Alum’s Big City Dreams Become Reality As Original Play Makes NYC Debut

Last May, Ellis Stump sat on Old Main lawn sobbing after reading the letter she wrote her senior-year self at her Schreyer Honors College freshman orientation.

She had just received the call that her original play would be a feature in the New York Theater Festival.

“I picked up and read my letter — about embracing the ups and downs of college, the beautiful moments, growth, empowerment — and then immediately afterward received the festival offer,” Stump said.

“The Only Coffee Shop in the City,” first premiered last November in the Theatre Building at Penn State. This October, it will have a slight change of venue when it makes its off-off-Broadway debut in New York City

The play brings the Kubler-Ross Model of grief to life as writer Carrie leaves New York following a “melodramatic” college break up with her now ex-boyfriend Cooper. Splitting time between a New York coffee shop and Carrie’s current residence in London, the audience sees each stage of her journey from denial to acceptance.

Described as a dramedy “for happy, successful people who are totally fine,” Stump finds a way to mix grief, vulnerability, and comedic one-liners from authentic characters, who make the show feel personal.

Stump graduated from Penn State with degrees in both English and media studies. She currently lives in New York where she works remotely for a production company in Berlin. She will begin pursuing a Master’s of Fine Arts in screenwriting at Pace University next year.

While “The Only Coffee Shop in the City” had the ability to resonate with audiences at Penn State, being performed in a big city makes it all the more transcendent.

“As urban artists navigating young adulthood beyond college life, the larger demographic may feel more intimately seen by those characters and themes,” Stump said. “This piece was created and crafted for city dwellers with big dreams — and city dwellers at heart, like I was for so long”

Stump is the writer, director, and producer for her play’s New York debut. However, the many hats she’s wearing in this play’s production are much different from the one she will be wearing when another one of her plays is performed in Prague.

“The People’s Toast” takes Czech playwright Vaclav Havel’s iconic stories and puts them in a modern context. The protagonist is a gender-bending activist, and Stump explores what that means today.

“My characters vape, drop into downward dog, and throw full tantrums onstage,” Stump said. “I’m excited to see actors let loose.”

Stump got the international gig after being selected as the winner of the 2019 Vaclav Havel Library Foundation’s playwriting competition. Part of her prize was a two-week residency in Prague in November.

“I just get to show up and watch my piece unfold in others’ hands,” she said. “I totally trust them, and plan on mainly observing, absorbing, and just fully immersing myself in the niche of intercultural absurdism and experimentalism.”

Both Stump’s plays are being performed in entirely different locations and cultures, but she still knows how to reach the audience placed in front of her.

“I emphasized the divide between progressive youth and older conservatives, pettiness versus deeper meaning, and parallels between current American and Czech politics,” she said.

Stump’s talent is apparent, given the fantastic opportunities she’s earned. And having two plays premier both nationally and internationally within a year of graduation is a dream come true for Stump. However, the idea of being a full-time writer wasn’t always her reality.

Growing up in a small town and trying various “practical pursuits” while at Penn State made her dreams seem impossible.

“Eventually I thought, ‘If I can’t do this thing I love — if I’m not choosing to do this thing I love — what’s the point?'” she said.  

Entering the real world after deciding to pursue your dreams can be frightening, to say the least. But after realizing that writing scripts and skits could turn into more than just a hobby, Stump decided to go all in.

“As soon as I committed wholeheartedly, everything started falling cosmically into place,” Stump said. “I think that’s what happens when you find and embrace the best way you can personally, positively influence the world.”

“The Only Coffee Shop in the City” will premiere at the Hudson Guild Theater in New York at 6:15 p.m. October 1, 9 p.m. October 5, and 1:30 p.m. October 6.

There will also be a special showing for Penn Staters, with more details to follow on the event’s Facebook page.

“Penn State will always be the first space that encouraged my art,” Stump said. “I consider it home — the first stage — no pun intended — in my career, creative, and personal development, and am happy to bring that university pride along for the ride!”

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About the Author

Cassady Potts

Cassady is a junior English and journalism major and Onward State's Student Life Editor. She is from York, Pennsylvania and loves iced coffee, books, and women's volleyball. You can find her on campus by looking for the girl who always wears stripes. Feel free to send any questions, comments, or memes via email ([email protected]) and follow her @cassady_potts on Twitter.

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