Montville student a 'Playwright for Tomorrow'

A Montville High School junior was one of three young playwrights featured in the inaugural Playwrights for Tomorrow presentation at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center in Old Saybrook last month.

Over the last few months, Holly Richmond worked alongside local adult and student actors and industry professionals to perfect her play "Maggie" for the staged reading April 29, presented at The Kate by community theater group Artful Living.

"It went very well," she said. "All of the actors had their scripts with them since it was a staged reading, so there wasn't too much deviation, which was really nice. That way my work could be put out in a pure form."

Playwrights for Tomorrow was created at the end of 2017 by Artful Living producer Chris Solimene after he had a discussion with a retired educator friend in a coffeeshop. He said she noted one of the most impactful parts of her career was being able to encourage her students to use their artistic voices to address issues that are important to them, and Playwrights for Tomorrow utilizes the stage to do that.

Three students were selected from a field of 12 submissions from around the state, with topics including current issues such as gun violence, divorce and mental illness. Richmond's play "Maggie" centers on a woman with depression and anxiety, and she said she drew inspiration from friends and classmates dealing with it as well as her own experience with anxiety.

"A lot of Maggie's tics that she has are some of the tics that I have, like she plays with her hair a lot and that's something that I do when I'm anxious," she said. She felt mental illness isn't addressed enough in school, and the visual representation of a play makes it more real.

Richmond started her theater career in seventh grade as a member of the tech crew and started acting in eighth grade. She also writes poetry — she was the 2017-2018 poet laureate for the high school — and her first venture into writing for the stage became the monologue at the beginning of "Maggie."

John Pike, a longtime dramaturg and artistic associate at Goodspeed Musicals before he began teaching at The Hartt School, served as the director for Richmond's play. He said Playwrights for Tomorrow was his first time working with high school-level playwrights, and he liked that the format allowed for the entire process to be a learning experience for the student writers.

A staged reading rather than a full performance with choreography, costumes and props allows the writing to shine unobstructed, he said.

Richmond said the cast and staff were very supportive and understanding as she went through about six revisions between the initial submission and the final presentation. She said she learned a lot from Solimene and Pike, especially with specificity and character development and background, and the experience will help her not only as a writer but also as an actor.

"It was definitely an interesting experience because I finally got to see what was in my head get put out there and acted by people," she said.

a.hutchinson@theday.com

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