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Students pen plays for Zoom staging at Young Playwrights Festival

SARANAC LAKE — Pendragon Theatre’s Young Playwrights Festival is this weekend, and four young local authors have put their imagination, observations, anxieties and introspections into entertaining and emotional scripts.

The three plays, all written by students in the Tri-Lakes area, have been filmed and performed by local actors, young and … grown-up. They’ll be aired over Zoom Sunday at 2 p.m. Reservations can be made by emailing foh@pendragontheatre.org. After the show, the playwrights, directors and actors will hold a question-and-answer session.

This year’s theme was “Connect and Disconnect.”

In past years, writers had to compete to get their scripts performed, but in this pandemic-influenced year there was no contest, because there were only three entries.

“Perspective” was written by Galen Halasz, a 16-year-old home-schooled student.

Halasz said he wants to write for a career. He’s written novels, short stories and poetry, but the festival has pushed him to try script writing.

“I’ve got to give a shout-out to Pendragon because they’ve really influenced me as a writer,” he said.

Two of his plays have been featured in the Young Playwrights Festival before: one set in the future and one in the past. Therefore, he said he wanted to set this one in the present.

Not only is it set in the present, but it is set in a near-universal modern experience: a Zoom call between family members talking about the coronavirus pandemic, politics and their expectations of each other, all while trying to keep this civil.

The play hinges on the themes, conversations and anxieties that are indicative of the year 2020.

“There’s all this stuff happening in the world right now … and I wanted to capture the zeitgeist,” Halasz said. “I wanted to say something. A lot of people are speaking up, and I wanted to be a part of that.”

The characters are each filtering the world’s events through their own lenses and interpreting them accordingly.

“I tried to open my perspective and see things from different angles, because there are a lot of perspectives,” Halasz said.

He said these archetypal characters are based on his own experiences, people he knows and observations of people.

The screenplay can be hard to read at points. It is uncomfortable. It can bring up tough memories and painful emotions. But that makes the catharsis of the story more powerful.

He’ll be seeing it performed for the first time on Sunday.

“It’ll be a surprise, but Pendragon always gets someone amazing,” Halasz said. “This playwrights festival, they’re not even doing it for money. It’s just really helping so many kids to grow, to find a passion in the arts, to have their characters and their words on stage and have their voices heard.”

“The Best and the Broken” is a play set in a Zoom therapy session co-written by Lucy Thill and Olivia Marocco in Saranac Lake. The two friends have written many plays together over the years, and one of their plays was performed at last year’s Young Playwrights Festival.

“It’s always easy to write with Olivia,” Thill wrote in an email. “She has such a way with words, and we always seem to have the same ideas about the characters we write.”

“Lucy and I have written so many things together that writing with her is easier than writing alone,” Marocco wrote in an email. “When one of us is stuck, the other usually has an idea for where to go next.”

Marocco said they struggled with an idea to fit the Zoom stage at first but then felt they should lean into the challenge and set the play in a Zoom call.

“We wanted to write something that was relatable and representative of the world around us and the struggles we are facing and know others are facing,” Marocco wrote.

The subject is struggling to be comfortable being herself, and the therapist tries to keep her on the call as they work through her mind.

“I think lots of people have been struggling during the quarantine, and we just wanted to create a relatable character,” Thill wrote.

In the end, the viewer will be left with a question: What happens next?

“The Congress” was written by Olivia Ellis of Tupper Lake.

In it, a group of six friends try to decide what to eat for dinner, and though they’re divided into two camps — pizza, or mac and cheese — they each have their own motivations to taking the side they do.

In figuring out what to eat, they invent a political system and experience the benefits and challenges of trying to find a consensus.

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