Alum Wins Regional Theater Competition

Alum Wins Regional Theater Competition

Minneapolis College alum Deneal Trueblood-Lynch’s one-act play “Secrets” was named Best Original Short Play in the prestigious Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival Region 5 competition, held in Des Moines, Iowa, in January. 

“Secrets” won against 49 other plays in the seven-state region and is now one of 16 selected works among eight regions to compete for national recognition at the finals at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in April. 

The play tells the story of physical and psychological abuse that culminated in an assault, incarceration, and redemption. The playwright addresses the universal theme of trauma to create a platform where conversation and healing can begin.

Discovering the theater

Trueblood-Lynch began her acting career at Minneapolis College, where she chose a theater class as an elective “to buy me some time” because she didn’t know what direction to go—and the stage turned out to be her true calling.

“We had to learn a monologue and I chose the part of Rose in August Wilson’s ‘Fences.’ After I did the performance, my teacher said, ‘You had me fooled. You act in such a professional manner. You have a natural talent.’”

Next, she auditioned for the Minneapolis College production of “Intimate Apparel” by Lynn Nottage and got the part. As an actor, she was hooked. She discovered that she can quickly memorize a script, and to bring an audience to tears with her ability to convey emotion. She also learned that she could write.

After completing her associate of arts degree in theater at Minneapolis College, Trueblood-Lynch went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Metro State University, where she wrote “Secrets.” 

In 2019, her play won the Metro State Underground Playwriting Contest. In February 2020, “Secrets” received a staged reading at St. Paul’s Park Square Theater, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down access to live theater for more than a year.
“After the pandemic hit, I continued to develop and push this script, which carries a strong message around family dysfunction, community involvement, systemic racism, incarceration, abuse, and mental health issues. We all have secrets, and these secrets are found in every demographic, every culture, and every gender,” said Trueblood-Lynch.

The first full production of “Secrets” was staged at Capri Theater in May 2022, exactly 14 years after she assaulted a man who had been abusing her then 12-year-old daughter, resulting in a felony conviction and a four-year prison sentence. She was released in 2014.

Writing from lived experience

Trueblood’s own story of abuse began when she was six years old. Her parents divorced, their house was sold, and she lived in a car for a week with her mother and five siblings. Then the family moved in with her mother’s new partner, whose stepson became the perpetrator of sexual abuse that lasted more than seven years. He told her not to tell, and she obeyed. 

Trueblood-Lynch kept the secret until, as an adult single mother of two, she woke up in the hospital after the brakeline on her car failed on the way home from work. Swerving to avoid a car full of children, she had crashed into a tree and blacked out. She told a doctor that she’d been having nightmares about being chased by a man in an orange camouflage hunting jacket—the same as her abuser had worn. She also told an older sister. Gradually she opened up to friends, many of whom shared their own traumatic stories.

When her daughter told her that she, too, was being abused, “I snapped just like that brakeline,” she said.

In the play “Secrets,” 15 characters are played by 10 actors, one of whom plays both Trueblood-Lynch’s abuser and her daughter’s. An orange camouflage hunting jacket lets the audience know which is which. Stage props are minimal to focus on the dialogue among family, friends and neighbors. The program contains a trigger warning for mature content. “But as a six-year-old, I was starting to understand what was happening,” the playwright said.

A scene from the Park Square Theater reading is available on YouTube

Theater opens many doors

Becoming an actor and playwright has kept Trueblood-Lynch busy. Her stage credits include more than half a dozen plays and she is writing four more of her own. Lifetime and Netflix have reached out to her about producing a film version of “Secrets.”

She facilitates a Goodwill-Easter Seals mentorship program for people who have been incarcerated, acts as a consultant for the Minnesota Department of Corrections, and counsels women in prisons. She has published her essays in Minnesota Women’s Press and online.

She is breaking into commercial work, as well: she and her granddaughter appear in a Lutheran Social Services commercial that’s airing now.

“When my wheels spin, they all spin at the same time,” Trueblood-Lynch says.

Her next play involves LGBTQ themes and is set during the pandemic. Meanwhile, she intends to bring “Secrets” to more theaters in Minneapolis and St. Paul. “Not just to the Black community but everywhere, because this is a universal issue,” she said.

After each performance of “Secrets,” Trueblood-Lynch hosts a Q&A session, and she hears from women, men, and teens that she is reaching them. That’s the whole point of the play, she said, even if it can be difficult to watch.

“Theater gives a voice to those who are stuck in their silence of trauma. That’s when healing can begin,” she said.

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