After tonight's performance of seven one-act plays written by high school students and presented at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts by professional actors and directors, I shook the hand of a young playwright. His piece was so disturbing that a parent got up immediately afterward, expressed her disdain to a staff member, and left the building in the middle of the program. "Congratulations," I said to the student. "You've done in just a few months of writing what I've spent my entire career trying to do."
I mean, don't we artists all want to create work that will shake audiences to their very core? Whether it's by making people laugh out loud, feel deeply, really think, or, yes, walk out, we want people to have a genuine reaction. And, collectively, all the students achieved all those things tonight.
The line-up? A girl is literally trapped inside her own mind until she can solve her romantic dilemma.... The characters in a role-playing game come to life and berate thirtysomething nerds.... Two prostitutes from two different eras reach across time to talk to each other about their circumstances.... Stoner friends fend off zombie hookers.... A first date goes awry due to an overly aggressive GPS system.... A town committee decides the gruesome fate of one of its citizens.... And a schoolgirl's crush on her teacher transports her to the Old West to live out her fantasies.
This evening was the culmination of a program at TheatreWorks, in which I was sent into a drama class at Palo Alto High School (my third high school over the last few years), helped 15 students develop new plays, and subsequently mentored seven selected playwrights to take their work to the next level. Yes, I was handed the opportunity to corrupt young minds (or, at the very least, get the kids to tell me where they buy their drugs), but I taught them playwriting instead. (I'm just kidding, Palo Alto Unified School District, I'm just kidding, keep those checks coming!)
The plays are surprisingly high-quality, and the diversity of writing styles, topics, and voices is truly impressive. People who don't come to these showcases have trouble believing that this is true. But it is. I mean, the work is honestly on par with, if not better than, the many one-act play showcases and festivals I've been to.
And you should've seen these kids' faces. They take me back to a place where everything is new again. And it's great to be reminded what that feels like from time to time.