Slice of Life

13 SU students became gummy bears, plants and much more at the Syracuse Stage

Jacob Greenfeld | Asst. Photo Editor

The plays performed were written by 12 students ranging from middle schoolers to high school seniors. The auditorium was mainly filled by the students' family members.

Lauren Unbekant looked down from the stage at Syracuse Stage, hands on her hips, wide smile on her face. It was her 12th year preparing students for what was about to take place.

She hopped down, went around the two rows of her students, all clad in bright yellow T-shirts emblazoned with the words “From Dream to Draft,” and asked them one question before sidling back on stage.

“Are you all ready?”

Thirteen students nodded back vigorously giving her a unanimous thumbs-up. They were all dressed the same, almost like a uniform for the occasion, but the students were about to take on 27 different roles for the next hour and a half.

The lights dimmed, and the show began.

Syracuse Stage organized its 2017 Young Playwrights Festival Monday, a night where students from Syracuse University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts performed 10-minute plays written by middle-school and high-school students from the area. The Festival is celebrating 19 years.

“It initially started out in the Syracuse area, but it started growing,” said Unbekant, the director of the educational outreach at Syracuse Stage and faculty member at the College of Visual and Performing Arts. “Now we have people from Oswego County, Cayuga County, from Oneida.”

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Jacob Greenfeld | Asst. Photo Editor

The playwrights — 12 students ranging from eighth graders to juniors and seniors in high school — gathered in the Archbold Theatre to watch their words come to life. Many brought their families, raising the din in the auditorium to an excited level even before the show began.

The plays themselves touched on themes both light-hearted and heavy. Some, like Scottie O’Bryan’s “A Way Out,” explored the paths between following a boy’s dream of going to college, supported by one friend but who is derided by another.

“It’s not a perspective most people live,” O’Bryan, a Jamesville-DeWitt High School junior, said to the audience in the post-play discussion, “But it’s a reality for a good amount of the population.”

The night saw a variety of perspectives come to life: explorations of gender and sexual identity, asking questions in America, loneliness, grief, pain, addiction, acceptance and the will to move on after a tragedy.

The audience responded almost automatically to the words being said on stage — silently absorbing when the topics were serious, and breaking into raucous laughter as plays like “That One Friend,” which entailed a conversation between two friends, one sober and one under the influence of marijuana; and “War for the Aisle,” in which the college students shed their human identities to wage war between gummy bears and gummy worms.

The nights leading up to this one stretch back to November. Unbekant said that schools were contacted at that time as a call for submissions, which head to her and the rest of the judges by early February.

Unbekant, a playwright herself, and three other judges read through more than 300 submissions over three weeks, and select 16 out of them to get vetted and improved in a workshop.

After the workshop, nine finalists make it into the hands of the students at VPA, who put in one intense weekend of reading scripts before the final night.

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Jacob Greenfeld | Asst. Photo Editor

Finally, the VPA students perform them, or more accurately, give them a reading on the Syracuse Stage for an audience. The VPA students collectively said they were more excited than nervous, embracing that rush of adrenaline before a performance.

Throughout these past few months, however, the process focused on the people behind the words and not just the actors, Kim Roth, a musical theater major and junior, said.

“It’s more about the playwrights because it’s more of their festival and we’re just bringing their play to life,” Roth said. “It’s a challenge, but it’s really cool to see that middle schoolers and high schoolers came up with this stuff. I could never write this myself now.”

Taylor Feldman, a junior musical theater major, also expressed her incredulity with the words the students had been charged with performing, saying that all she had was a piece of paper and now she and the rest of the students had to make the choices about how to perform them.

“They’re really not children,” Feldman exclaimed about the playwrights. “It’s really cool for these students to be able to see their plays up on a stage. It’s special, it’s encouraging.”

As the night came to a close, the auditorium treated both the actors and the playwrights to thunderous applause before streaming out to enjoy cake.

Unbekant hung back, talking and greeting people. That’s what it was all about — getting in touch with more views and perspectives, she said.

“We certainly need more voices in the theater,” she said. “It’s really about getting diversified voices out there, voices that are part of the American experience or the human experience, and hearing it from a kid’s perspective is refreshing and important. I’m glad that we here at the Stage can give voice to that.”

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