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Young Playwrights showcased this week

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

In all my years covering education, some of my favorite stories have been about Philadelphia Young Playwrights.

I wrote several articles in the early years of the program, which was founded by the late Adele Magner nearly a quarter century ago. Most of these stories were about how English teacher Marsha Pincus and her professional playwright-collaborators were able to coax powerful works of art from students at Simon Gratz High School who were otherwise often considered underachieving.

Like the best plays, these newspaper stories contained both triumph and tragedy. One was about a student who had his prize-winning drama performed off-Broadway and went to college. Another was about a young man who had failed English several times but labored to perfect and deepen the characters in his play about a troubled father-son relationship – only to be shot to death on a Saturday night in North Philadelphia in what police called a case of mistaken identity.

The students wrote about what they knew, and the plays often had plots involving drugs, sexual abuse, suicide, alcoholism. Still, Pincus said at the time, they also reflected a "dignity and hopefulness about the future.”

Well, Young Playwrights is still at it, much expanded, and this week you will have the chance to see some of the best work of student playwrights from throughout the area showcased in professional performances at the Suzanne Roberts Theater.

The program will feature the monologues F.A.T. by Kya S. Johnson of Little Flower Catholic High School for Girls in Northeast Philadelphia and Torn Between by Aimee Leong of Center City’s Science Leadership Academy. Both these pieces were winners in the 2009 Young Voices High School Monologue Festival.

It will also feature the play Milk and Honey written by Emily Acker while a student at The Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr. Milk and Honey is also a winner of the 2009 Young Playwrights Inc. National Playwriting Competition.

The theme this year is peace and self-discovery. F.A.T. and Torn Between were chosen from an initial submission of more than 300 monologues. In F.A.T., a full-figured African American girl muses on self-identity and love. In Torn Between, an Asian-American teen ponders how she can be loyal to her family and to her African-American boyfriend.

In Milk and Honey, influenced by Acker’s time studying abroad in Israel, the worlds of a Jewish and a Palestinian boy collide over a soccer ball.

The works will be performed by professional actors under the direction of David Bradley, a company member at People’s Light & Theatre.

Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. There will be both student matinees and evening performances open to the general public.

Admission is free for all school groups, but reservations are required. For school group reservations, contact Nirvana Rivera at Young Playwrights at 215-665-9226.

Fifty free student rush tickets are available for each evening performance. Valid student ID from a school district or college is required.

For individual and non-school tickets, contact the Philadelphia Theater Company box office at 215-985-0420 or order tickets online.

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