Student playwrights tackle real-life issues

Sometimes, personal experiences make the most relevant and interesting plot lines for the stage.

Senior Kyrsten Lilly wanted to try something non-traditional for her Honors capstone project. So rather than research, she selected to write a play.

“Last year, my classmates and I were talking about different influences of psychology in theatre, and we came up with the idea to see how case studies could apply to a play,” Kyrsten said. She called on some of her own life experiences, those of her friends, and some media accounts as she put pen to paper to write “Disenchanted,” which addresses mental illness within a family and subtly tries to break down stigmas attached to it.

Kyrsten’s play, along with “Glass House,” by junior Lilly Ellis, will be the featured works of this year’s Playwright’s Festival on Wednesday, April 26.

Lilly’s one-woman, six-character show centers around the dynamics of a family left to cope when a sibling leaves and a difficult event occurs. Not wanting to reveal too much of the plot, she explains, “Everything takes place after the main event when the family is not functioning as well as it should.”

Because both plays are works in progress, the Playwright’s Festival will have a different feel. The cast will do a read-through with basic blocking and lighting, but no props or set changes will be incorporated. Cast members will read from scripts as the authors give stage direction. They’ll involve the audience in feedback at the end of the read-through.

“We acknowledge that these drafts may be rough, but we’re looking to see where we can grow from here,” Kyrsten said. Lilly agreed: “We have to go into this with a growth mindset. We know they’re incomplete.”

As their own worst critics, the thought of putting their work before a live audience has them a bit anxious. “I am a little apprehensive,” Lilly conceded. “This has been more challenging to write because it’s very real. … Once you put your name on it, it’s your piece. You own it.” Kyrsten agreed, adding that the emotional attachment to the characters make the play very personal for her.

But they have a cheerleader rooting them on. Theatre Director Stephen Svoboda has provided Kyrsten and Lilly with positive reinforcement, strong encouragement and lots of creativity.

“The more we work with Stephen, and he starts getting excited with us, we realize he thinks there’s potential there, and that makes it less scary,” Kyrsten said. “I like that he sees our potential,” Lilly added.

Stephen will be featured during the second day of the Playwright’s Festival, with his preview of “The Penguin Tango,” a side-splitting, screwball comedy inspired by actual events at three famed zoos, where a community of penguins is hilariously turned upside down by sex, stereotypes and soggy sardines.

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