It’s not often that high school drama students get to actually meet the author of a play they are staging, but this past week, not only did the RHS Drama Club get to meet up close and personal with the guy who wrote their current production, but got to spend the morning learning some of his tips on how to write their own.
Drama instructor Lezlie Jackson-Acker invited playwright Don Zolidis to come teach her students more about writing for the stage.
On Friday, he conducted a morning-long series of workshops in both the Black Box Theatre on campus and in the drama classroom next door.
The drama club will be staging his “Game of Tiaras” next week at the Black Box.
Zolidis started out by giving the students some background on how he became a playwright. Ultimately, he said he found writing the story more interesting than participating on stage.
He said out of seven colleges he applied to, only one accepted him, so he attended the Actors Studio, in New York. After receiving his Masters, he went to work teaching in New Hampshire. An opportunity to revamp Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple” for his high school class gave him the push to parody other works.
Soon, he was creating commissioned works for other schools, both across the country and around the world. He said he has written 95 plays, performed in 61 countries.
After the introduction, he began with an easy writing exercise for the students: pair up and write 10 lines of dialog about “Nothing.” He then went through the class, pair by pair, pointing out with exclamation when a group read lines that were actually about “Something,” suggesting revisions.
When the young writers were all heard from, they thought they were done with “Nothing,” but Zolidis had more for them to do.
He taught them about ‘subtext’ – any content of a creative work which is not announced explicitly by the characters, but becomes something understood by the observer as the production unfolds. Then he had them come back up on the stage and present their 10 lines with a subtext, to be discerned by how they acted the lines.
As each group finished, he asked the students if they could identify the intended subtext. In most cases, they could, even with the limited time presenters had to gather their thoughts before going on stage.
Following a break, the session adjourned to the classroom next door, where Zolidis had a laptop set up with a projector and showed students his latest work.
He said it was commissioned by a high school in Georgia, which will be staging it in January. He had the class read through the play as he projected it on the screen, with each student taking a part.
An adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the characters included all the familiar faces from the original, but with a contemporary setting, featuring a hash tag war between Mrs. Capulet and Mr. Montague, designed to appeal to a teenage audience. The theme of his version, Zolidis said, is anti-bullying. The playwright said it was only the second time he has heard this version of Romeo and Juliet read aloud.
Zolidis added that he based “Game of Tiaras” on Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” and is a mash up of “Game of Thrones” and Disney princesses, therefore “twisting Disney,” one of his favorite things to write.
He said he feels the characters, “Snow White and Cinderella are the worst. They need a man to make their life complete.”
Zolidis explained that his latest work has both physical and visual humor, saying “every part is fun” to play, “and there’s something for everyone to do.”
Like many of his other works, “Game of Tiaras” was originally commissioned for a high school drama class. Once they perform it, it becomes available to others for production.
Again describing his approach to the work, Zolidis told students it loses its spirit of fun if the work is too deep.
“Writing a play is not writing a finished product,” he explained. “It’s merely a blueprint.”
He added that he has learned to trust that “other people will bring it to life.”
Next week, it’s Riverbank Drama Club’s turn to bring it to life. RHS will stage “Game of Tiaras” on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Nov. 17, 18 and 19.