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October 31, 2013

Kid playwrights inspire classmates

Their winning play makes it to Pittsburgh stage

SHARPSVILLE — “Why not us?” has become the mantra for seventh-grade up-and-coming playwrights from Sharpsville Middle School.

This is because two students from the language arts class wrote a play that was professionally produced and performed on stage at the City Theatre in Pittsburgh Oct. 5 and 6.

“What Are The Odds?” written by Ariana Distler and Alayna Perrine, was among 200 original stories entered into the Young Playwrights competition featuring kids from western Pennsylvania. The girls were the only public school winners; the others were from art academies and magnet schools in Pittsburgh.

Ari and Alayna, now in eighth grade, never dreamed that what started out as a school project would turn into a life-changing event.

“It made me more confident in my writing,” Ari said.

“It makes it seem more real – that you can win,” Alayna said. “It made me think, ‘I can do this’ in other situations.”

The first step in becoming a playwright involved in-class workshops with City Theatre artists and their teacher, Ira Pataki, from November through March, focusing on fundamentals such as writing dialogue and creating characters.

Each student in the class then had the unique opportunity to meet with an artist from the theatre for one-on-one feedback on their one-act play before Pataki entered them into the contest.

“I’m proud of all the kids, too,” Pataki said. “They had remarkably good ideas.”

“What Are The Odds?” is a story about a man who always plays the same lottery numbers. Each number has a special meaning for him. In flashbacks, Ari and Alayna wrote the story behind each number.

“We both had different ideas,” Alayna said. “So we decided to cover action/adventure, romance, comedy and more in the stories.”

“The dialogue was vivid and the characters were riveting,” Pataki said.

Ari and Alayna had no idea of the long and eventful journey that was to come after they were told their play won a coveted spot in the Young Playwrights Festival.

“We were told in April that we won and we thought we were done,” Alayna said.

The girls’ spent the biggest part of the summer working with a dramaturg on perfecting the play.

“We did something with the play almost every day going back and forth between our houses,” Alayna said. “We talked to a dramaturg twice a week, working on every little detail down to stage direction.”

The new playwrights went to the theatre multiple times over the summer so the cast and crew of the City Theatre could pick their brains.

Ari and Alayna have been used as a model example for this years’ seventh-grade language art classes charged with writing a play for the Young Playwrights competition.

“The confidence I’ve seen in (Ari and Alayna) is wonderful,” Pataki said. “Kids learn by models.”

Ari enjoys drawing, sports and hanging out with friends. She plays softball and basketball. She has been selected as a student of the month every year since kindergarten. Ari credited her family, Pataki, and City Theatre for their support during “this wonderful learning experience.”

“It was cool to see it (the play) come to life,” Ari said, as one of her favorite parts of the experience.

Alayna is in National Honor Society and a basketball player. She loves writing and she has had short stories published.

“I feel very lucky that we are the first Young Playwrights winners from the Sharpsville Area School District,” Alayna said.

Pataki just assigned his two seventh-grade classes to write letters to the theatre, the first step in leading kids on another playwriting journey.

“Since Ari and Alayna have won, we’ve all started saying, ‘Why not us?’ ” he said.

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