By Josette Keelor - firstname.lastname@example.org
MIDDLETOWN - What's the difference between a good playwright and a great one? The ability to turn criticism into gold.
Tyler Faye Tharpe, 17, is on her way to becoming a great playwright. She is certainly off to a great start anyway: Two of the three plays she has written have received regional acclaim and, after Monday, will have been read aloud to an audience by professional actors.
Tharpe, a senior at Skyline High School in Front Royal, who won first place for her one-act play, "You're Special," in Wayside Theatre's Young Playwright's Festival two years ago and then won second place last year, has surpassed expectations by becoming the first participant to win first place a second time.
"It's the first time that this has happened," said Thomasin Savaiano, director of the piece and coordinator of the Young Performer's Workshop. "It's a really good script."
The one-act play, "Ashes to Ashes," will hit the stage at Wayside Theatre on Monday for a staged reading.
By placing first, Tharpe will also receive the T. Carter Fussell Award for Outstanding 2010 Playwright, a $100 savings bond from First Bank and two tickets to a Wayside production during the 2010-11 season. The second place winner was Noah Scheibmeir, also a senior at Skyline. His play came in first last year.
"Both of them are showing that they've advanced in their playwriting," said Savaiano.
"The first time I felt like it came pretty natural," Tharpe said. This time around was a little more difficult "but I feel like the effort was worth it." The play, with edits, is 21 pages, about six scenes.
Winning twice is unusual in itself, said Savaiano, because it indicates a level of maturity that the playwright has in being able to take criticism and use it to improve. Furthermore, Tharpe's play needed very little editing once submitted.
"Her play came in with a really clean structure," said Savaiano. "I think it shows growth." The scenes were very sound, and after learning that she won, Tharpe needed to make only minor changes to the script, including working on characterization, before rehearsals could begin this week.
Savaiano found it remarkable that Tharpe was able to so realistically portray adults in her play, when she, herself, is still a teenager. The majority of the characters in her play are adults, ranging in age from 30s to 60s. Even the main character in her first play two years ago was an adult -- a young teacher dealing with a challenging student.
"It was a little easier with that one because he was a young adult teacher," Tharpe said. He had just started teaching. In general, though, she does not find it difficult to portray adults.
"It was a lot easier this time," she said of the entire writing process because, knowing already how to write a play, she could focus more on character development than on the structure of the play.
Tharpe felt she knew better what to expect this time during the rewrites and interaction with the cast and crew.
She believes "Ashes to Ashes" truthfully shows "how families react" to situations.
Savaiano agrees. "It is well worth [the audience's] time. ... It's something that everyone can relate to. ... It has a lot of heart," she said.
"It's a woman-focused play, which is fabulous."
The festival, now in its 10th year, has been offering winners the opportunity of a staged reading for the past five years. The reading by mostly professional actors takes place after only 12 hours of rehearsal following the casting decision. After the reading, Tharpe will sit for a "talk back," during which audience members may ask her questions about the play and offer suggestions.
"I really enjoy that part," said Tharpe. "It was a neat experience [last time.]"
Seven actors will read Tharpe's play on Monday night: Professional actors Sarah Blackwell, Matthew Baldoni, Sun-King Davis and Lori Staley; intern Catherine Lovejoy; and Emily Crawford and Tyler Plazio, both child actors who have been in other Wayside productions. Savaiano chose the actors she did because of their experience in the theater and ability to learn lines quickly, she said. She believe that the worst crime would be to not put the words out exactly as they were written, because then Tharpe would not receive the advice she needs from audience members to improve her writing.
"I've been writing for as long as I can remember ... and this is my big passion," said Tharpe, who used to write storybooks with her family when she was young.
She also enjoys a love of theater and plans to study theater at Christopher Newport University in Newport News.
"I wanted to combine the two," she said of theater and writing. So far, she has been focusing her attention on plays that offer light drama and comedy, and this time, a ghost story.
"It's a dramedy," she says of "Ashes to Ashes." "There are definitely some dramatic elements to it, definitely," she said.
"It [the plot] just kind of came to me," she said. It was an idea she thought would be neat to play with.
The staged reading, which will take place at Wayside Theatre on Monday at 7 p.m., is free to the public.
"We try to spread the word," said Savaiano. The program received six submissions this year. She hopes for more next time. Any local middle or high school student younger than 19 may participate in the program, and scripts must be postmarked by Feb. 18, 2011. Playwrights may begin writing their one-act play as early as they like.
The one-act play, "Ashes to Ashes" will be performed at Wayside Theatre on Monday at 7 p.m. and will be followed by a "talk back" with the playwright. Admission is free.
For more information, call 869-1776 or go online to www.waysidetheatre.org.