Shinning a light into the dark is one of the themes Gainesville playwright Isaac Hopkins explores with his work.
The 22-year-old recently received a Fulbright Grant Award, allowing him to travel to Caledonia, Ontario, in Canada to work for nine months on his latest project — a play about a native rights land claim protest in 2006.
“So the story about the protest in Caledonia, Ontario, is about a community that never came together,” Hopkins said. “The natives and white Canadians live in such proximity and never came together.”
Hopkins explained the people on both sides of the issue broke treaties.
“I think it would be kind of pointless to assign blame,” he said. “I don’t think that’s what the point of the play is, but to look at what happens when you share a space with someone and how that changes who you are and how you interact with them. That’s kind of what I’ve been getting at.”
The play will be the third in a trilogy of plays Hopkins has written exploring the topics of small, contentious pieces of land.
“The native topics are really under-represented in the American theater,” Hopkins said. “That’s always what you’re after, trying to shine a light into the darkest corner of the room.”
Hopkins leaves for Ontario next month, giving him until May to finish his research.
“I don’t think it’s a play I could have written without going there for a while,” he said about why he chose to live in Caledonia for three-quarters of a year. “I love working with historical pieces. Snippets of historical information is always kind of the basis for my shows.”
The other two plays in the trilogy also take notes from history. The first is about a tiny island off coast of Haiti.
“It’s so far away in terms of time and place and culture that it was so inaccessible ...” he said, adding the U.S. government does not permit people to visit the island.
The second centers on White Sulphur Springs.
“The first one has been performed, the other one is kind of hot off the presses,” he said, noting the second in the trilogy was finished only a few months ago.
Hopkins acknowledged the plays he writes are a little different and said he doesn’t do the kind of plays that get made into movies.
“I’ve known for a little while, too, that scholarship and sort of academic theater might be a niche for me,” the history buff said.
Hopkins considers himself a lover of literature, history and music. He said he uses that as inspiration.
“Art sort of generates art,” he said.
Hopkins has been writing plays since he was 14 years old. In high school, under the direction of Gainesville High School Theater Director Pam Ware, Hopkins produced six plays.
Ware said she met Hopkins — who uses I.B. professionally as his first name — when he took her intro to drama class as a middle schooler. During a playwright unit in one of her classes, Hopkins started writing monologues. From there he graduated to penning 10-minute scenes.
She said it was at that point Hopkins realized his talent and interest in playwriting. From there, he progressed to writing hourlong and full-length plays.
“I can’t say enough nice (things) about him,” Ware said. “He’s got an eye for character development, for staging and I can’t think of a better person to have this honor than Isaac Hopkins.”
Hopkins has even proven his writing talent in New York City. Hopkins collaborated with Noah Haines to write the musical “Jimmy! A Musical Fable with Almost No Historical Basis,” which was staged August 2014 at the Irondale Center in the city’s Brooklyn Arts District. The Georgia duo garnered the prestige of having the play run for a week off Broadway after winning a contest sponsored by the National Theatre for Student Artists.
It was one of many projects Hopkins and Haines worked on together. In fact, they wrote a holiday musical titled “We Three Queens,” which was produced upstairs at Inman Perk Coffee in downtown Gainesville in 2013. They have also assisted Ware with her summer community theater programs.
Ware said she’s unsure if anyone in Gainesville has ever received a Fulbright award but believes Hopkins is the first person from Gainesville’s theater program to get one.
“I’m just as proud as any mother duck could be,” Ware said. “I’ve been very fortunate to have been blessed with students who care and who have a passion for theater, who know what it can do for them as individuals as far as teaching communication skills, being able to express oneself and being able to be confident in what they do.”
After graduating from high school, Hopkins attended the University of Georgia. It was there where he and some friends founded a company that wrote and performed new plays and musicals in non-traditional locations such as upstairs at Inman Perks or the bamboo forest at Brenau University.
He said it’s the support he’s received from the community that is likely the reason he gravitates toward writing plays about communities.
Hopkins is a proud graduate of the UGA honors program. He completed bachelor’s degrees in English and theater studies in December 2015. It was a presentation on the Fulbright program he saw while attending UGA that inspired him to send in his own proposal.
He worked with an adviser at UGA before submitting his proposal for the grant in November. For the creative writing grant, Hopkins had to submit a writing sample — one of his previous plays — along with letters of recommendations and a general grant proposal outlining specifically who he is and why he wants to do it.
“That was a good bit of writing and a lot of revising,” he said.
It worked for Hopkins and others. This year, a record 14 UGA students received Fulbrights, which is unique for a non-Ivy League school.
As part of the grant, Hopkins had to find a scholar to work with while on site — one of the best parts of the grant, Hopkins said. He will work with Ric Knowles, a respected playwright who is a friend of one of Hopkins’ professors.
“He’s an incredible director, writer, all of those things,” Hopkins said.
Although the two haven’t met in person yet, Hopkins said he hears Knowles is very intense.
“I’m excited to work with him,” he said. “He’s really good in kind of a scary way.”
Hopkins learned the good news about receiving the award in May. The bad news was he has just committed to attend Boston University to study playwriting. The university’s program is notoriously small and only about two people are accepted every other year, Hopkins said.
When he returns from Ontario in May, Hopkins will look at attending other schools to further study his craft since he will not be able to start at Boston at that point.
In the meantime, Hopkins is preparing for his monthslong adventure north of the border. He will spend his time in Canada in the field conducting research with the ultimate goal of completing his play.
“I think that in the future we will see I.B. Hopkins’ name in the Big Apple,” Ware said. “I think we will definitely see his name in lights in New York, whether it be an off Broadway show or Broadway”