Students Reach Playwright’s Festival Finals

By Meg Weissleberg & Sander Lutz and Meg Weissleberg & Sander Lutz

The eight finalists of the Marin Young Playwright’s Festival were announced online on January 14. Among them were Tam sophomores Tessa King and Abby Bordin. The festival, produced annually by the Marin Theatre Company (MTC) in Mill Valley, encourages high school students to submit their own ten-minute, one-act plays. The competition emphasizes playwriting above all other aspects of theatrical production; the play may require no more than four actors, and no design elements beyond a few chairs, a table and simple props.

Bordin, King and the other finalists will cast their shows with teen actors and attend meetings and rehearsals, before the festival takes place at MTC on Sunday, March 10. The winning playwright will receive a professionally-acted, staged reading of their script, which will be open to the public at MTC on a date not yet determined. Last year the winning show, written by Jake Levy of Terra Linda High School, was performed by the professional cast of MTC’s Shakespeare production, “Othello, the Moor of Venice.”

Both Bordin’s and King’s plays touch on the themes of teenage angst and the difficulty of home life, though within different contexts.

“[My play is] about two sisters, one of whom committed suicide, writing letters back and forth to one another,” King said. “The younger sister, Hope, [is] reading letters that her older sister, Grace, wrote to her before she killed herself. Grace instructs Hope to write letters back to her even after she’s gone as part of a coping method.”

Bordin’s play, on the other hand, focuses on one central character and her escape from a troubled life. “It’s a play about a girl who lives with her very dysfunctional family,” Bordin said. “She’s just kind of unhappy with her whole situation, just the hand that she’s been dealt, so she escapes all the pressures and imperfections of her life through the poetry of Emily Dickinson.”

Both Bordin and King cite the most daunting aspect of their creative process as conceiving a story that could be both entertaining and engrossing in the short period of ten minutes. Bordin claims she didn’t go searching for inspiration; she says it found her.

“I was looking around at all the books in my house, and I found this one, and I opened to a random page and I saw one of [Emily Dickinson’s] poems. I don’t remember exactly which one it was, but I just thought it was beautiful and simple, and it kind of just put an idea in my head,” she said. “I just always have weird ideas floating around in my head. And when something just kind of clicks like that, you have to write it down.”

Bordin’s play was originally written as a part of Levinson’s English class. She discovered the playwriting competition through Tam’s drama program, and began attending drama tutorials, in which guest-artist Bob Ernst volunteered his time to help students create and edit plays.

“I had a really solid idea and I was really happy with most of it,” Bordin said, “but when I came to Bob I think the exact words used were ‘there’s just something missing’ …. [Bob] and a couple other kids who were in the [playwriting tutorial] group… really helped me figure out what was wrong with it, and helped me change it and just open my eyes to things I hadn’t seen.”

King’s creative process was somewhat different, her play being specifically written with MTC’s competition in mind. “I had a couple one-acts that I had already written, but they were too long, or had too many characters, or something like that, so I just took this one, which I had the idea for, and just kind of cranked it out.” Rather than being prompted by established works of literature, King says the ideas for her play sprouted from her own poetry. “I took some poems that I had been working on, and kind of turned them into this one act. So I guess I had already thought of the idea, but I hadn’t thought of them in terms of a one-act.”

Now that they have been selected as finalists, both playwrights will be matched with a director. “The MTC people talk with [interested student directors] and a director is chosen to work with us, then an open casting call will be held,” King said. “[We], the writers, along with the directors will be present and we will cast our shows… After that we will have two, two hour rehearsals and then we perform.”

Although competition within the festival is becoming more serious, Bordin and King’s attitude remains positive. “Of course I would love to win,” King said. “It would be unbelievable and I would feel utterly overjoyed. The other playwrights, however, are amazing. For me it’s not about the winning or losing.”

Bordin feels similarly. “I’m just happy that my show has gotten me this far,” she said. “And if the judges there like it once it’s been staged, that’s great, that’s awesome. But if they don’t, that’s fine with me.”