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Tess Redman ’24: Sugar at Four in the Morning

Project Date:
Project Date: Summer 2023

I received funding to write an original play, entitled Sugar at Four in the Morning.

About the Project

I received funding to write an original play, entitled Sugar at Four in the Morning. The play follows Charlie, a type 1 diabetic in her mid-twenties, who is recruited by her former endocrinologist to participate in an experimental therapy program that sends volunteers back in time to help their younger selves manage their diabetes. Through interacting with her teenage self, Charlie discovers that she hasn’t properly grieved the death of her parents and resolves to travel further back in time in order to get closure.

Through the process of writing this script, I’ve uncovered two messages that, despite their apparent opposition, are both true to my experience of chronic illness:
You are not alone. You have people who love you and support you. And if you don’t right now, you will.
You are alone. You must be there for yourself, because no one else can be.

I believe the theme of loneliness is a universal one, and my goal with this play was to illuminate the ways it can affect someone dealing with chronic illness and chronic grief. Loneliness and isolation are at the core of Charlie’s character; those feelings motivate her journey and decision-making throughout the play. The theme is also reflected in the play’s title, which refers to a particularly lonely experience specific to T1D – an experience that is intensified within the play via the tension between the presence of a community of other diabetics and Charlie’s inability to allow herself access to it.

I used the funds I was awarded to travel to the Netherlands to work with my playwriting mentor, Cornelia Cody. An experienced playwright, Cornelia’s advice was invaluable to my writing process. Sitting down with Cornelia, with the script in front of us and pencils in our hands, allowed me to look at my work more critically than if I was writing in on my own. Collaborating with a professional playwright improved the script, even though the final draft was my work. Cornelia also advised me on playwriting in general, offering suggestions on how to develop well-rounded characters and how to incorporate technology into the play.

Once I finished the script, I transitioned into the role of director and producer to bring my vision for this play to life in a Duke Players’ production, which ran September 7-9. Despite many compromises due to limited time and resources, it was incredibly gratifying to see this story realized onstage. Directing my own play was useful for me because I was able to evaluate my script from an outsider’s perspective while also having the unique privilege of being inside the playwright’s head. I don’t plan on significantly rewriting the play, but I will use this experience to inform future productions, either as a part of the creative team or as a consulting playwright.