CTC jumps into the season with final stages of Young Playwrights Project

RUBY WALLAU | Staff Photographer
Ricardo Dâvila performs in That’s What Friends are For written by Jenica Jones

Tristin Abers explored the existential life of water puddles in the sun through his play Puddles. Alex Traver shared the emotional tragedy of losing a beloved pet in Bandit Runs Away! Coly Joly spoke of fear through The Leftovers.

These budding playwrights could very well be the prodigies of Samuel Beckett and William Shakespeare, except that they are all third graders, and they’re part of the first-ever Young Playwrights Project, an initiative for local third-graders in Chautauqua Lake and M.J. Fletcher elementary schools.

On Monday, the nine students, including Great Bolloman, Ava Olson, Jenica Jones, Kylee Tolbert, Abrielle Monaghan and Gavin Cuoco, presented their original plays in front of an audience at Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall. The plays were directed by Chautauqua Theater Company’s Vivienne Benesch and Katie McGerr, and performed by CTC conservatory members. The program is a collaboration between Chautauqua Theater Company and Florida Studio Theatre, funded by Chautauquan and FST board member Georgia Court.

RUBY WALLAU | Staff Photographer

Matthew Baldiga performs in the play “Trapped in a Fairy Tale” written by Abrielle Monaghan.

“For a long time, it has been a wish to get the local and regional schools more involved with all the artistic programming in Chautauqua,” said Benesch, CTC artistic director. “This particular project has been a great initiation into a relationship with the schools here.”

For the program, Benesch worked closely with FST Associate Director Kate Alexander.

The program had three stages: a two-day residency by FST teaching artists at both schools, a winter Play Reading Workshop at Bellinger Hall with volunteers from Chautauqua Play Readers, and a final public presentation of the nine winning plays.

Associate Director of Programming Deborah Sunya Moore said that the program will expand next season.

“Next year, we are planning to include the fourth-graders as well as Panama Elementary School,” she said.

Although the CTC conservatory actors had very little rehearsal time, they delivered amusing performances of living, nonliving and mythical creatures alike. The audience, including students, educators and members of CTC, left auditorium as a happy bunch.

CTC is currently in the middle of setting up for its season opener, Our Town, which opens Saturday, July 4. Their theme this year is “imagination.”

“What a kickoff to the season with the imagination of local third-graders,” Benesch said. “Playwriting is a wonderful way to both activate your fantasy and work through your fears. And these kids have taken full advantage of that.”

RUBY WALLAU | Staff Photographer
Conservatory actors Kevin Schewey and Karen Lugo perform in plays written by 3rd graders from local elementary schools during the Young Playwrights Project June 22.