Stroeh's play, "it is no desert," documents his on-going battle with neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder of the nervous system. It has already been named the best in Region III (Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin) and is one of eight national finalists for the 2001 David Mark Cohen Award. In Milwaukee, Stroeh's work will be one of two original plays by students from undergraduate or graduate theatre programs to be performed at the Region III Kennedy Center/American College Theatre Festival (KC/ACTF). He takes the stage at 9 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 12 in hopes of being selected to the national festival event in April.
"This is so special to me because it's my story," said Stroeh, who recently completed his education at Wittenberg and will officially graduate in May with the class of 2001. "I have been more fulfilled as a writer than I have ever been as an actor. I have been able to combine writing and telling people my story with performing, and I have found that is everything I ever wanted."
A one-man show written and performed by Stroeh, "it is no desert" was first performed at Wittenberg's Blair Hall Theatre last spring and later presented before two sellout crowds at Chakeres Memorial Theatre Oct. 28-29. It was entered in the KC/ACTF Michael Kanin Playwriting Awards Program, and in Milwaukee it will be considered for two prestigious national awards: the National Student Playwriting Award, and the Jean Kennedy Smith Playwriting Award for the best play written on the theme of disability. "Obviously, we're extremely proud of him," said Dr. Steven C. Reynolds, professor and chair of the department of theatre and dance at Wittenberg. "We're moved by the show, and we look forward to the rest of the region and perhaps the nation being able to experience the same joy we've had seeing it."
Stroeh was diagnosed with the disease after he arrived on Wittenberg's campus in 1996. The ensuing years brought dozens of painful medical procedures and the realization that his condition will always be with him. Though his play covers all of that, Stroeh says he hopes the work's message of perseverance lift audiences up and present them with a positive image of life.
"I want people to understand that I love telling this story," said Stroeh, who was forced to give up acting in recent years due to the physical limitations his disease has caused. "I want people to remember that they're alive and healthy. Life is a gift from God."The play, which is the fifth of five stories he wrote chronicling his life over the last few years, may be performed before even bigger audiences in the future. If chosen a winner in Milwaukee next week, "it is no desert" could be selected for presentation as a finalist for at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. in April.