St. Elizabeth’s Rita Offutt adds playwright to crowded list of academic, extracurricular achievements
WILMINGTON – If Rita Offutt was writing the story of her high school years, the last few pages might be blank, but the beginning would be chock full of interesting content.
Offutt, a junior at St. Elizabeth High School, loves to put thoughts on paper. She is one of five high school students selected a winner of the 2016-17 Delaware Young Playwrights Festival, sponsored by the Delaware Theatre Company. Offutt’s play, “Dear Daddy,” is about the reflections of two daughters about their fathers. One of the men was shot by a police officer, the other is the police officer.
Johanna Schloss, associate director of education and community engagement at DTC, said of Offutt, “This playwright courageously took on the sensitive topics of race and community relations between citizens and police as viewed through the lens of two teenage girls who love their fathers.”
Actors from DTC performed “Dear Daddy” and the other four winning entries in March, the culmination of a relationship the company forged with each of the young writers. Offutt was overwhelmed by the honor, which included a series of workshops to fine-tune her work.
“We went to the workshops and discussed the plays. We read them out loud and had them read to us by the actors, which was really, really cool,” she said recently during a rare free period for her at St. Elizabeth.
Her passion for writing began at St. Mary Magdalen School. Offutt said when she had some spare moments, she would fill it by writing short stories involving her and her friends.
“It developed into something that I really enjoyed doing. So I started to dedicate a lot of my free time to reading and writing and to discovering what I could do with that,” she said.
She said several teachers at St. Mary Magdalen were influential, particularly Joan Kingsley and Clare Moore. Offutt entered a writing program at St. Mary Magdalen. Offutt won an online contest and had her work published by Amazon.
She does a lot of poetry and creative writing, and enjoys watching a picture develop as the work progresses.
“I like looking at a sheet of paper before I put words on it and knowing that what I put on there is going to paint a picture without any color,” she said. “My experience with reading is that I kind of paint a very vivid image in my head of what’s going on, and so I always try to do that and create that same sense when I’m writing.
“I think writing literature can be very powerful and inspiring, and I would be absolutely honored if there was a time when I felt I had inspired somebody else.”
Writing is just part of Offutt’s St. Elizabeth experience. She also is involved in the school’s stage productions and is portraying the Wicked Witch in “The Wizard of Oz,” which was on stage this weekend. Her first stage experience there was as a freshman, when she was in “Legally Blonde.”
In addition, Offutt finds time to be a three-season athlete for the Vikings. She is playing soccer this spring, following cross country in the fall and swimming during the winter.
At St. Mary Magdalen, she played volleyball and basketball, and she continued in volleyball into high school as a member of the parish’s high school Catholic Youth Ministry team. She swam competitively for several years for the Brandywine YMCA and also recreationally for Lane Swim Club.
A happy Viking
On top of all that, Offutt is a student ambassador and president of the video club at St. Elizabeth, and she is a member of the youth group at her parish and the diocesan youth leadership team. Good time management allows her to do all of these activities and maintain her academics.
“I normally don’t get home until six o’clock. I take advantage of a lot of my free periods to make sure that I take care of all of that,” she said.
As involved as she is at St. Elizabeth, Offutt said the school was not on her radar as she entered eighth grade. Her closest friends at St. Mary Magdalen were going elsewhere, and she figured she would stay with them.
A number of factors played into her considering becoming a Viking. Her parents encouraged her to look at as many schools as possible, and when she visited St. Elizabeth for its open house, admissions director Matthew Haney convinced her to shadow for a day.
“I was like, ‘I’ll come shadow but I’m not going to come to your school,’” she recalled. She was mistaken.
“I just absolutely fell in love with it. I remember leaving when I was here for the shadow day. I was walking down the stairs to go meet my mom, and Riley Jackson, who’s a senior and one of our technical directors, he yelled, ‘See you next year,’ and waved.”
She enjoys the small-school atmosphere at St. Elizabeth, where “you come in the doors and everyone is happy to see you and so happy to be here. We all push each other and motivate each other to do our best.”
Offutt has another year of high school to go, but she envisions a career in graphic design, marketing or communications, perhaps in advertising. Before that, she’d like to add a bit more to the canvas she is painting as she makes her way through St. Elizabeth. She would like to strengthen the youth ministry program at her school into something resembling what she has at St. Mary Magdalen.
“I think it would be incredibly beneficial if we could put something like that together for the student body here. I think it’s a great way to strengthen the school as a whole and strengthen the students individually.”