John Norton ’20MA, a former Theatre UCF graduate student, has been awarded a Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Award for his play Triggered. Centered on the CEO of a firearms company and his marketing advisors following a tragic shooting, the one-act play grapples with sensitive and relevant topics. Norton has a history of creating plays that tackle the response to tragedy, including a play about the Challenger shuttle that had been scheduled to be performed at UCF Celebrates the Arts 2020.
The Kennedy Center Citizen Award is given to productions in higher education that promote long-term societal impact through an artistic lens. Triggered, which exemplifies empathetic exploration of the complex cultural and physical world and to advocate for justice, was among the top four plays recognized.
“My goal with this piece was to explore issues across multiple levels,” says Norton. “On the surface, Triggered is a play about the American firearms industry. However, I wanted to use this very specific world as a vehicle to have conversations about larger topics such as gun culture in this country as a whole, the line between healthy and toxic masculinity, and how those two concepts intersect.”
Norton is particularly excited to have won the Kennedy Center Citizen Award. “Winning the Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Award is an incredible honor and along with the wonderful notoriety it provides for both myself and Theatre UCF, it gives me a tremendous sense of validation as a writer in terms of not only the specific scripts I pen, but the kinds of stories I want to tell,” he says.
Norton is known for his thought-provoking plays. In 2020, his play The Ultimate Field Trip paid tribute to the doomed crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger. The shuttle, which held Christa McAuliffe, a schoolteacher from New Hampshire, tragically exploded upon launch. The play explores the circumstances that allowed this disaster to occur and the reaction to the loss from the eyes of her students who witnessed it. Although it was meant to be featured in UCF Celebrates the Arts 2020, the performance was cancelled due to the pandemic.
“As a writer, I’ve always been drawn to stories that not only invoke strong emotions but allow me to explore larger issues. On its surface, The Ultimate Field Trip is a history play, retelling the tragic events of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and the inner-agency fallout thereafter while also meditating on heroism, honor, and many other incredible traits of humanity,” explains Norton.
During his time at UCF, Norton also wrote a thesis as part of the Theatre MA program. His research, entitled “Stages of Color: An Exploration of Drama Through a Chromatic Lens,” has been published in UCF STARS. Focused on the use of color within theatrical productions and how it affects audience perception, Norton’s thesis uses hypothetical theatrical productions as case studies to draw conclusions about how intentional use of color can transform works into something entirely new.
As Norton continues his education at Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film and Television to pursue his MFA in Screenwriting, he is looking forward to pursuing his career.
“Upon graduation, my goal is to work professionally in both theatre and the film industry,” he shares. “I have the incredible fortune of getting to tell stories for a living and I never want to squander the opportunities that provides me, including and especially the ability to continue exploring aspects of the human condition that too often we dismiss or purposefully ignore out of the fear of what discoveries about ourselves we might end up making. To me, this is the job of all artists, and it is one I count myself very lucky to get to take on.”