The school commissioned Dwayne Hartford, a playwright-in-residence with Childsplay, in Tempe, to write an original play and involve ASA students in the process.
Hartford started by doing several workshops with high school theater classes at ASA; then he had small groups of student pitch ideas.
“I wanted this play to mean something to the students,” Hartford notes in the “One Act” program. “I wanted them to feel a sense of ownership.”
Hartford explained to students that he would be choosing one idea as the basis for the play after considering three criteria to make his decision: The play needed to feature a compelling and creative story; the cast had to number 10 to 16 students; and Hartford had to feel a passion to write the play.
Deciding which story to tell
One theme appeared over and over again—and it’s the one Hartford chose: the pressure and challenges facing 21st-century teens. His play imagines a group of high school students traveling to Las Vegas to perform in a regional theater competition. Their journey is filled with unexpected moments best appreciated by audiences in middle school and above.
Other themes in the play include parent expectations, identity formation, shifting friendships, romantic relationships, making future plans, feeling like an outsider and more. The digital world that pervades the lives of many teens is beautifully integrated into dialogue, set design and props.
“I am continually struck by the profound transition that young people go through in the space between being a teenager and becoming a young adult,” says Xanthia Walker, who directs the play and serves as ASA’s theatre arts team leader. “I think this transition is one of the strangest shifts we make in our lives.” She adds that it’s “extra weird” today, in 2014.
Twelve young artists portray 12 characters grappling with different circumstances and challenges. Like today’s teens, they contend with their own doubts and dreams, but also with the ways their hopes and fears intersect with others’ lives. It can be complicated and messy. All of the themes are conveyed with deep respect and authenticity by Hartford and his talented cast, whose work is supported behind the scenes by plenty of students, teachers and parents.
The project was funded in part by a grant from Arizona Commission on the Arts.
More fun with ASA theater arts
ASA performs “One Act” at 7pm on Friday, Oct. 31 and Saturday, Nov. 1. The final performance is at 2pm on Sunday, Nov. 2. Tickets are $10 and available online (for a small service fee) or at the door.
Stay after the Nov. 1 show for a conversation about the play’s development.
Look for fun displays in the lobby, where you can add to a giant list of words describing the high school experience, or learn how to follow the play’s fictional characters on Instagram.
Learn more about arts and academics at ASA.