This group of high school playwrights had their work brought to life by professional actors

Nate File, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Lifestyles

PHILADELPHIA -- The Philly born, Pulitzer-winning playwright Charles Fuller didn’t start writing plays until he was an adult. These high school students are getting a head start.

Philadelphia Young Playwrights, a organization that has taught Philly youth the art of playwriting since 1987, held its Spring Showcase earlier this month. At the event, professional actors read and performed the plays that high school PYP participants have been working on for several weeks.

“It’s so special to the students to see their work read out loud,” said LaNeshe Miller-White, the executive director of Philadelphia Young Playwrights. “A group of adults who respect them and their work... I think is always something that is amazing for them and brings so much pride to the students.”

Eight students in the PYP program this spring had excerpts of their plays read at the showcase.

Their work ranged from monologues to full scenes, with subjects exploring both real-life dramas and the fantastical. The formal readings by the local professional actors followed an open-mic portion, where other students were free to present their own playwriting, too.

Miller-White said that while many Philadelphia students may have a theater program in their schools, they don’t often get the chance to write and perform their own stories.

“Usually they’re producing an already-created play. [Here], students have the opportunity to tell the stories they want to tell, showcase their voice and what they feel [is] important to them ... [they] learn that their voice means something and that their stories mean something.”

Skylar Clemens, a 10th grader at TECH Freire Charter School in North Philly, wrote a play about a girl who escapes an abusive household and goes on an adventure to find a new, better home. It’s the first play that Clemens has ever written, but she said that she’s had the idea for the story for a long time.

Before this experience with PYP, Clemens said that her theatrical interests were focused on acting. But now, she thinks that playwriting may be her best fit.

“After all the hard work that’s gone into writing, just seeing it performed would be pretty cool,” she said before the showcase.


Meanwhile, Bee Kanofsky, a junior at Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts, is a playwriting veteran. She’s been acting for several years, but first picked up writing when the pandemic hit.

“I wanted to really connect, because in the theater community ... whenever a production would end, it would feel like the community would go away with it,” she said. “I found that really in the writing community and especially in the playwriting community, because it’s really small so you gotta stick together, tight-knit.”

The monologues that Kanofsky prepared for the showcase came from her play about the real-life relationship between two Philadelphia-area families in the early 20th century.

The Black visual artist Horace Pippin had returned to West Chester after serving with the famed Harlem Hellfighters in World War I. His right arm was severely wounded by German sniper fire and had lost some of its function. Pippin sought the help of a local beekeeper, H. Ralph Weaver, for bee stings, a treatment then thought to ease pain and arthritis.

In exchange, Pippin gave Weaver seeds for fish peppers, which were popular among Black families living along the Chesapeake Bay. Decades later, the small chili peppers were thought to be extinct, when William Woys Weaver, Ralph’s grandson, discovered jars full of seeds in his grandfather’s freezer in 1995. The younger Weaver shared the seeds, making fish peppers once again available.

Kanofsky said before the showcase that she would have an “emotion soup” of feelings while watching her work performed.

“It feels validating. And I feel really grateful to be able to have it performed,” she said.

“[And] being able to say that not only is my work worthy of being celebrated and being brought to life, but also that this community believes enough in me where they’re willing to put that faith in putting it on.”

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