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Posted May 9, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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The write stuff: Playwright wins contest using theme, dialogue rare for his age

Noah Scheibmeir, playwright winner
Noah Scheibmeir, left, a junior at Skyline High School in Front Royal, confers with Thomasin Savaiano of the Wayside Theatre, over the recent production of his script that won first place in the 2009 Young Playwright's Festival for area students. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Scheibmeir talks with actors
Scheibmeir, standing, talks with actors from Wayside before a reading of his play, "Come Along My Dear, Come Along." The actors, from left, are Richard Follett, Sarah Blackwell, Matt Baldoni and Sun-King Davis. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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By Linwood Outlaw III -- loutlaw@nvdaily.com

MIDDLETOWN -- It wasn't quite Broadway, but 16-year old Noah Scheibmeir got a small taste of what it's like to be in the spotlight. And, he seemed to enjoy it.

Scheibmeir, a junior at Skyline High School in Front Royal, saw his first written play come to life this week during a staged reading performance at the historic Wayside Theatre as part of the company's annual Young Playwright's Festival. Scheibmeir's play, "Come Along My Dear, Come Along," won first place at the festival, which is open to area students in public, private and home schools. The play, Scheibmeir says, is largely centered around the notion of "who decides what is sane, and what is insane."

The story's central character, Dr. Nathan Richards, finds himself caught in the middle of "what is commonly considered reality, and what is commonly considered fantasy," said Scheibmeir, who won a $100 savings bond from First Bank for his work. The character Sara Scriber, a famous author and patient at the fictitious Scheibmeir Center, is being treated at the facility because she actually believes she is the main character of her own novels.

Throughout the course of the play, doctors at the facility contemplate the possibility of marketing a controversial drug that would cure -- or rather clumsily mask -- mental illness.

"An interesting sway on how that idea came about was that I thought of the question 'What if J.K. Rowling was to discover that she had actually been a student at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry during the time of the Harry Potter stories?'" Scheibmeir said. "It's pretty much all about how Nathan comes to discover what is sane and what is not sane. It's never really made perfectly clear at the ending whether he was right or whether he was wrong."

In fact, Scheibmeir says, the conclusion is supposed to be a conundrum.

"The ending is sort of left to [the audience's] interpretation," said Richard Follett, who portrayed Dr. Simmons, head of the Scheibmeir Center, during Monday night's performance.

Thomasin Savaiano, the Young Playwright Festival's coordinator, said Scheibmeir's play stood out from the other entries for a number of reasons. But, it was the maturity the young writer displayed while incorporating adult characters into his story that impressed Savaiano the most.

"The entire cast is adult characters except for one little girl. Usually, teenagers have a real hard time with [writing plays like] that," Savaiano said. "[The play] was two, really eloquently put together, intriguing and complex themes that led to an interesting question. And, [Scheibmeir] seemed to have a command over the English language enough that it could withstand the rewrites."

Original scripts that are submitted to the Young Playwright's Festival are usually one act in length and no longer than 20 minutes. Scheibmeir's play underwent several rewrites before Monday evening's performance at the Wayside Theatre.

Surprisingly, Savaiano says, audiences were spared some somber moments that had become common in previous first-place plays chosen by the festival committee. "Nobody died in this play," Savaiano said merrily.

Scheibmeir's play will be interpreted in different ways by different people. But for veteran Wayside Theatre actor Sun-King Davis, the core theme is crystal clear: The importance of having self-esteem.

"I think for me, the biggest themes in this is finding your true self, and really understanding who you are, regardless of what everyone is telling you who you are," said Davis, who played the role of Dr. Nathan Richards. "People do have the tendency to tell you that you're wrong or you should be this or you should be like that. ... Inside, we all really do know who we are, if we allow that to actually come through. That's the real test."

After Monday's play, Scheibmeir entertained questions from his audience, who picked his brain about things like how long it took him to write the short story turned play, did he help pick the actors, and if the play's characters were inspired by people he knows.

"I honestly saw a little bit of myself in each of these characters," Scheibmeir told the audience.

Most of the audience members praised Scheibmeir's work, while some took issue with how certain elements were depicted. However, those kinds of feedback sessions are something Scheibmeir will have to get used to. Ultimately, he wants to write plays for a living.

"I love to create these stories. ... One of the nice things about theater is it's kind of a nice middle ground between the imagination you have in a book where you create the entire story in your brain as you read it, and the special effects of a film," Scheibmeir said. "Whereas, on stage, you get a little bit of focus presented to you. And yet, at the same time, your own imagination has to fill in the blanks."

For more information on the Wayside Theatre or the Young Playwright's Festival, visit www.waysidetheatre.org.

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