Baldwin student’s play produced at EQT Young Playwrights Festival
Walking through the hallways at J.E. Harrison Middle School, Ava Weidensall noticed a flier for City Theatre’s Young Playwrights contest.
She had to know more and sought out answers from a teacher who explained that middle and high school kids have the opportunity to submit one-act plays in the contest. If you’re really good, the teacher explained, you’ll get to have your play produced.
Ava was “super excited” and immediately got to work, outlining the entire plot for her play. Then, it fell by the wayside until March 1 — one month before it was due.
She was about to give up, when a friend encouraged her to write the play in 30 days.
Ava agreed to “give it the good old college try,” in hopes of getting feedback that would help improve her writing.
But to her surprise, her play, “Words,” was selected as one of the three middle school finalists, and was produced and performed at the 20th anniversary of EQT’s Young Playwrights Festival, held at City Theatre from Oct. 22-Nov. 2. There were nearly 400 submissions for both the middle and high school competitions.
“It was amazing,” said Ava, 14, now a freshman at Baldwin High School.
Ava has always loved science. But her passion for theater didn’t spark until she was in middle school. She watched as a friend had lots of fun performing and thought she’d give it a try.
“I was like, ‘Woah, this is great,’” Ava said. “There’s something about being able to express yourself in a way that isn’t really possible with like just writing a purely scientific or factual paper.”
She took summer intensive classes at the Center for Theater Arts and started taking singing lessons. She even had her first big role in Baldwin Borough Public Library’s youth theater program.
Ava loves acting and singing. But she also enjoys writing. Although, when she’s writing a play, she finds herself acting out the parts in her room as she puts the pieces together.
Ava was drawn to the Young Playwright competition because it was different than anything she had ever done before.
Drawn to musical theater, she used what she likes — like modern settings and relatable characters — in her play.
Her play focuses on a high school student whose world is disrupted when a former middle school bully enters his class. The two enter a poetry contest, and, “drama ensues from there,” Ava said.
Behind the play, there’s a message.
“People change,” Ava said. “People do things out of ignorance or just not knowing. But they can learn from what they did and sort of recognize that they’ve done something wrong and become a better person.”
As a finalist, Ava worked with an editor who helped her refine the play.
She then sat in on an audition for the show.
She participated in a table reading, where they switched around a line and made some cuts, as they heard the words read aloud.
As someone who usually keeps her poetry writings to herself, hearing her work read out loud was a little weird at first. But it was also cool.
“It was absolutely insane. Like I can’t even fully describe the feeling. It was just amazing,” she said. “It was just this amazing feeling of being able to show people, like yeah, that’s something I made.”
Samantha Parks, a gifted teacher at Harrison, said she wasn’t surprised Ava did so well in the competition.
Parks, who explained the contest to Ava, said she took the idea and ran with it, doing much of the work on her own.
“I knew she was going to be successful in some aspect and I knew she would get a lot out of it. I was so proud of her,” Parks said.
Ava is “such a fun personality” and “so creative,” her teacher said. While she’s quiet at times, she comes out of her shell and is a completely different person when she’s doing something she loves, Parks said.
“She has really great things coming. She’s got a lot ahead of her and I can’t wait to see where she ends up,” she said.
The entire process made Ava realize that she wants to consider theater and writing as a career. “I was kind of on the fence about whether or not I wanted to go through with more like a science-based thing or an art-based thing. And now I’ve sort of realized that I really have a passion for writing and seeing other people’s writing come to life,” she said.
Kristina Serafini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kristina at 412-324-1405, [email protected] or via Twitter .