Francesca Chirco, Everly Kessler, and Chloe Butler
The William Shakespeare of our time could be here at Jamesville-DeWitt High School and the Syracuse Stage Young Playwrights Festival pulls these prospective writers into the spotlight. For the 20 years this annual festival has been around, high school students with no prior experience writing plays are given the opportunity to discover their playwriting talents. This year, there were over 300 submissions into the festival and 19 of the plays submitted by J-DHS students made it to either the quarter-finals, semi-finals, or finals.
J-DHS students wrote on a wide variety of topics, from teenage struggles to fighting lords. Some of the submissions were written in the students’ free time while others were written in January in English 10 Honors classes or in Creative Writing class. From this group, 19 students were recognized by Syracuse Stage.
Sophomores Kai Gesek, Katie McPeak, and Trey Romano were selected as finalists and will have their plays publicly performed at Syracuse Stage on May 1. When the students got the call from Syracuse Stage confirming that they were finalists, they were pleasantly surprised.“I wasn’t expecting to make it, just like I wasn’t expecting to make the semi-finals. But I was very happy with the results,” said Romano. What started out as a school assignment will now be reconfigured into a professional performance. “I am really excited for my family to see it. I can’t wait, it’s a really cool opportunity,” said McPeak.
Gesek was inspired to write his “The Airline Safety Speech of Nightmares” comedy as he was thinking about all of the things passengers would not want to hear before a plane ride. Romano drew from his own experiences to develop his play “Date With The Devil”, which is about two people on a very bad dinner date. McPeak’s view of President Trump was the inspiration for her play, “Trump’s America” which outlines how Trump is impacting the country.
Sophomores Eva Schooler, Isabel Smith, and junior Ella Kornfeld all made it to the semi-finals. To add to J-DHS’s success in the festival, freshman Elizabeth Hughes, sophomores Grace Feng, Josh Hillers, Justin Le, Aniket Malni, Katie Sizing, Eva Wisnieski, Olivia Harle, Angelina Smith, Ethan Jaglal and Jack Carmen, and senior Lila Benz made it to the quarter-finals. “It was really cool being picked out of the so many people that applied and to even make it as far as I did was amazing,” said Benz.
For the past five years, English 10 Honors teachers Joe DeChick and Matt Phillips have been using the festival as an assignment for their students. Honors English students are tasked with writing an original 10-minute play with very minimal guidance from their teachers. These plays were taken for a grade and were then submitted into the festival. The teachers were very pleased with their students’ accomplishments as their submissions were recognized out of such a large pool. “It was a really good showing and to have this much recognition is very good,” said Mr. Phillips.
English teacher Courtney Romeiser utilized the festival as an extra credit assignment for her students. Kornfeld was recognized in the festival last year and she was Ms. Romeiser’s only student to be recognized again this year. “I was really happy for her to show some consistency in what she was producing,” said Ms. Romeiser
Both Mr. DeChick and Mr. Phillips believe that by giving this as an assignment, the students are able to creatively express themselves as there is not that much room for creativity built in the curriculum. Throughout the years, students have found this to be a difficult assignment as many have never written plays before. Overall, this challenge was beneficial in furthering their writing skills. “I think it’s important for students to learn about how difficult it is to write an original play,” said Mr. DeChick.
The plays that get submitted are distributed among five readers at Syracuse stage, each reader selects the top 10 best plays, totaling 50 quarter-finalists. The second group of readers, who are the official festival judges then read the quarter-finalists’ plays and then select 16 to 18 semi-finalists to attend a workshop at Syracuse Stage. Here the plays are read by Syracuse University Drama students in front of a panel of judges and other contestants, including Interim Director of Education at Syracuse Stage Kate Laissle. The plays are then revised based on the feedback form the panel. The revised plays are reread by the judges and the top eight plays are selected to be performed. “We look for strong writing and a compelling story, a story that either we haven’t heard before, one that is told in a new way, or a very engaging version of the same story,” said Laissle.