Lime Kiln Middle student's play earns recognition

Arena Stage to produce her work about the oil spill in the Gulf

February 10, 2011|By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun

Lime Kiln Middle School seventh-grader Michelle Wong cannot talk with the animals, but she can imagine what they might say, and she figures few would have kind words about last year's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

She recently wrote a short play about a few sea creatures affected by the spill that was submitted in the Arena Stage 12th Annual Student 10-Minute Play Competition. With more than 800 entries submitted from area middle and high schools, Michelle didn't figure she had much of a chance at winning.

But those at the Washington-based production center were impressed with what Michelle had to say. They named her play "Responsibility — Fatal or Not?" among the competition's eight winning entries.

"When I first heard about the oil spill, I looked it up, and people posted some really sad videos and pictures of birds and turtles," said Michelle, the only seventh-grade student among the eight winners. "I realize they couldn't speak or anything, so I just wondered if I could be their voice."

She and the other winners will attend classes and work with Arena Stage officials to develop their plays, which will be performed by professional actors at Arena Stage's Keeger Theater next month.

Michelle is one of two students at the Fulton school whose entries were honored. Seventh-grader Amanda Bachman received Middle School Honorable Mention for her play "The Principal's Office." The honorable mention plays were read at Arena Stage two weeks ago.

Stacey Stewart, director of education, school and professional development at Arena Stage, said that Michelle's play "really stands out" among the more than 800 entries submitted.

"It's got a really strong point of view," said Stewart. "You see in reading it that this is a writer with a real passion for the subject, and it's done in a really inventive and creative way."

The play involves two main characters, a seagull named Seymour and a turtle named Tara. The play begins as Seymour notices a dark substance in the nearby water, and he implores Tara to go in to investigate.

Moments later, Tara reaches the water and notes that it's never been so dark; Seymour likens the material to very thick ink and bemoans that the sea life population will be gone soon.

"It's oil!" Seymour says. "This will kill a lot of our wildlife. Human engineering. So irresponsible! I bet they're spending all the time blaming each other for this spill instead of rescuing some of us!"

Michelle said she wrote her first play in fourth grade, which prepared her for her recent work. "I took a while to think about the voice of the two [main] characters, how much they would know, how they would feel," she said.

Haley Miller, seventh-grade English teacher at Lime Kiln Middle, volunteered in the education department at Arena Stage and worked in the center's media relations department. She saw scripts develop from written form to stage performances, and is helping prepare Michelle for the transformation she might see from her original work.

"That's definitely one of the biggest concerns," Miller said. "They assign the kids dramaturges and directors that say, 'Have you thought about this?' or 'What if this could happen?' It's making students aware of the fact that in order for the play to be the best it can be, there have to be revisions and edits and ways to improve it.

"Michelle and I had a conversation separately to prepare her for that, and not to take offense at it but to realize that this is an excellent opportunity," Miller added.

But Michelle, who is busy revising the play for production, said she relishes the opportunity to learn more about the stage, noting that her script work is much different from the videos that kids her age place on networking sites such as YouTube.

"On YouTube videos, you get to edit all the films and put background that's not really there," she said. "In theater, you have to use the drama, what the actors can do, so they can portray the characters and setting and the main point that's getting across."

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

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