Thespians at took to the stage—and to playwriting, directing, sound-checking, lighting and producing—at the fourth annual Sock n' Buskin Young Playwrights Festival on Saturday night.
What began as an informal experiment four years ago—inviting the high schoolers to take charge of every aspect of a theater production—has evolved into a highly anticipated and well-executed tradition at PMHS. This year, 10 students each wrote an original 10-minute play and 14 students directed the works.
Some heavy themes—from adultery to grieving the death of a spouse—belied these teens' writing and real-world experiences. But perhaps what motivated these young scribes to take such risks was getting full ownership of their pieces, a responsibility that a typical high school performance does not grant.
"It's our product," beamed PMHS senior Megan Wines, who served as the festival's student coordinator. "This is all us—every step of the process."
Though putting an entire production together is somewhat foreign to a group of budding actors, the students moved from casting to opening night in just a month. But, even amidst the stresses of after-school basement rehearsals to directing friends for the first time, the mission of this festival was never lost.
"[It's about] young people trying to find their voice on stage," remarked PMHS theater director, John Orefice, at the outset of the show.
And find their voices, they did. Whether it was Eric Walls' "Secret Life of an American Ginger," a comedy about a redhead-members-only club, or Kyra Tantao's "High Elevation," a drama about a lonely elevator operator, the students succeeded in touching on a spectrum of emotions and timely hot-button issues, in creative and unexpected ways.
Tantao thoughtfully introduced the topic of bullying, for example, when a teen opens up to the elevator operator about having gotten attacked for being gay.
"It's one of the best kept secrets in Westchester," noted parent Joe Connors about the festival.
From the faculty's perspective, this opportunity is particularly rewarding because they get to watch the students learn the inner-workings of theater, firsthand.
"There's too much spoon-feeding in schools," Orefice noted. "[This festival] is all about them learning to be responsible—what do you do if someone is late to rehearsal?"
The students certainly felt the pressure that comes along with the behind-the-scenes responsibilities with which they aren't typically saddled. Wines said she was often jolted awake in the middle of the night, consumed with a pressing play detail. So she did what any invested director would do, she jotted a quick note on a Post-it and went back to bed.
Despite the time commitment and all-consuming nature this kind of production demands, Wines is confident someone will "step up" next year to fill her role.
"I'm looking forward to next year," echoed PMHS junior T.J. O'Brien, who performed in two shows on Saturday. "It was so much fun—it's just us."