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Yellow Springs High School students wrote two out of six winning plays at a recent regional high school playwriting competition. Pictured are, from left, Stefany Lewis, Shirlisa Scott and Philip Kellogg, with teacher Desireé Nickell in back. Their pieces will be performed in the Schuster Center’s Matile Black Box Theatre this weekend, March 5, 6, and 7 at 7 pm.

Fairy tale-come-true for YSHS playwright contest winners

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What happens when Yellow Springs High School students are challenged to spin a new yarn from urban legends and fairy tales? The result, according to organizers of a regional high school playwriting challenge, is vivid characters that dare to leap out of insightful and witty scripts up and onto the stage.

Two of the six plays chosen as winners of the challenge, which will be produced by college theater majors, were created by Yellow Springs High School students Stefany Lewis, Shirlisa Scott and Philip Kellogg. “Hooked on Therapy,” Lewis and Scott’s Captain Hook spoof, and “The Big, the Bad, and the Ugly,” Kellogg’s hybrid of the classics Little Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs, will be performed in the Schuster Center’s Mathile Theatre in Dayton on March 5, 6 and 7 at 7 p.m. The free shows, to be performed by Sinclair College theater students, are the result of months of collaboration.

Led by Muse Machine, the Victoria Theatre Association and the Sinclair theater department, the challenge, “Changed For Good: The Wicked Playwriting Competition,” reviewed 30 plays from seven area high schools. After a series of collaborative workshops and revisions, just six plays were chosen to be produced on stage.

Winning playwrights received complimentary tickets to the traveling Broadway show, Wicked, and will have an opportunity to meet the cast at the Schuster Center prior to the performance of their plays. Wicked, a prequel to The Wizard of Oz, is told from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West, before she became known as such. According to statements made by the Victoria Theatre Association, the play is expected to bring 55,000 people and $1.6 million into Dayton from the tri-state region.

“Wicked provided the perfect backdrop for this project,” said Luke Dennis, executive director of Muse Machine, a membership-driven arts organization that works in the schools. “Students were asked to spin off of a fairy tale, urban legend or nursery rhyme,” he said. “The Wicked Witch is snarky and postmodern, and really opens them up to creating vivid characters.”

High school students don’t often have the opportunity to intensely revise their work, according to YSHS English teacher Desireé Nickell, and the workshopping process was invaluable in this regard.

“It’s been a great experience because it is not just writing a play, it’s beyond that,” Nickell said. “It’s for a wider audience, with a lot of schools participating. The kids have been getting incredible feedback, and this has been a lot about rewriting and thinking about what you wrote.”

The main value of the contest lies in this process, according to Nickell, because students gain “the recognition that plays start out one way, and end up in a totally different way. All good writers write, and rewrite, and rewrite.”

This is the first year the high school has participated in Muse Machine. A total of eight YSHS students made what Nickell called a “huge commitment” to participate in the collaboration, which took place outside of school time over many months. In addition to Lewis, Scott and Kellogg, these students included Kelly Miller, Lizzy Gonder, Eli Biggs, William Fenimore and Acala Cresci.

The first workshopping session was a brainstorming session, and students went home with a lot of ideas about how to improve the work they presented. Students were asked to submit a second draft in the next session, and Sinclair students read the plays live. Another round of feedback and critique ensued, and students had one week to revise and submit for adjudication. Out of these 30 plays, six were chosen, including one from the Dayton Early College Academy, two from Stivers School for the Arts and one from Beavercreek. These six plays were then workshopped live at the third and final critique session held at Sinclair Community College.

Village resident Jonathon Platt’s Dayton Early College Academy students also made the cut to the final round, and were working with Yellow Springs students during the last workshopping session.

“They were taken in by the process,” Platt said. “It was a really professional undertaking that took the students’ work very seriously.”

Muse Machine traditionally emphasizes performance with youth, Dennis said, but this project emphasized the writing process itself. Short plays can’t depend upon plot for appeal, he said, so there was a real emphasis on character development throughout the workshopping and revisioning process. The characters need to be vibrant, he said, and Yellow Springs students were apparently up to the task.

The selection process was blind, he said, but you don’t have to look far to understand how Yellow Springs youth could have a knack for finding their voice. Already enriched by arts experiences with YS Kids Playhouse, the elementary school-wide play, and yearly high school theater performances and one-act play production, local youth who venture beyond the boundaries of Yellow Springs seem to excel.

“It just leaves them all that much more equipped to find their voice and be good writers,” Dennis said. “It’s powerful when you treat a young person as an adult, that their work is good enough to be performed by others in public.”

Those who are interested in seeing the free shows in the Mathile Black Box Theatre are invited to contact

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