Write On

StageNotes: Jeeves & Wooster

High School Playwrights Write On to the Stage

By Grace Clark, Education Enrollment & Marketing Coordinator

Thalia Pitti
Thalia Pitti

Thalia Pitti has been creating and writing stories since she learned how to write in kindergarten. Now a senior at Watkinson School in Hartford, Pitti is one of five high school students selected to participate in this year’s Write On mentorship program for young playwrights at Hartford Stage. The young writers work with a professional playwright to help them transform their manuscripts into 10-minute plays that are performed in a staged reading by local actors and produced by professional directors, who work closely with the students.

When asked if there is a playwright who inspires her, Pitti, 18, describes herself as “voracious reader” and noted more than a dozen, including  Lorraine Hansberry, Ntozake Shange, Jackie Sibblies Drury, August Wilson and James Lecesne. She has been particularly enamored with her favorite play, Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, and Hartford Stage productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey.

In Write On, Pitti has been developing her script, Escape Room, a “comedy in which five famous dead authors are somehow caught in an escape room together and are actually convinced that they are going to die if they don’t outsmart the simulation in time.” The authors have to figure out how they’re going to get out of the room “when their personalities, time periods, and literary philosophies to clash.”

“I want to be a writer who can write across genres, artistic mediums for any age group, and still tell stories that are capable of moving people,” said Pitti, who hopes Write On will give her more confidence as a writer. “I think that an obvious goal for writers should be continuous improvement, but I also want to be a versatile storyteller. I’ve always been interested in finding as many ways to tell a story as I possibly can, which has attracted me to mediums such as music, film, novels, and theatre. I am always experimenting with these domains and am an avid consumer of works in all of them.”

Write On guest playwright and mentor Aaron Jafferis, an author of nine plays, noted that all the students in the program bring creative and unique assets to their writing.

“They are all striking. They have talked, in particular, about wanting to create something that was exploring parts of their own identity or a struggle they might be going through and how that manifests,” He said. “I think the first thing is for them to be able to put themselves at risk in their writing; to find their own hearts and questions that they are struggling with… and through discovering who their characters are and [what their] plays are,  discover something about themselves and the world. I also hope they can get a sense of how their own writing can shift other people.”

Jafferis added, “The artistic goals are to help them build characters in a structure that most effectively and elegantly hits the audience in a way that changes something in them.” As a playwright, he became motivated to create works that impact audiences after writing his first hip hop play twenty years ago, called No Lie. “It was my attempt to organize my rage to respond to the racism of my friends and family in childhood,” he explained.

Sarah Lewis
Sarah Lewis

West Hartford Hall High School senior Sarah Lewis, an actress who has volunteered as a Hartford Stage usher, is thrilled with anticipation to see her work in a staged reading.

“I knew that a program like Write On would help me through the process of creating a script, discovering the characters and work-shopping it with people,” Lewis said. “The opportunity to create a play and watch a staged reading of it by professional actors is extremely unusual, especially for someone as young as me. I saw that opportunity and jumped at the chance to take advantage of it.”

Lewis’ play is “a comedy about two high school girls who are hanging out together, waiting to get the decision emails from their dream college. Things quickly escalate when only one of them is accepted and their seemingly genuine friendship completely falls to pieces.” She reflected on how this script came about. “In writing my script, I asked myself what would happen if people didn’t filter out the nastiness and jealousy that academic competition and the college application process breeds,” said Lewis. “What if two girls gave in to the darker side of competition? That question really became central to what I wrote.”

Krista DeVellis, Education Associate at Hartford Stage and Write On Coordinator, said the program this season has dynamic participants chosen from among two dozen applicants, all with a story to tell. “The participants this year are bright, creative, and insatiably curious,” said DeVellis.  “They have been truly writing, reading and growing before our eyes!”

Both Pitti and Lewis are determined to continue their growth as writers.

“I plan to continue writing no matter which career I choose to pursue,” said Lewis, whose goal is to be a professional playwright and novelist. “It’s an intrinsic part of me; there’s no way I could give it up.” An avid fan of the works of Walt Whitman and William Shakespeare, Lewis, a classical musician, plans on pursuing theater and music in college.

She adds that being a part of Write On and working with Jafferis has been life-changing. “Ten-minute plays are deceptively hard to write. You need to establish the complexity of your characters in a very short amount of time,” said Lewis. “I’ve learned so much. I feel so incredibly lucky to have been able to work with such an amazing playwright, to collaborate with talented and kind peers, and to have this wonderful opportunity to improve as a writer.”

After participating in Write On, Pitti is now considering a major in theatre studies in college. “I can’t imagine doing anything for a living that didn’t involve writing.”

For more information about Write On, visit https://www.hartfordstage.org/write-on.