New voices: Teen playwrights command the stage
Hoffman, Barbara. New York Post, May 31, 2008.
WRITE what you know. And if you're a teenager in one of this city's underserved schools, you probably know a lot - about peer pressure, longing, homelessness . . . and hope.
It helps to put those things in writing. And if you're lucky, you might just see the world you've created enacted on a New York stage.
That's what's happening this week via two different programs. Manhattan Theatre Club's Write on the Edge Festival Monday at City Center (131 W. 55th St., 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; call  399-3000, ext. 4252 for free tickets) presents short plays written by at-risk kids, performed by professional actors.
Fidelity FutureStage goes even further - with students not only writing plays, but acting, directing and stage-managing them. Eight months of workshops and theater trips culminate in performances this week before family, friends and the occasional producer at off-Broadway's New World Stages.
"A lot of the kids say they've now found a passion - something that's meaningful and they love doing," says Alice Krieger, one of the directors of Leap (Learning Through an Expanded Arts Program), which works with FutureStage.
"We had a senior last year who was homeless and living in a shelter - he's now in a theater company up at Cornell."
Here's a look at several teens, the playwrights of tomorrow.
TAIWO ELLIS, 14
Aspiring director, playwright, actor (in Erica's play)
"My play last year, 'Ice Joey,' was about a boy who moves to Phoenix and has trouble fitting in, so he tells everybody that he's a rapper named Ice Cube. Erica played Joey's mom.
"The best part is the first rehearsal. When people laugh at a joke, it feels good. And it's fun to direct, because the ideas you have in your head, you can see performed in front of you, and if you don't like it, you can tweak it.
"I like being backstage. How they say a line, where they say the line - you have more of a say in what goes on."
ERICA GAYLE, 14
Aspiring actress, playwright
"I write from what I see and what I hear from my friends. It shows in my play, 'Just B Urself, I Can B That 2.' It's about a boy who falls in love with someone and tries to change his personality . . . It's based on people in my school. I changed the names - some.
"Editing's hard. You fall in love with a line and you have to take it out, because it doesn't work. Makes you want to cry, losing a line.
"[Getting the play produced] made me feel proud. Now people in my school know my name. After high school, I want to go to California, because that's where the stars are. The writing thing is cool, but I like to act."
NICHOLAS MUNIZ, 18
"My play 'Street Walker' is about a 20-year-old boy who lost his family and everything he knew, loved and cherished in a fire. In some ways, it's a little like real life. I was taken away from my mother when I was 4 or 5 and put into foster care. I went to five families, none friendly or nice.
"My mom wanted me back. She'd ride her bike to my karate school, look at me and ride away. At 12, I went back to her. Now we're like best friends. She was ecstatic [about the play] because she knew there was something special in me . . .
"Writing a play is a big thing. I stopped a few times. The only thing that kept me going was my English teacher, Mr. Evans. He told me, 'Nick, you have a wild imagination. Put it in the play.' "
REBEKAH PORTER, 17
"I wrote a play, 'Are You Having Sex?,' about a mother who finds a condom in her 16-year-old daughter's room . . . I just tried to imagine what would happen if my mother found one in my room.
"There were only two curses in it: damn and hell. My mother said, 'Try to use other words,' but she was proud of me.
"I start things and I drop things, so she was glad to see me finish something, finally. I rewrote the ending Sunday - I still keep trying to make it better."