The Hippo


May 31, 2020








Aiden Harper and Woody Stockwell. Courtesy photo.

See the 10th Annual Student One-Act Playwriting Festival

Where: Amato Center for the Performing Arts, 56 Mont Vernon St., Milford
When: Wednesday, Feb. 18, and Thursday, Feb. 19, at 7:30 p.m. 
Admission: $5 at the door


Youth playwrights
Kids write, direct their stories for Playwriting Festival

By Kelly Sennott

Last Wednesday night, the Amato Center for the Performing Arts was packed with young kids. The majority were actors, readying for the last of their rehearsals before the 10th Annual One-Act Playwriting Festival, but a couple were youth playwrights and directors, tinkering with the final details before their writing and directorial debuts a week later.

Every year for 10 years, Riverbend School of Theater Arts director Toby Tarnow has invited young students to submit plays to be performed in a winter play festival. She never knows if the work will be good enough — if the writing’s not there, there is no show — but she hasn’t yet been disappointed.
This year’s young playwrights — Aiden Harper, age 15; Woody Stockwell, age 13; and Nen Horan, age 11 — will see their stories hit the stage Thursday, Feb. 19, at 7:30 p.m. 
“It’s really cool because I get to see what I had in my mind go onstage,” Stockwell said during an interview after his production rehearsal. The middle school student is an alum of the Andy’s Summer Playhouse Playwriting Workshop in Wilton, and he was inspired by The Twilight Zone when he went to write The Corridor Behind Humanity. The plot: “Seven people are trapped in an empty room. They don’t know where or who they are, and they have to solve a bunch of puzzles to get out.” 
Harper’s play, The Sorceress in the Wood, is a sort-of fairy tale about a princess who moseys into the woods in search of someone to tame her wild horse, and Horan’s Mount Olympus tells of a girl who summits the home of the great gods and goddesses, only to discover they’d like to kill her.
Tarnow started the festival because there was a void in the youth theater community. Other than Andy’s Summer Playhouse (which produces original theater for kids in Wilton — Harper also attended the playwriting workshop this summer), few organizations foster playwriting among youth.
“And when I thought about what I most loved about theater, I realized it was the process — the creative process, the collaboration, the working together with others and creating characters,” Tarnow said. “I think [the festival] not only teaches creative thinking, but also strategic thinking. You have to move people around so that it makes sense. You learn how to cooperate, and how to create something from nothing.”
Tarnow worked individually with each of the writers and has been on hand to help with directing. Cast members are between 10 and 17 years of age, which leaves people like Horan directing kids five years older than herself.
“I was a little apprehensive at first because I didn’t want to go ordering around people five years older than I was, but it’s gotten easier,” Horan said during a phone interview. “I find they’re pretty respectful.”
Horan and Harper are home-schooled and used their studies when writing their plays. Harper grew up reading Grimms’ Fairy Tales and Horan, as part of her schooling, read up on Greek mythology last year.
Most of the writers had acting experience, particularly Horan, who said this is her 20th production (first as a writer/director, though she’d grown up making up stories for her younger siblings and cousins).
But still, there’s something quite different about seeing your work onstage and taking charge to make it happen.
“I really like the learning experience this has provided. I’ve learned a lot about writing a play, and also about creating costumes, props, blocking. … It’s a new experience for me to be on the other side, but it’s definitely helped me for future auditions,” Horan said.
As seen in the February 19, 2015 issue of the Hippo. 

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