UD Playwrights

Mayanka Dhingra , Staff Writer

Excited whispers and nervous murmurs from aspiring playwrights filled the air of the Black Box Theatre until student and faculty volunteers began reading the student written “plays in one act.” All at once there was an attentive silence, followed shortly by an eruption of laughter and creativity energy.

The one act plays, written by students in the Upper Division Playwriting and Production class taught by Middle and Upper Division Theatre Arts teacher Alexis Dahl, were read in full by volunteer actors for the first time on Monday from 3:30 to 7:30 afterschool.

A play in one act may have multiple scenes, but it has one narrative arc, one central conflict, and one resolution of that conflict, Priyanka Voruganti (10), a student in Dahl’s class, explained.

The students’ coursework up to the performance, writing a series of three-page plays, seven-page plays, and ten-minute plays, helped the students to prepare for the reading, Ben Rosenbaum (11) said.

The playwrights were able to select members from the school’s student body and faculty members whom they wanted to read certain roles in their plays, Voruganti said.

Dahl reached out to potential volunteers via email asking if they would be interested in participating in a play reading for students in her Playwriting and Production class, Mikayla Benson (9) said.

The playwrights came with notebooks in hand eager to hear feedback from the audience.

“My hope is that the students become more confident in what they have written,” Dahl said. From an artistic standpoint, the reading gives the writers the chance to truly hear what moments are resonating with the audience versus those that still need more work, she said.

Eliza Bender (10) believes the writing process is a nuanced one, she said. An individual can cultivate any scenario in his or her mind, but a playwright must reflect his or her message in the text, Bender said.

Administrative Assistant to the Grade Deans and one of the volunteer readers , Ennis Smith was on the edge of his seat throughout the whole reading, fascinated by the writer’s raw ideas, he said

Smith believes readings are crucial exercises that give writers the opportunity to pin down and refine their initial ideas, he said. It was an honor to be a part of that process, Smith said.

“It’s one thing to read the work on the page, but it’s another thing to hear it being said out loud by another actual person,” Rosenbaum said.

After all the plays had been read, the circle opened up for a lively and thought-provoking discussion about the writers’ plays. Dahl asked the playwrights to consider specific questions intended to probe further into the text. Afterwards, audience members are welcome to respond in any way that speaks to what the writer is seeking, she said.

The plays dealt with a broad range of ideas that included both comedic and serious storylines. Dahl gives the students creative leeway to write about what they are interested in – “there are no hard and fast rules,” Dahl said.

Bender, who is writing a play on Soundcloud rappers, was inspired by her love of music, she said.

On the other hand, Voruganti, who is writing a thriller rooted in feminist ideals, said she was drawn to horror’s ability to captivate an audience and make arguments for social justice.

For Dahl, hearing the plays read aloud was a proud moment, she said. “Do you know that gratifying feeling when you experience something you find so moving and you look around and see the experience was shared? That’s what it felt like.”

As for the future of the plays, the Student Written One-Act Festival is held every other year. Students this year will be able to submit their plays in two years to be produced at the festival, Voruganti said.

Dahl, who feels that she has been too close to the writing process as the class’s teacher to evaluate the plays, asks three published playwrights to read the plays without giving them the authors’ names, she said.

After reading the plays, the professional playwrights will send feedback and rank the plays for production, Dahl said. Sometimes we are lucky enough to have alums comeback to direct the production of their work, she said.    

Volunteer reader, Daniel Wolf (10), who played a “16-17 year old male, a hypebeast who aspires to be a Soundcloud rapper” in Bender’s play, is excited to see the playwrights’ vision realized in the near future. “I hoped that I would be able to play Jeff in a proper production of the play and be a part of that satire,” sad Wolf.