The Warrior

Lane playwrights featured at 31st annual Young Playwrights Festival

Abigail+Henkin%E2%80%99s+play+%E2%80%9CDecision+Day%E2%80%9D+being+performed+at+the+31st+annual+Young+Playwrights+Festival+on+Jan.+27.%0A
Abigail Henkin’s play “Decision Day” being performed at the 31st annual Young Playwrights Festival on Jan. 27.

Abigail Henkin’s play “Decision Day” being performed at the 31st annual Young Playwrights Festival on Jan. 27.

Photo by Eunice Alpasan

Photo by Eunice Alpasan

Abigail Henkin’s play “Decision Day” being performed at the 31st annual Young Playwrights Festival on Jan. 27.

By Eunice Alpasan, Managing editor

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The idea for the play came to her when she received a postcard in the mail from her dream school in the fall of her senior year.

“Wow, look mom they’re flirting with me; they sent me this postcard,” Abigail Henkin said, jokingly.

Every year, the Young Playwrights Festival (YPF) holds a playwriting competition which gives high school students from Chicago the opportunity to submit a play and watch it be professionally performed on stage. The winning playwrights work with professional artists to workshop and produce their plays for the stage, according to Pegasus Theatre Chicago’s website.

Henkin’s play titled, “Decision Day” and Aaron Powdermaker’s play titled, “Pencils and Pens” were among the four plays chosen to be performed at the 31st annual Young Playwrights Festival (YPF) at Pegasus Theatre Chicago on Jan. 4-28.

Additionally, Lane’s Uriel Bandera was chosen as a finalist for his play “Run.” Aishah Baranda’s “A Motivated Locomotive” and Olivia Spindle’s “Do-Over” were chosen as honorable mentions.

“We’re always interested in looking for the voice for the next generation of theater writing,” said Ilesa Duncan, producing artistic director of Pegasus Theatre. “It’s encouraging young people to write for the stage because without the writers, there’s no play, there are no stories to tell.”

In Drama I and Creative Writing I and II, students are required to submit plays for the YPF.

Out of the four winning plays chosen for the Festival, two were written by Lane students — now alumni — out of 500 submissions across the city.

“Seeing it on stage was so inspirational,” Powdermaker said. “To watch something that was in your head and then have it jump out onto the stage for other people — it’s really magical.”

“Decision Day” follows Lizzy who is presented with the difficult decision of choosing which college to attend. However, the twist is that the colleges are personified as three suitors who compete with each other for Lizzy’s love and attention.

“It’s trying to figure out how do you go about your dreams and what kind of sacrifices and approaches you make in figuring that out with the situation you have,” Henkin said.

The three colleges represented were Lizzy’s dream school, an Ivy League school and a state school. Throughout the play, Lizzy had to weigh her options as each college offered different academic opportunities and costs of attendance.

In the writing process, Henkin said she drew from her own experiences to help build the story as she felt the pressure to attend a high-ranking, prestigious school during her senior year.

“That was something I was really grappling with,” Henkin said. “How do you deal with this expectation versus how do you actually find a place that’s a good fit for you?”

Now attending her first year at the University of Chicago, Henkin said her involvement with 11 theatre productions at Lane was critical to her development as a writer and an actor.

While Henkin enjoys both writing and acting, she said she believes she can have a greater influence through writing and crafting plays.

“When you’re acting, you’re translating somebody else’s work, so while you are also creating your own art, you have a less creative control in that process,” Henkin said.

Henkin submitted a play for the YPF since her freshman year through her Drama and Creative Writing classes. However, this excluded her junior year when she submitted a play on her own with the support of her Drama teacher, Mrs. Hanson.

“I was very surprised when I made it to the final rounds because I’ve entered this contest for three years in a row and I’ve just gotten nothing but rejections every time,” Henkin said. “This was my high school dream.”

While Henkin didn’t play a primary role with the production of the play itself, she was able to talk with her director, Jerrell Henderson, sit through casting and give feedback during rehearsals.

Having never previously written a play, Powdermaker said he was speechless when he received a call that he was a finalist for the YPF.

His play, “Pencils and Pens,” follows the friendship of Marshall the pencil and Perry the pen. Their relationship reaches a crossroad when Perry wants to achieve greater things with his life at the expense of potentially leaving his old one behind.  

Now attending his first year at Loyola University, Powdermaker said people entering a new chapter in their life, especially those going into their first year of college, would relate most to his play.

“At a certain point you have to take that step to leave your comfort zone,” Powdermaker said. “Whatever it is that is you stepping through a new barrier, you can find similarities to that situation in this play.”

Powdermaker wrote “Pencils and Pens” in Hanson’s Drama I class. He said the writing process included copious amounts of writing, rewriting, editing and peer reviewing.

But, even when the play is being performed live for an audience, Powdermaker said the editing process continues.

“Every time an actor acts in the shoes of your character, it changes that character based on the actor,” Powdermaker said. “Because of that element of live theatre, the editing process is just never over and that’s what gives live theatre a certain charm.”

Powdermaker said he purposefully chose the characters to be inanimate objects with indistinct backstories to allow the audience to put themselves in the characters’ shoes instead of putting labels on them.

The nature of the characters also presented him with some comedic opportunities throughout the play.

“Of course, it was about a pencil and pen, so I had to throw in a few good puns here and there,” Powdermaker said.

Powdermaker said he started writing from the middle of the play and simultaneously worked towards its beginning and end. He compared his play to a constantly evolving organism.

“Because it’s theatrical writing, since you’re writing it to be spoken — not to be read — it has to be an organism-like writing to become a play,” Powdermaker said. “If it’s not a living thing, how is it going to be alive on stage?”

Duncan directed two plays at the YPF, including “Pencils and Pens.”

“As a team, we pull together and do the whole thing,” Duncan said. “We had a lot of fun with it. We were exploring what that meant and really looking at the fact that it’s really about friendship.”

Powdermaker said he learned the importance of recognizing and taking advantage of resources and opportunities that were given to him.

“After all of your hard work, after all of your failures in the past, after all of the blood, sweat, tears, there’s always something to reach for,” Powdermaker said. “One of the biggest things I’ve learned is yeah, anything is possible, but more importantly, you can make anything possible with what you have.”

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Lane playwrights featured at 31st annual Young Playwrights Festival