Triples plays allow students be involved in scriptwriting process



Students in this year's senior project play, "The Citizens," receive notes from directors and seniors Naomi Mirny and Freddy Sell on a past run. The play was written by Mirny earlier in the fall.

Students in the BHS Drama Society are exchanging their scripts for pens.

This year’s winter season of drama shows, informally known as “Triples,” includes the Senior Project, the Massachusetts High School Drama Festival entry and the Spring Play. All three shows are original pieces with heavy student involvement during the scripting process. The Spring Play and the festival entry, or “the States show,” both use scripts that their respective casts write together. The Senior Project is often written by one or more seniors.

This year’s Senior Project piece, “The Citizens,” written by senior Naomi Mirney, is a play based on a World War II student resistance group, the White Rose. Mirny initially discovered the group when writing her sophomore year history paper.

“I think it’s a really interesting story, and the people who are involved in it are really interesting,” Mirny said. “As soon as I started researching I found myself getting sucked into it.”

The show is split between two time periods: one plotline follows the White Rose as they produce and distribute their fifth and sixth pamphlets during the early 1940s; the other is set in 1992, four years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, where East German punk Violet discovers and reflects on their works.

Mirny aims to emphasize the historical significance of youth movements and how their legacies prolong their messages.

The play ran for two shows on Jan. 31, performing at 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. in the Black Box. The Senior Project is the first of the Triples shows to perform and the only one to use a script independently written by one student.

Junior and second-time States actor Eve Jones said that the collaborative writing process was one reason that she wanted to participate in States again this year.

“We had a lot of fun writing and crafting the piece as well as performing it, which was really interesting because you don’t really get that in most other rehearsal processes,” Jones said.

The annual States show is based on a prompt provided by co-directors Mark VanDerzee and Mary Mastandrea. Rehearsals begin with the cast improvising scenes before moving into scripting and then discussing what they’ve written. After making group decisions about plot and characters, they then compile what they’ve created into a story format.

VanDerzee said that the cast and crew of this year’s States show were interested in following a main protagonist in their piece.

“After seeing a bunch of scenes, we had conversations about, ‘Okay, well, what characters are standing out to us?’ We generated that list of characters, and then we ultimately narrowed it down to this one character, Jean, who we were interested in following,” VanDerzee said. “And what is Jean’s narrative arc? What is the complication in her life?”

VanDerzee said that he enjoys seeing how his students’ ideas inspire and shape every part of the production of a piece.

“It’s not just, ‘Oh, I’m going to stand here on stage and say it in this way.’ It’s, ‘I’m going to say this because I was part of writing a script and creating these characters from scratch,’” VanDerzee said. “That’s a lot of fun. It allows the students to kind of develop their artistic voice and point of view, as well as articulate their ideas.”

Associate Dean Summer Williams and director of the Spring Play is writing the show with visual arts teacher Thato Mwosa and the cast. Williams said that she is interested in considering the different voices within the high school community and how we each came to be here.

“I think Brookline High School is a little bit of a microcosm of the United States. I think there is a lot of tension, and our country is divided in lots of different ways,” Williams said. “I’m really curious about what it means for people who may have a lot in common and maybe don’t have so much in common to be in a place together and to figure out a common purpose.”

Williams said that the writing process begins with the cast drawing information from their own families’ stories.

“We are asking the actors to do some thinking and digging into their own family history, and we are going to be pulling stories from their family history,” Williams said. “We’re going to be pulling stories from news articles, from immigration stories that we’ve heard, from the past and from the very present. Then we’re going to fictionalize some of the accounts to tell a series of stories.”

The scripts written by students involved in Triples often focus on things that they are passionate about. Mastandrea said that she likes being able to learn about what her students are interested in and see how their artistic voices translate into the pieces they create.

“Anyone who does theater loves that collaborative process, and with students, I find that they’re often really open-hearted and open-minded about exploring these issues or whatever they’re working on,” Mastandrea said. “They form a tight-knit community, they support each other beautifully, they create an ensemble, and it makes for a great working environment.”