Professionals stage plays by students playwrights

Graham Parkes ’10 traveled to New York to see a staged reading of his play which was chosen by Playwright’s Inc., and may be performed profesionally later this year.

On Saturday, Charles Green ’08  learned that his play “Where Beautiful Things Go to Die” had been produced by the Pittsburgh New Works Festival.

When asked why he likes to write, Parkes repeats the question as if someone has just asked him “which one came first, the chicken or the egg?”

“If you get an idea, the only way to stop thinking about it is to write it out,” he says after a long pause. “Or else it will just stay with you and annoy you eventually.”

Parkes has been dealing with this “annoyance” for as long as he can remember. With encouragement from his father, Parkes has written several short stories and fine-tuned his writing skills in a playwriting class at Cal State Summer School for the Arts.

During one class, the professor told the students to write a scene where the stakes are high. One scene led to another, and from this one assignment, Parkes “flushed out a full play.”

The play is about the irony of a man who hires a detective to find out if his wife is cheating on him only to discover that the detective falls in love with his wife. Parkes relates most to the husband since they are both writers. He is intrigued by the character’s moral compass.

“He has a lot of morals within himself, but he never acts on them,” Parkes said.

Parkes began writing the play, his first, in ninth grade when he was out sick from school for more than a semester. Parkes had a rare condition called pectus excavatum, a defect characterized by deep depressions of the sternum, which affects his breathing.

After constantly missing school due to severe asthma attacks, Parkes and his family decided that surgery would be the best option to fix the defect. Though Parkes was homeschooled and had a tutor during his recovery period, it was still tough to catch up with all the work.

“It wasn’t easy to go through what he went through, trying to stay up-to-speed in his classes while at the same time being very distracted by his health issues,”  Upper School Dean Jon Wimbish said.  Wimbish was Parkes’ dean at the middle school when he was in ninth grade.

During his recovery, Parkes had a lot of free time to watch movies and perfect his play, he said. He submitted the play to the program Playwrights Inc. Soon after, Parkes was one of nine kids chosen to go to New York for a stage reading. Parkes stayed in New York for a week and a half while he attended a workshop to work on his play with directors and actors from the program.

Three of the playwrights who participated in the workshop will have their plays performed professionally. Parkes is still waiting to hear if he is one of the three.

“The experience was awesome. Going to live in New York was cool,” Parkes said. “All the other kids were great.”

Parkes hopes to write for the Playwrights Festival and might work on a short film with a friend in the future.

“While I wouldn’t wish his situation on anyone, the silver lining in a case like this is an appreciation for things that others take for granted and a developed sense of passion for things that bring him joy,” said Wimbish.

Green wrote his play “Where the Beautiful Things Go to Die” last year. Little did Green know that half a year later he would find out that the Pittsburgh New Works Festival had produced and run his play in September.

Green used Dante’s “Divine Comedy” as inspiration for his play. Using his background in poetry, Green incorporated a lot of poetry into “Red Room,” the shorthand title of “Beautiful Things.”

According to the Pittsburgh New Works press release, Green “describes this play as the culmination of his strongest poetry and prose adapted for the stage.”

“What made me so happy was that the style is called ‘impossible theater’” Green said, “because directors don’t like putting them on.”

The play is set in an American cafe, not defined by a specific place or time. It is a place for people to go to soothe their troubles and ponder life, Green said. The plot follows a writer who meets the ghost of his brother, who leads him to the cafe’s secret “Red Room,” and through it to the place beyond.

Green was entered into the competition by Christopher Moore, a performing arts teacher who regularly tells students about potential competitions they can enter. Earlier this year “Red Room” was also a National Young Playwrights finalist.

Although the play was produced in Pittsburgh in September, Green did not learn about it until after the production had ended.

“I was a little disappointed no one told me earlier,” said Green, “I was sent a letter saying ‘sorry you missed the production.’”

Green doesn’t know anybody else who applied, but he was one of three high school seniors whose plays were put on by the program.

Around 400 to 500 plays were entered into the competition. Green received $100 as prize money.