of survival. After seeing the script and watching the mounting of the first production through Project Spotlight, I encouraged Alex to submit the script to the KCACTF Regional Festival Playwriting Competition because I saw something remarkable in the piece. This is not the first piece Alex has written. His body of work poses philosophical questions and prompts social discussion. It won’t be long before he is a significant voice in American theatre.”

Hehr credited the university for his success while he was at the festival. “I think the greatest gift Theatre UCF has given me is professionalism. Thanks to the faculty and professors, I was trained well on handling networking and professional events so I was able to connect to famous theatre coordinators and playwrights confidently and successfully.” 

Hehr is currently the production assistant for the Orlando Fringe Festival. His plans are to stay in Orlando until July 2017, during which time he plans to continue working in theatres, as well as writing plays and running workshops. In the summer of 2017, he will move to Chicago where he hopes to pursue a master’s degree in playwriting.