Spotlight on Sam Burris: YPT Featured Playwright

Sam Burris was a student in YPT’s In School Playwriting Program at Swanson Middle School last semester.  His play, The Stranger, deals with a young war veteran battling his demons after returning to the United States. Sam gives this tale a unique twist through his personification of Fear as the protagonist’s opponent.  Below, Sam talks about his experience of conceiving and writing The Stranger, which will be produced in YPT’s New Play Festival on April 24. 

Reflection on the New Play Festival Process
by Sam Burris

Like most of the kids in my all year drama class, I groaned when I heard that we were going to be writing a play every Wednesday for the next twelve weeks. But secretly, I was really looking forward to it. At first trying to write my play was really frustrating. I had a distinct idea in my head, and I just didn’t know how to put it into words. But once I got the words flowing, it was really easy and enjoyable to write this play. There were so many great plays in my class, so I was really surprised when I found out I had been selected to even be considered, let alone have my play produced.

After my play was selected, I was thrilled to learn that [YPT Program Associate] Laurie Ascoli would be my dramaturge, especially because she had been the teaching artist for my class. She was very helpful in the original process of writing my play, as well as when I had to make my final edits. Although we didn’t spend as much time together working on it, as I think some of the other playwrights may have, I never would’ve been able to write my play without her help. She guided me to make changes that helped me to better understand my own characters and find the words to describe the newfound aspects of the characters to the audience.

Throughout the whole process, I was afraid my play wasn’t “good enough”. Especially at the first read when I heard everyone elses’ plays. They were so spectacular, I was afraid to have mine read. But after I heard it read, I knew that it would do just fine. I loved hearing my words come to life through the actors. It was amazing.

I’m honored to be featured in the New Play Festival, and I’m astounded by the emotional capacity that the other playwrights express in their plays. I’m sure it’ll be great!

Sam Burris
YPT Young Playwright 

A Superhero Play by a Superhero Student

Dakota Wenberg is not sure what she wants to be when she grows up. She’s thinking she’ll either be a playwright or an astronaut (or maybe both), but she knows she still has a few years to decide.

Dakota is an eighth grade student at Swanson Middle School, and one of the fifteen talented young writers who will be featured in YPT’s 2011 New Play Festival.

I was thrilled when YPT’s Program Manager Nicole Jost invited me to serve as Dakota’s dramaturge and help her revise and develop her play for production. I remembered reading Dakota’s play, A Jewel of a Date, when I participated in YPT’s New Play Festival Reading Committee in January. Each Reading Committee member was responsible for reading and commenting on dozens of student-written plays from YPT’s In-School Playwriting Program, but Dakota’s play stood out for me. I was so impressed by her imaginative characters and her quick, witty dialogue. I remember sitting in my kitchen laughing, reading Dakota’s opening monologue out loud to my husband, and telling him, “YPT has to produce this play.”

A Jewel of a Date is an unconventional superhero story. The play’s protagonist is Superman’s daughter, Supergirl (also known as Liz). Throughout the play, Liz struggles to balance her life as a teenage girl navigating the new and uncertain territories of dating and high school, with her life as a tough, crime-fighting superhero. As Liz says in her opening monologue, “Girl stuff is hard, superhero stuff is super. So girl superhero stuff is SUPER HARD.” The play is often hilarious, sometimes poignant and always thoroughly entertaining.

I loved working with Dakota to develop her story. Dakota is a busy student. Last month, she was the stage manager for her school’s production of Beauty and Beast. She has swim practice every Tuesday. She sings in an after-school chorus at school and a youth choir at her church. But she still managed to come to each of our dramaturgy meetings completely prepared (with a laptop, multiple copies of her play and all of her YPT paperwork completed and signed) and excited to engage in an enthusiastic, focused dialogue about her play.

Dakota turned in the final draft of her play last week. Over the next month, she will have several opportunities to sit in on New Play Festival rehearsals and give the director and actors feedback as they bring her words to life. I can’t wait to hear what she thinks.

Brigitte
Development Director