High School Playwright's Work Makes The Big Time

June 05, 1991|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff writer

On the stage of a rehearsal hall at Center Stage, Ronald Clemens, the lead character in "Dream Jury," circled and paced in a vain attemptto escape a relentless judge and jury.

Halfway back the rows of seats, the author of "Dream Jury" sat so calmly that no one would haveguessed that Paul A. Bachmann, just 17 years old, was watching the first staging of his work.

Monday, the playwright from Howard High School remarked with understatement, was "a neat day."

That morning, Paul received seven awards at the school awards assembly, including honors for outstanding achievement in chorus, drama and English. He will graduate from school tonight.

After the assembly, Paul, high school winner in Center Stage's fifth annual Young Playwrights Festival, headed into Baltimore for an afternoon of work on his play.

In the evening, he joined parents and friends for an awards ceremony honoring him and the two Baltimore City pupils who won in the elementary and middle school age groups. And he heard the sweet sound of applause for his play.

TheYoung Playwrights Festival, which attracted 150 entries this year, is open to students from schools that have participated in Center Stage's "Playwrights-in-Schools" program. The program brings professionalplaywrights into classrooms for one-week residencies. This school year, 38 schools in 15 Maryland counties were involved.

Paul said hecould enjoy the rehearsal because "of all the people critical of me,I think the worst is myself. Here, I can relax and enjoy something I'm written."

Distilled to its essence, "Dream Jury" involves a dream in which Ronald Clemens' "mind puts his body on trial for doing acts of violence," Paul said.

The plot has Ronald, a high school student, lose his girlfriend to a new student. The two boys fight. The new student falls down a flight of stairs.

Dreaming, Ronald is angry at being unable to escape his dream: "Now I'm stuck in this God-forsaken dream, and still no one will tell me what I've done." He learnsabout himself, painfully, as he goes through the dream.

Ryder Daniels, the actor who portrayed Ronald, said he would have liked more time to rehearse. "I have the sense that it's a very complex piece," he said. "It would be interesting later in (Paul's) career to have a full performance of it."

The rehearsal was preceded by what a Center Stage news release describes as workshops where, "with the advice of their playwright/teachers, the young writers edit and polish their scripts."

But that fails to convey the emotional involvement of anauthor with his work, which can make critiques tough to take.

Steven Schutzman, one of two playwrights who worked with the Howard Highstudents in December, said Paul's play didn't need major rewriting. The professional playwrights made suggestions, but final decisions rested with the student winners.

Schutzman's suggestions on Monday included bringing out more of the judge's sadistic cruelty toward Ronald and changing some of the language. "But the play was there," he said. "We just distilled it."

Paul, asked if he felt like Schutzman was hacking away at his baby, thought over his answer for several minutes before replying, "Yes and no. With half the language, if he didn't catch it, if I went back over it I'd say, 'Why did I write that?' "

On some points, Paul disagreed with Schutzman and kept the original language. The young playwright said that "Dream Jury" has more ofhimself in it than any other play he has written and that he wrote it for himself as an actor.

Paul, a Columbia resident, said he "didthe normal Columbia soccer thing" as a youngster. In ninth grade, hediscovered Teens on Stage, the youth group of Onstage Productions, based at the Little Theatre on the Corner in Ellicott City.

"Actingseemed something neat," he said. "Putting on a face, making other faces smile."

His roles with Teens on Stage and at Howard High included Pippin in "Pippin," Professor Harold Hill in "The Music Man" and Sir Harry in "Once Upon a Mattress."

That's not the extent of Paul's accomplishments. He plans to study singing at University of North Carolina at Greensboro next fall and is torn between minor studies increative writing -- he also writes short stories, one of which won aHoward County Poetry and Literature Society prize -- and astronomy.

Astronomy? "I've always had kind of a sitting-in-the-back-row fascination with astronomy," he said, although he added he hasn't had time to pursue it.

Paul said he hasn't thought about the career odds or the chances of success for singers, playwrights or short-story authors.

Life is too good right now. He has his college plans, a couple of summer jobs, a wonderful girlfriend and the chance to write whenever an idea hits him. Success? He's already enjoyed the taste.

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