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UMKC theatre student Hieu Bui smiling and laughing
The Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival selected Hiêú Bùi’s play, “The Medicine Man,” for their annual festival. (UMKC Conservatory Twitter)

When UMKC undergraduate theatre student Hiêú Bùi attended the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) in January 2020, he did not expect it to select his own play months later for the same festival. 

The KCACTF is a national program that selects students from universities across America to recognize their creative skills. More than 16 million theatergoers have attended the 10,000 festival productions nationwide. Although the festival is online this year, people will still get a chance to see plays like Bùi’s. 

Bùi’s winning play, “The Medicine Man,” started off as an assignment for his playwriting class. Theatre professor Frank Higgins required students to write a play about two people arguing or fighting over one object. Bùi decided to write about his own great grandfather, who was a 4th generation Vietnamese traditional medicine man. The main conflict of the play is about the struggles of roles and tradition. Higgins saw potential in the one-act play and encouraged Bùi to submit “The Medicine Man” for consideration to the KCACTF.

Bùi ended up writing ten drafts before sending the play to KCACTF. 

“I’m still not happy and I think I won’t be for a while,” said Bùi about his winning piece. “The saying for a playwright is ‘it’s done till you see it three times on stage.’”

On Dec. 8, 2020, Bùi received the news that his play was one of the three finalists selected among the thousands of applicants.

“I got to brag about it to my very Vietnamese family who questioned my drive and decision on pursuing theatre,” Bùi said. “It affirmed my love for storytelling.”

The news gave Bùi hope to know someone found value within the story of his great grandfather.  

Bùi has been focusing on extending the one-act play into a full play. After its completion, he plans on finding more festivals to submit to. 

Bùi credits Higgins and his playwriting class for introducing him to his passion for playwriting.

“The playwriting class has been removed from UMKC for the last two semesters, meaning the opportunity for Higgins to inspire other writers has been taken away,” Bùi said. 

The playwriting course is similar to screenwriting courses offered by UMKC, but Bùi stated that a separate playwriting course is still needed. 

“Hopefully before I graduate, I can take his class again,” he said.

[email protected]

A previous version of this article mislabeled Mr. Bùi’s work as a screenplay rather than a stageplay.

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