Students' taped play to get U.S. distribution

May 03, 1993|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer

A courtroom drama written by four Northeast High School students illustrating how science affects everyday life will be distributed nationally on videotape by the National Institutes of Health for use in classroom teaching.

"Fingerprints -- A Play in One Act," about a parent's attempt to seek an increase in child support because her son has been diagnosed with Huntington's Disease, a fatal genetic disorder, took first place in the state competition sponsored by NIH.

"What was different about this play was that science was incorporated throughout the body of the play," said Dr. Michael Fordis, director of the office of education at NIH. "Many of the plays in the contest incorporated science the way students learned it in school, which was, unfortunately, a recital of facts. The plays would go along, and then there would be a recital of facts, and the plays would continue. Science fits naturally into this play, and the students used it to help solve one problem, but create another bioethical drama."

Erin Harry, one of the four student authors, said, "In the play, one of the child's parents must have Huntington's Disease, but you don't know which one. And the judge has to make a moral decision at the end."

The dilemma at the end is created by scientific facts -- the child's mother doesn't carry the gene for Huntington's Disease and neither does her ex-husband, from whom she is seeking additional child support to help pay for the boy's health care.

The play, which premiered Saturday at the Maryland Science Center at Baltimore's Inner Harbor, will be performed at the University of Maryland at College Park theater, with young actors playing the roles written by the students. The play was directed by Scott Morgan and Margo Meisel, members of the Washington Actors Training Company.

"Just watching them say the words you wrote, and knowing what will come next is exciting," said Jen Ward, a junior and one of the four authors. "It shows how well we can work together when we have to, and how science affects us in everyday life."

Brad Shellhammer, another junior who helped co-write the play, said the actors had portrayed the characters "just as we imagined them."

The three students, along with Jenn Barrett, started writing the play in September with encouragement from Shellie Slutskin, head of the science department at Northeast, Susan Carroll, chairman of the school's English department, and Bonnie Dixon, a drama resource teacher at the county Board of Education.

The four students were excused from some classes so they would have time to write the play. Their teachers helped them visualize the drama and work out problems they encountered.

"We learned a lot about science," said Brad. "Within two weeks the technology had changed, and we had to re-write the whole thing."

Writing the play together wasn't always easy, the students said, noting that they had one doughnut fight and some tense moments.

The students think the play was successful because it shows how science plays a part in real life.

"We didn't think it was all that wonderful at first," said Jenn. "But we thought it could be something bigger. We don't want to brag, but in a way, I guess we do. We were shocked that we won."

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