by Reinaldo Colon, ’21

At 7 pm on May 10, the Young Playwrights Festival was held at Syracuse Stage where winning plays from local high school students were performed by students from the performing arts department at Syracuse University.  365 contestants entered the Young Playwrights Festival competition this year, which was the largest number of entries the festival has ever received. Out of the sixteen semi-finalists, I was honored to be one of them and out of the eight finalists, three of them were from J-DHS — “Johnson’s Academy For Nautically Interested Boys in Pursuit of a Financial Degree” by senior Clayton Reynolds; “Viewer Discretion Advised” by junior Alethea Shirilan-Howlett; and “Waiting for the Moment” by sophomore Alice Yi.

“Waiting for the Moment” by Alice Yi. Photography by Mikayla Hawkinson, Community Engagement and Education Dept. at Syracuse Stage.

Each play was remarkable in many ways. They all had some sort of humor in them and also had a great inspiring message to them, whether it was about depression, sexuality, or standing up for yourself and not giving in to pressure. It was cool to see the plays acted out live because it showed you the emotion and brought the plays to life. You also got this sense from them that they were trying to get a reaction from the crowd. Not a minute could go by without the crowd bursting in laughter and excitement.  The SU student directors and actors were well prepared and brought the best out of the plays. The actors’ emotion and physicality gave the crowd an enjoyable, fun and eventful evening.

“Viewer Discretion Advised” by Alethea Shirilan-Howlett. Photography by Mikayla Hawkinson, Community Engagement and Education Dept. at Syracuse Stage.

However, the three plays from J-DHS students really stole the show. They easily got the biggest and loudest reactions from the crowd and were the most exciting plays. In sophomore Alice Yi’s play “Waiting for the Moment” about a young man coming out to his parents, you were always wondering when and if he would have the courage to tell them. Junior Althea Shirilan-Howlett’s play “Viewer Discretion Advised” sent a strong and timely message about how big a problem depression is today and how well-meaning adults try to push it under the rug. Finally, the funniest piece of the entire night was “Johnson’s Academy For Nautically Interested Boys in Pursuit of a Financial Degree” by senior Clayton Reynolds. Throughout the whole play people could not stop laughing. Everything about the whole play was ironic and hilarious.

Following the performances, each of the semi-finalists in attendance received special recognition.  This was followed by a Q&A session between the audience and the eight winning playwrights. The questions began with “what inspired you to write your play?”.  Each finalist explained to the crowd their inspiration or initial idea. It was very interesting and eye-opening to hear how each playwright responded. Some wrote from their own experience while others were influenced by issues in the media or in their local communities. Then after the Q&A and photo sessions on the main stage, everyone adjourned to the reception.

“Johnson’s Academy for Nautically Interested Boys In Pursuit of a Financial Degree” by Clayton Reynolds. Photography by Mikayla Hawkinson, Community Engagement and Education Dept. at Syracuse Stage.

The evening ended with a reception in the Syracuse Stage lobby, complete with free food and beverages.  The playwrights mingled with the performers, directors, and audience members, receiving praise and answering still more questions about their writing and inspiration.  Overall, it was a great and enjoyable evening and it was very cool to see the plays performed. I am looking forward to next year’s competition because who knows? Maybe I’ll submit a new play.  At the very least, it’s a great free opportunity to see live entertainment and celebrate the creativity of the local high schools as well as our own J-DHS student playwrights.

Clayton Reynolds responds to a question as Alice Yi considers her response. Photography by Mikayla Hawkinson, Community Engagement and Education Dept. at Syracuse Stage.
Performers from the SU Drama Department strike a pose. Photography by Mikayla Hawkinson, Community Engagement and Education Dept. at Syracuse Stage.
All of the student winners of the 2019 YPF. Top left to right — Clayton Reynolds, Alice Yi, and Alethea Shirilan-Howlett. Photography by Mikayla Hawkinson, Community Engagement and Education Dept. at Syracuse Stage.
Sophomore Playwrights in Mr. Phillips’s 2AC class model their Young Playwrights Festival 2019 t-shirts.
Playwrights in Mr. Phillips’s 1AC English 10 class strike a pose in their YPF shirts.