To the casual observer, Calley Anderson started her journey toward becoming a successful playwright as an undergrad at Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina.
Her love affair with the drama and pageantry of theater, though, began at the Orpheum Theatre when she was “around 11 or 12.”
The Tony-Award-winning production of “Aida,” a contemporary opera, featuring the music of Elton John and Tim Rice, ignited the stage with an electrifying performance that left a lasting impression on Anderson.
She tucked it away in the place where dreams take root in the heart.
“I remember being struck by this world, where a world beyond my own could be made real right in front of me,” said Anderson. “It was one of those moments that my brain stored that wouldn’t fully materialize again until college. That’s where I took my first play analysis class and started to find the right language for exactly why theater moved me.”
Still, Anderson’s “aha” moment would not come until three years later.
She was fascinated, not only with the magic and fantasy acted out on a stage, but also with the creative ability of the playwright, to create a world with the power to move and transform an audience.
Fast forward to 2021, and Anderson is wrapping up an impressive year with the exclusive class of Dramatists Guild Foundation (DGF) Fellows.
The most promising and gifted playwrights, composers, lyricists and book writers are selected from a talented field of hopefuls.
Ten made the cut in Anderson’s 2020-21 Fellows class.
The program provides budding, talented writers access to accomplished professionals, who help them “find their unique voice” through one-on-one mentoring and staged presentations of their work, according to the DGF Fellows website.
Anderson has developed and matured at every adventure along the way.
After college, Anderson became part of the Hattiloo Theatre family. Armed with a degree in English and concentration in Film and Media Studies, Anderson took on the role of programs coordinator.
She gleaned valuable experience in forging community relationships and overseeing artistic internships and administration of youth programs.
After two years at Hattiloo, Anderson spent a year with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra as the diversity and inclusion manager.
Although both positions kept Anderson close to live stage performances, Anderson knew there only was one job that would fulfill what she understood as her destiny — becoming a playwright.
So, back to school she went. In 2017, Anderson applied to The New School of Drama in New York City. Three years later, she had completed her master’s degree in Fine Arts.
Along the way, a number of awards and positions of note as an outstanding, young playwright have filled her resume.
Among them are University of Memphis Department of Theatre and Dance Commissioned Playwright, 2020-21, member of the American Theatre Group PlayLab, 2020-22; finalist in the R&D Group for “The Civilians,” and finalist in the Incubation Series, Egg & Spoon Theatre Collective, 2021.
Before securing her place among the DGF Fellows, Anderson has been a member of the Dramatists Guild since 2018, while still in grad school.
There’s no turning back for Anderson. Even when prospects looked murky, she never stopped moving toward her goal.
“Here I am now, still committed, pandemic and all,” said Anderson. “And it’s not just about the playwriting part, but about the kinds of stories I want to explore and the characters I want to interrogate and unearth.
“My work picks at truth and the many definitions of it, even when it’s difficult.”
Anderson is the younger daughter of Belinda Anderson and Calvin Anderson, president of Best Media Properties, the parent company of The New Tri-State Defender.
(Read more about Anderson at calleynanderson.com.)