Having a play produced by Actors Theatre of Louisville usually is the dream of adult playwrights trying to establish themselves on one of America's biggest launching pads for new theater. But two Lexington teens are getting to experience this thrill while they're in high school.
Benjamin Tucker, 17, a junior at Sayre School, and Maria Wu, 18, a senior at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, will have their 10-minute plays produced by Actors Theatre this week in the New Voices Young Playwrights Festival.
The Lexington writers are two of eight winners from a field of 451 aspiring playwrights in Kentucky and Southern Indiana.
"Their plays were exceptional, beginning to end," said Steven Rahe, director of education at Actors Theatre. "They were very different plays with distinctive voices."
Benjamin's play, Problem Solving, is set at a talent show where a competitor freezes onstage.
"I had several friends who had these character quirks and I was sort of thinking how could I get those specific quirks to interact with the others to exemplify what they stood for and how they acted?" Benjamin said.
Wu also based her play, Between Valley and Third Street, on a personal relationship, exploring how she might react to the death of a close friend.
Rahe said Wu's play stood out as a drama in a genre, the 10-minute play, that tends to favor comedy and quirky stories.
Wu said, "I think that's why I limited it to two characters, so that I could focus and keep it as simple as possible."
Rahe says the New Voices program, in its seventh year, has evolved from staged readings of the shows to full productions by the theater's prestigious Acting Apprentice Company. This year, the company includes a Dunbar graduate, Nick Vannoy, though he will not be in either of the Lexingtonians' shows. Dunbar also produced a New Voices winner last year: Eric Mattingly.
In addition to the productions, the student plays are published in an anthology.
"We try to make it as much like the Humana Festival as possible," says Rahe, referring to ATL's internationally acclaimed Humana Festival of New American Plays, which in 36 years has produced a steady stream of Pulitzer Prize winners and hits including Beth Henley's Crimes of the Heart.
That means the students have been burning up Interstate 64, attending rehearsals, workshops and shows at the theater.
The Lexington teens were the only winners this year from outside the metro Louisville area; four of the other winners are from Louisville and two are from Crestwood.
"They treat you, as the playwright, seriously, and that's something I really appreciate," Benjamin says. "They really help you through the process, and you become an integral part."
Wu says, "I really enjoyed the whole process, from writing the actual play to my sessions with my dramaturge to seeing it in rehearsal and finally, Tuesday and Wednesday, seeing it onstage, in front of an audience."
For both, playwrighting hasn't been the focus of their theater endeavors, though New Voices has piqued their interest.
"I have been a fan of writing for a while," says Benjamin, who wants to pursue it further.
Wu plans to go into biomedical engineering but says, "Writing and theater will probably be a hobby."
And now, she'll be able to say she had a play produced by Actors Theatre of Louisville.