by Spencer Schultz
Assistant Editor of Production
Aspiring playwrights can go their entire lives without ever seeing their work performed onstage, but count Jamesville-DeWitt High School’s sophomore Michale Schueler among the fortunate.
Her play, titled “Flight,” was one of seven pieces from students around Central New York to make the final cut at Syracuse Stage’s Young Playwrights Festival, and was performed at 7 p.m. April 12.
Several weeks prior to the festival, Schueler and juniors Luca Bebla and Andrew Barclay were invited to attend a writing workshop at Syracuse Stage for feedback from professionals on their submitted manuscripts, before their final submission to the festival. “The entire experience at the workshop was good insight. It was cool to hear tips on how to improve my play from people who write for a living,” says Bebla.
After their final edits were made at the workshop, Bebla and Barclay were named semifinalists in the competition. However, Schueler’s play was the only one from J-DHS to be named a finalist and be performed. After entering a play last year and being denied, Schueler didn’t enter “Flight” with any expectations.
Out of the seven plays performed, Schueler says “Flight” was the most emotional. “Most of the other plays were really hilarious. They were centered around comedy, whereas my play was a bit darker,” says Schueler.
Centered around a girl and how her family responds to her grandmother with Alzheimer’s, Schueler’s brief play was read aloud and performed onstage by Syracuse University drama students.
Seeing her play come to life held a special meaning for Schueler, who drew inspiration for her piece from her own life. “My grandmother battles Alzheimer’s herself, so it was very important to me to write a play about my experience with that,” says Schueler.
Going into the festival, Schueler did have nerves about the performance of her play. “I think every writer has a certain vision for their play, so I was just hoping the actors would live up to my vision,” says Schueler. Fortunately, Schueler says the performance was above her expectations. “The SU drama students are really talented. The actress who played the main role was amazing,” she says.
Even so, seeing her play be brought to life wasn’t Schueler’s favorite moment of the night. That, came after her play finished, during a Q&A session at the end of the night, when a young girl going through a similar experience as the Schueler’s main character raised her hand and thanked Schueler for writing a play about Alzheimer’s. “The girl said, ‘I’ve been struggling with Alzheimer’s in my family and I haven’t been able to put my emotions into words, but your play has finally helped me come to terms with it,” says Schueler.
To Schueler, that meant her play had been a success. “Michaele received not only validation from professional judges, but validation from someone her own age, from another school,” says English teacher Joe DeChick, who was in the audience.
Schueler says couldn’t have been named a finalist without the help from her English teacher, Mr. DeChick. Schueler sought the advice of Mr. DeChick multiple times throughout her writing process for feedback and constructive criticism. “He helped me rework the play a couple times. It definitely made a difference,” says Schueler.
Still, Mr. DeChick takes no credit for Schueler’s accomplishments. “I helped her a little bit with editing, but she is such a fine, young writer; she doesn’t need my help,” says Mr. DeChick.
Belba’s AP Language teacher, Matt Phillips, also played a role in the submission of his play to the festival. “Luca participated (in the festival) probably because writing and submitting a play was a class assignment,” says Mr. Phillips. Mr. Phillips gave his students four days to write a 10-page play to enter into the contest.
Little did Bebla know that a “last-minute” assignment would lead to him to be one of the few semi-finalists in the competition. Mr. Phillips says Bebla took a very “unusual approach” to his play, but it ended up paying off. His play, about “the moral dilemma facing a man who has a family that needs money, and the only way he can see to do that is by poaching elephants in Africa” was one of nine semifinalists, as was Barclay’s.
Mr. Phillips requires all his AP students to write a play because he wants young people to explore opportunities in literature. “Theatre is really unique. Unlike TV, it’s a shared experience, and you’re sharing the emotions with the audience. And you don't get that with anything else,” says Mr. Phillips.