Madeleine Barrett; Avid Student Playwright
I was ridiculously excited. But intermixed with that excitement was a bit of nervousness. Okay, a lot of nervousness. I had only contacted these people through e-mail. I had never met them, nor had they met me. What if I did not live up to what they expected of me? What if they thought I was just a child? Or worse— what if there were other children there and I was taking this too seriously?
These were all the thoughts I had while walking into Flynn Space on Monday, the second of April. I had been invited to judge the plays for Young Playwrights, a program in which I was a participant last year.
I had contacted Cristina Weakland, the director of education, and she had come up with opportunities to help me in my 8th grade challenge, but also in my passion for writing and theatre. She then directed me to Joan Robinson, the Associate Director for School Programs. They invited me to come help judge the plays submitted by the schools around Vermont, and then to attend the Festival in May. I was awestruck by this honor.
That very same day as the judging, I had come back from a weekend trip to Boston for a final showing of Les Misérables on tour (Yes, this is what we playwrights do in our spare time) and I was so tired that all my negative thoughts ate at me. What if? What if? It was not helped by the fact that when I got there, the inside door was locked. Just in front of it was a sign that read: Young Playwrights Judging meets down here, with a nice and big arrow pointing to the stairs. The elevator would not go down. What if I had come to the wrong place? Or the wrong time? What if it was the wrong day? My father and I stood there for a few moments, awkwardly shifting in the thick silence. But soon a woman with short hair wearing a white Irish cable knit sweater went to unlock the door. I opened my mouth to speak, but she didn’t seem to notice me or my 6-foot-something father. But just as she turned the key, she also turned to me, and said welcomingly—
“Are you Madeleine Barrett?” and extended her hand as I said yes. She brought me down to the basement stage room and explained to me what would be happening. I was still a tad jumpy, but seeing that stage down there and feeling the atmosphere made me feel much more secure; and as the others filed in, I knew I was with my own ‘kind’ and I felt completely at ease. Some people as they walked in looked confused at my presence and my tiny briefcase. Some looked just plain surprised. Others rushed toward me and introduced themselves, asking about what brought me here. I met my e-mail buddies, along with seeing people I already knew. When we began, we sat and introduced ourselves. We were to state our name and what force had brought us here, or our occupation. The line slowly progressed toward me. Each person had fantastic feats under their belts— like being in medical school or producing a show professionally, and I wasn’t sure what to say to make me sound in the least bit impressive. Finally they all glanced toward me. And the words were coming out before I knew it.
“Madeleine Barrett; avid student playwright.” I said certainly. They all smiled— some seemed as if it was because I was ‘cute’, but most others looked almost proud at how well I was blending in. I was the only younger-than-adult person there. When they divided into groups of four and divvied up the plays, the real fun began. We’d go through a play, making it come to life as best we could, and then comment and rate it. Between plays, I’d glance at the treat bowl in the center of the table, which none had yet taken from. I must not give into my childish urge for sweets! I did not want to be the first to break, but I was. Oh, well.
Each play was unique. Some did need some clear editing work, but they all shined in their own light. One of the things I found was that the group much preferred the plays of the middle-school pupils than that of the high school students. We had some real fun with characters, and it is not because we’re all undiscovered stars that an agent was never lucky enough to pick up. Well, that too. But it was because each person really made their characters, and story, shine in one way or another.
I must admit, I was much impressed by the work of the students. Now, the last thing I wish to be sounding like is superior. I am most certainly not, or I at least do not think of myself as being this way. I make mistakes; have stiff dialogue in some places; and sometimes many too-dramatic-storylines, among other things. When my school selected Young Playwrights participants this Fall, I was not selected since I had already had the chance to participate last year. I felt an unbelievable sadness about this. I was jealous of those who were lucky enough to have their name plucked by fate. For a long time I was bitter. But now I know without my misfortune, I would have never have looked for another way to be involved and have this awe-inspiring experience. By reading the work of others, I gained insight into my own writing.
I grabbed my briefcase and the last bits of chocolate from the treat bowl, looking around the near-empty room. Our group was the last one there. My father came in, right on time, 7:00 pm, and waved. They greeted him as Madeleine’s father. “You can call me Bob,” he said with a wry smile, “but my name’s David.” We all laughed. “Now we know where she gets it from.” Joan said with a wink.