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Philadelphia Young Playwrights' 2010 Professional Productions Takes Stage March 2-5

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Philadelphia Young PlaywrightsIt's not often that a high school student gets to tack on the title of playwright to her name. But for a few lucky students, their written words will be coming to life this week on stage during the Philadelphia Young Playwrights’ 2010 Professional Productions.

The event runs from March 2-5 at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre located at 480 South Broad Street on the Avenue of the Arts in Philadelphia. During those days, three plays will be performed by a group of professional actors who have been working since the first week of February to prepare.

The students - Emily Acker, Kya S. Johnson and Aimee Leong -- have been working right along side the pros, helping to shape and reshape their craft.

Directing the group is David Bradley, a long-time Young Playwright’s teaching artist and member of People’s Light & Theatre Company.

The four-day program will feature two monologues: F.A.T by Kya Johnson, who is a junior at Little Flower Catholic High School for Girls in Northeast Philadelphia and Torn Between by Aimee Leong of Center City’s Science Leadership Academy. Both won the 2009 Young Voices High School Monologue Festival.

Also featured will be the play Milk and Honey, which was written by Emily Acker when she was a high school student at The Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr. She is now a college student at Northwestern University.

Genne Murphy, an associate producer at Young Playwrights, said part of the non-profit’s group mission is to give students a chance to develop their work. They have playwriting programs in some 60 classrooms in the five-county region.

“Often it's their first time writing a play,” Murphy said.

Philadelphia Young PlaywrightsOnce the stories are selected, the student writers get to work closely with professional directors, dramaturges, actors and stage crew -- all to eventually have their work featured on the main stage that’s home to the Philadelphia Theater Company.

The themes of the 2010 Professional Productions are Peace and Self-Discovery. The student-penned works explore these topics alongside issues of racial, cultural and ethnic diversity.

Emily Acker’s play of Milk and Honey was first produced at the New Voices: Workshop Productions at Temple University in 2008. But since then, the young writer has had a chance to hone her craft and develop her play. She won the 2009 Young Playwrights Inc. National Playwriting Competition, and in January, and it had an off-Broadway reading. In the play, two worlds collide over a soccer ball as an Israeli boy and a Palestinian boy come together amidst intolerance and violence.

Acker was influenced by her time abroad in Israel which led her to write the play in her sophomore year.

“It was an indescribable experience, one that has changed my life,” says Acker. “After living in Israel, the conflict there … sparked my interest more so than most American politics. I consider it a home away from home. Because the political arena there seems stuck at a never ending stalemate, I think that it is important to promote peace in all other fields. I guess you could say I’m trying to do my part with this play.”

In Kya Johnson’s monologue, F.A.T the young writer explores the life of a full-figured African-American girl who ponders self-identity and love.

And Torn Between tells the story of an Asian-American teenager in an interracial relationship with her African-American boyfriend and her struggles between loyalty to her family, or to her heart. 

Murphy said the writers have been having break-through moments when they get to see actors truly invested in their work. “They come to the rehearsals, they work on revisions,” Murphy said. “They have an opportunity to go back into their work and go deeper.”

“Plays and monologues are meant to be live,” she added. “Having your words heard out loud and embodied in a person, it allows you to see the work more clearly.”

The audience will easily relate to the stories — even the middle school and college-aged students who are being encouraged to come through school groups.

“The major theme is the characters are asking big questions about themselves and their identity,” Murphy said. “Those are questions that everybody asks. They’re big and relevant topics.”

Performances are open to the general public with ticket prices ranging from $10-15, with free admission for school groups. The schedule includes a Special Accessible Preview (sign interpreted and captioned) on Tues, Mar. 2 at 7:30 PM; Student Matinees, Wed, Mar. 3 – Fri, Mar. 5 at 11:00 AM; and evening performances on Wed, Mar. 3 at 7:30 PM and Thurs, Mar. 4 at 7:00 PM. For more information, visit www.phillyyoungplaywrights.org or call (215) 665-9226. For individual and non-school tickets, contact the PTC Box Office at (215) 985-0420 or www.philadelphiatheatrecompany.org.