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Westfield Students Try Playwriting

Budding young playwrights are alive and well at Westfield High. The school's drama director, Scott Pafumi, teaches a theatre arts III/IV class, and his students are just completing a nine-week unit on playwriting.

"First, they chose different styles of writing — drama, comedy, absurdist, melodrama," he said. "They crafted and created characters and told what their story was about. Then they wrote and read their first scenes, and their peers — also playwrights — acted in them and critiqued them."

The students then revised and rewrote their scenes in accordance with their peers' criticism. Later, their efforts were done as staged readings, with students reading the various parts from scripts, rather than acting them out.

"Afterward, the audience talked to the playwrights about their work," said Pafumi. "Young playwrights starting out often do staged readings. Some of the students' plays may eventually be featured at an evening showcase at Westfield but, for now, the emphasis is on developing the plays."

Some 18 students are in the class and they produced 10 different plays. Although most wrote individually, some teamed up with a partner. Some plays were autobiographical, with several taking place in high-school settings. But each was a 10-minute, one-act play with three to eight characters.

Junior Brent Biondo, 17, had been studying absurdism and existentialism and decided to try his hand at it. "I wanted to do something that not a lot of the others were doing," he said. "And I wanted to have fun with it."

His play is still untitled, but it's about three men planning to rob a bank. "It relies a lot on rhetoric and word play to make it humorous," said Biondo. "It tells all the crazy things these guys are thinking of that — in their minds — seem totally logical but, in the real world, are out there and absurd."

The class responded favorably to his play, but offered suggestions about character development, such as giving one of the robbers a monologue. "Going into this project, I didn't think I was much of a playwright, but now I think it's fun," said Biondo. "I learned how much actual acting experience it takes to write a good play and fluent dialogue. You need to know what every character's thinking, how they'll interact and how [the play will] be performed on stage."

He planned to revise his play again but, overall, he was pleased with it. Said Biondo: "It shows my knowledge about what I've been studying, the past couple months."

Senior Jennifer Carley, 18, scripted a drama called "The Crime." It centers on two couples; one is a college girl and the boy with whom she's cheating on her boyfriend. The other is her boyfriend who, after finding out what she's doing, gets back together with his high-school sweetheart.

"It's based on people I've known, and I made more of it," said Carley. "I'd never written a play before and I was scared out of my mind. But once I sat down, the ideas just flowed. And because it was so realistic, it just came together."

She said the toughest part was making it long enough and determining what should go into it. "It's hard to decide what's going to be interesting and what's going to be boring, so you have to pick and choose," she said. On the whole, though, she enjoyed writing about the human experience.

"I'm a people-watcher," explained Carley. "I'm interested in the psyche, so being able to make up lives for these people was really fun." She also liked the class format, saying, "It's really helpful to have, not only a teacher, but peers who give you good advice about what worked well and what you should change."

Teaming up for the assignment were senior Pat Mitchell, 17, and junior Jesse Leahy, 16. Like the others, they were first-time playwrights, and they called their effort "Dream On."

"It's a goofy comedy — very over-dramatic," said Mitchell. "It reminds me of a sitcom you'd see on TV. It's about a teen-ager named Cade who falls in love with this girl and has phone conversations with his friends about what to do about her."

He said the play has three "Dickens-esque" dream sequences exploring what will happen if Cade asks the girl out, if he doesn't and if he grows old with her. Leahy wrote the first scene and Mitchell did the last two. "It was pretty fun to see it acted," said Leahy. "But we're not done — we're going to add more comedy."

The duo first discussed the storyline and then came up with the characters. They wrote it at home, in their spare time, and then each read the other's work before blending it together. So did things go smoothly?

"We disagreed on the ending," said Leahy. "We both wanted different things. I wanted a sad ending; he wanted happy. I won in the end — it's a tragic ending, and you wouldn't expect it with such a happy-go-lucky story."

Leahy learned that the writing process takes time and, said Mitchell, "You have to have patience and not get ahead of yourself." Leahy said it was good working with a partner because they could compare dialogue to make sure it sounded realistic. Added Mitchell: "It's a lot easier to be more creative when you have two minds working."