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A Budding Playwright

Father-daughter team create musical for school play.

Although in fifth grade, Abby Cummins has notebooks filled with stories. From one of her first stories in kindergarten about a dimwitted knight to now, Abby spends her free time writing short novels, her favorite genre. So when Karen Wiechelt, her fifth grade teacher at Green Hedges School in Vienna, discovered last fall that Abby was writing a play about ancient Greece, Wiechelt approached Abby to write the play for her class’ annual fifth grade production.

Abby agreed, and later asked her father, a composer and music teacher, to help her go one step further and create a musical.

"It comes naturally to me," said Abby on writing.

Abby’s play recently performed before parents, friends and teachers last Tuesday at Green Hedges. The result of the father-daughter collaboration was a musical about two modern children named Sarah and Michael, who go back in time to ancient Athens, Sparta and Corinth as they’re researching for their school report. Abby had been studying ancient Greece as part of the social studies curriculum.

"It’s cool," Abby said, on watching her play come to life.

Her father Jeff, a composer and music teacher who had founded and directed the McLean Jazz Workshop years ago, said collaborating with his daughter as an equal made the process special.

"I’m really impressed by how clear a vision she had," said Jeff Cummins, of Annandale.

The two started working on the musical after Thanksgiving. To familiarize herself with how to write a play, Abby read some opera librettos. She had also known how to structure a play by watching her mother, also a teacher at Green Hedges, work on her class’ play.

When it came time to work on the music, Abby and her father would sit at the piano together. She would tell him his ideas, and he would noodle around until the right tempo and melody came along. Writing the lyrics was the hardest aspect for both, because the song had to time with the story development.

After wrapping it up in December and January, Abby, her father and her teacher then edited the work. Every student has a line, and Abby’s father came into school to help the students rehearse.

Wiechelt said the students have enjoyed watching the play evolve from its initial stages.

"What’s been most exciting is seeing how they support Abby, the writer," Wiechelt said.

Now that the play’s completed, Abby will return to writing her short novels. She may write another play sometime in the future. When asked what she liked best about the experience, she replied that she enjoyed seeing people like her work.

"It’s really exciting," Abby said.