One of my favorite events of the summer was this Monday night at the playhouse. I hope you were there, and if you weren’t, I’m sorry you missed it! Here’s what went down.
On Monday evening we welcomed the winners of our fourth annual Jean E. Miller Young Playwrights Competition, along with family, friends, educators and peers, to celebrate four outstanding new plays and their talented young creators. This reading and reception marks the end of a several month process, beginning with a series of free in-school workshops (taught by yours truly) on the playwriting process and moving on to a period of optional mentoring by advanced playwriting students at Bennington College, then submission and adjudication by a panel of nationally recognized playwrights, including our program overseer (and Dorset local) Sherry Kramer.
The winning plays (a first and second place winner each in middle and high school categories) are then cast, rehearsed, and read aloud for an audience at the annual reading and awards ceremony. This year’s winners were some of my favorites in recent years.
We started with Giana DelosSantos’s Love is Blind (The Dorset School)
Love is Blind is the story of Lily, a young woman with a big crush on her best friend Nolan, which she believes to be unrequited. Like great romantic comedies of the past, Lily must suffer through some miscommunication and tribulations, but eventually gets what she wants, thanks in large part to the efforts of her good friend Ruby and her doting brother Zak. One of my favorite things about this play is that our heroine, Lily, never doubts herself or accepts less than she knows she deserves. It’s a great message for young women (from one of their own, no less!)
My favorite line: “When life gives you lemons, squeeze them right in life’s eyes!”
Our next play was Lindsay Knight’s The Hacker (Maple Street School)
The Hacker is a wonderful play, and a real crowd pleaser. In it, Hadley is a young woman, and an enormously talented hacker. She dips her toe into a life of illicit computer hacking to save her best friend from the ignominy of climbing ropes and gym class, and finds herself sucked into a downward spiral of criminal activity before rediscovering her honest self and taking a stand against people who would use her. The play is filled with excellent, funny characters including an incompetent principal (Mr. Tennant) and an immensely stupid, popular boy named Carter Johnson.
My favorite line: “Oh I’m sorry. It must stink having people make decisions for you”
Next up was The Shadows of Valhalla by Neil Thorley (Stratton Mountain School)
Shadows of Valhalla is a rare sort of play, because it’s a science fiction epic (enormously difficult to stage effectively, but very fun to read!) and a large ensemble piece with just shy of 20 characters! An ensemble piece like this is a challenge with a cast of six actors, but they took it on with gusto, creating new voices and postures to convey a range of human, alien and robot characters. Shadows takes us into the future to visit an earth ravaged by a long war with a distant society on the planet Valhalla. Our hero, Jack Rayner has just graduated from The Academy, and as he rises through the ranks of the intergalactic military, new questions about the true nature of the war arise through his interactions with a virtual reality program called HORUS.
My favorite line: “Trust me. It’s like riding a bicycle, just without gravity.”
Finally we closed the evening with An Undersider Tale by Garrett Hastings (Long Trail School)
An Undersider Tale is a really unique and wonderful play, which is at its heart (spoiler alert) a ghost story about bullying. Our protagonist is Michael, an exceedingly awkward young man who finds himself ignored to the point of abuse by his peers (and even his teachers) when he arrives at his new school. His attempts to avoid the students who want nothing to do with him lead him to the school art room, where he meets Tim, a not-entirely-friendly ghost who was a victim of bullying during his life. The two, who each need a friend so badly, find each other and finally have some solace in their strange but beautiful friendship.
My favorite line: “It’s more offensive to be there surrounded by people, yet entirely alone.”
In addition to the staged reading, winners also received a cash prize, and tickets for summer productions at the festival. Hopefully we’ll be catching up with each of our winners later in the summer, so stay tuned for more from tomorrow’s great playwrights.