Adams shares career advice with student writers and recent graduates hoping to work in the industry
Earlier this year, BYUtv audiences entered the wonderful world of "Dwight in Shining Armor" — a world of magic, whimsy and unlikely heroes from the minds of BYU theatre alum LeeAnne Hill Adams and her husband and writing partner Brian J. Adams.
The scripted comedy adventure — which premiered its second season in September — follows Dwight, a 21st century teen who inadvertently awakens a warrior princess and a host of other fantastical characters from a thousand-year slumber.
The development of the show has been a full circle experience of sorts for Adams, who saw some of her earliest work produced at BYU during her master's studies in theatre theory and criticism. After receiving her undergraduate degree in playwriting from the University of Utah, Adams found herself drawn to the BYU Department of Theatre and Media Arts in part because of the program's tradition of workshopping student plays.
"It's so valuable for a writer to get to hear an actor read their lines and to work with a director in the development part of the process," said Adams. "Many writers never get that experience. For a theatre program at a university to throw that kind of support behind a student's work is incredibly rare."
Adams ultimately had two plays workshopped and produced at BYU, helping prepare her for many of the projects and experiences she would later take on in her career.
"My first training ground was at BYU, and I'll always be grateful for that experience," said Adams. "Going through the workshop and seeing the finished product was so helpful, especially in showing me a best-case example of how collaboration can work well. It was a glimpse into the future of what it would be like to work collaboratively with other artists to bring something into production professionally."
The theatre department's emphasis on collaboration proved to be one of the most powerful lessons that Adams carried with her as she moved to Los Angeles to carve out a writing career in the heart of the film industry.
"The most effective collaborators are the ones who find a way to be gracious and kind even when they disagree and are able to find the compromise without compromising the art itself," said Adams. "That's a really delicate balance — a lot of us feel like if we make a compromise, then our work will somehow be less than what it could have been. I have not found that to be the case."
Now an established playwright and screenwriter in LA, Adams has renewed a collaborative relationship with her own alma mater through "Dwight in Shining Armor." As a co-creator, showrunner and writer for the show, Adams has had the chance to visit set and see her words become a tangible reality.
"It's a great feeling," said Adams. "Every writer can relate to feeling isolated in their own imagination sometimes. You've created this world that exists in your head and on the page and you can see it in your mind's eye, but it feels almost trapped in you. You want so desperately to share it, so when you get that opportunity — and it's a rare and wonderful opportunity — to see it come to life before your eyes, it really is a dream come true."
Adams is grateful to the BYUtv cast and crew for catching and embracing her vision at the same time that they have brought their own creativity and unique abilities to the story.
"It's the most amazing thing to walk onto a set and see this bustle of talented people moving around you to create something that you wrote on a page," said Adams. "By virtue of the art form, hundreds of people need to collaborate in order to bring a TV show into existence. With our cast and the technical elements like wardrobe and props, the story started to take on a life of its own as all these other people came in and invested their time and talent in it."
While Adams is currently living a writer's dream in many respects, she noted that her journey from BYU student workshops to BYUtv represents years of patience, cultivation and hard work.
"When I first moved to LA, one manager that I worked with told me it would take about 10 years before I would really feel like I could make a living at this — and that was if I was lucky," said Adams. "He also said, ‘it won't be your first script that sells, it'll be your 10th.' I thought he was wrong at the time, but it was crazy how prophetic his comments were. It was about 10 years before Brian and I could quit our day jobs and actually live on what we made working in the industry, and it was our 10th script that sold."
While every path to a writing career is different, Adams advised student writers and recent graduates to keep practicing and refining their skills, even if their day job seems far away from the dreams they had at BYU — which day job, Adams emphasized, is not a sign of failure, but a real-world necessity on the road to those larger goals.
"You'll work a long time and it won't feel like you're making much progress," said Adams. "You'll feel like you're spinning your wheels sometimes, but keep writing, even when you think nobody will ever read it. You'll get better and better at telling your story, and you'll discover your voice, which is the most important thing that you have. Someone will eventually read your script, and they may not be interested in producing that one, but they'll like your voice and want to hear more from you. Your voice is what people will remember about you."