WILMINGTON — There was a familiar feel at the Delaware Theatre Co. earlier this month when the five winning entries in the Delaware Young Playwrights Festival were performed in front of a live audience.
St. Elizabeth High School seniors Lauren McAllister and Danielle Chapman returned this year, each submitting a winning entry in the festival for a second time. McAllister was selected for “Hope Prevails,” while Chapman wrote “Happy New Day.”
McAllister’s play is about a high school girl who is trying to finish a summer reading assignment for her history class, but she’s struggling with the writing part of the project.
“A girl from the Revolutionary War appears in her bedroom and tries to help her write her story,” McAllister said. “They start learning from each other. They start learning how to believe in one’s self.”
When the playwrights festival began last fall, the Delaware Theatre Company sent out a packet of items to help the students get the ideas flowing. One of their suggestions was to place characters in a different time period. McAllister didn’t want to do that, but she had an idea based on that premise.
“I thought wouldn’t it be cool to have two very different characters in different timelines meet? And what could I possibly do to make them have something in common. I just ran with it,” she said.
Chapman returned to the festival this year with an entry called “Happy New Day.” It is about a literature teacher and a basketball coach, “and they’re basically arguing about a student and a player.” The student is failing her lit class, causing friction between the teacher and coach.
“As they go through their conversation, they wish they had better guidance in high school. They realize that they need to help this kid instead of pulling her in two different directions,” Chapman said.
She said she began writing the play around the time of the start of the high school football playoffs, when some students get the bad news that they are no longer eligible for the team because of their grades. She knows students who have gone through this.
Her play, she said, shows that the blame naturally falls on the student, but she explored the help offered to these students.
“I’ve played sports, and I’ve been a student long enough to know it’s hard to succeed in both categories,” Chapman said.
Both young ladies entered the contest this year for the third time. And despite each having won before, it was a bit of a surprise to hear that again, McAllister said.
“That day, when I found out that I was a finalist, Ms. Hayden came in and sat down next to me and said, ‘You did it again,” she said. “I was like, ‘What?’ ‘You won the playwright contest.’ It was insane. It was surreal to get to do it again.”
She enjoyed getting professional feedback before the play was performed publicly.
“I loved getting other people’s perspective on the story because it helped me form my own perspective of it.”
She found out where she wanted to make some tweaks, develop characters more.
“I felt like it was such a great process. I was very grateful for it.”
Chapman said some things have changed each year she has competed in the Young Playwrights Festival.
“As you write more and more, you realize what you want to write and what you don’t,” she said. “When you really want to write something, that’s how it comes out well. If you are bad at writing essays, it might be the material you are writing about. But then when you write a play … you can find out where you really want to go with it.”
Chapman had intended on going into computer science, but she has pivoted and has applied to a few schools for their film programs. She was a member of the field hockey and indoor track teams, and this spring, she is playing soccer.
McAllister is headed to Ursinus College and will major in English and creative writing. She has been involved with the Cedar Street Players at St. Elizabeth and spent part of the late winter auditioning for a role in “Anastasia.” She was aiming for the comic relief character. She played a victim in “Clue,” the fall play.
“I walked on, I tap-danced, and I died,” she said.
Both students credited English teacher Robin Hayden for getting them involved with the Young Playwrights Festival.
“If you don’t have Ms. Hayden, she will find you,” Chapman said. “You always have Ms. Hayden, even if you don’t.”