Every year, Geva Theatre Center's Young Writers Showcase puts out a call to Rochester-area schools for short student plays. Out of approximately 50 plays submitted this year, six were chosen for staged readings in May and later fleshed out into a full production by professional theatre companies that ran from Oct. 22-23.
Freshman physics major Krystalyn Sadwick, one of the winning playwrights, got the idea for her 10-minute play when the phenomenon known as "hero syndrome" came up in a writers' circle. Hero syndrome is when a character can get away with everything because they're the hero of the story but, as Sadwick pointed out, "If you run away from the cops, they might catch you. Yes, you might get eaten by that giant."
She was especially interested in the idea that heroism could be something negative, even dangerous, and she decided to see how it would pan out for students in a dragon-slaying school.
"Hero Syndrome," her first play, follows Mick, a new dragon-slaying recruit, as he tries to escape the authoritarian Healer who wants to cure him of his delusional fantasies, such as killing a dragon with one hand tied behind his back. In the process, his syndrome spreads hilariously to his mentor and fellow student, Caleb.
The play didn't start immediately, and while the audience was starting to shift and mumble, one of the cast members concealed in the audience answered his cell phone, prompting angry remarks from the unsuspecting viewers around him. Their bickering escalated until the actors stormed from the seats to the stage and revealed the trick. The stunt set the tone for the rest of the play, which garnered several big laughs from the audience.
Senior Brian Clemente had a hilariously uptight take on mentor-turned-hero Caleb, and freshman Taylor Walders played Arthur, the tattletale straight-man to both Mick and Caleb. Junior Katrina Kaasik, a veteran of Geva's Young Writers Showcase, played the terrifying healer with all the warmth of a glacier. "Every now and then you see that she's a little bit crazy," she said of her character.
All three student-actors were tapped by director Michael Herman, an adjunct theater professor at Geneseo who also runs the Outer Loop Theater Experience in Rochester.
"Since my company is about new work and supporting new talent, I always initially think and look to students as possibilities first," Herman said.
Professional actor Michael Sheehan played Mick, but Clemente said, "I never got the air from him that he was a professional actor and he was above us." Kaasik agreed and added that, "Because it's a young writer's thing everyone wants to help each other out."
The actors and directors were afforded a lot of creative input.
"You want to respect the work but if something's not working you have to bring it up," Clemente said. "[Sadwick] was very willing to go along with our thoughts."
Sadwick responded well to the criticism and wrote two more drafts after the initial reading, which culminated in the fun and energetic show that premiered at Geva.
"It wasn't what I imagined at all," Sadwick said, adding that it was still fun to see the audience interpretation side of things that you don't get from other mediums. After the first staged reading, she said she realized, "what I think is perfectly clear isn't," and that on stage "it's easier to see what people are having trouble with."
According to Herman, the showcase is helpful because "the actors get exposure into the play development process," and it "gives hope to aspiring and emerging playwrights" by providing them with a support group in the theater community.
Herman also spoke of the challenge and excitement of working with contemporary writers like Sadwick. "Since every new play is the world premiere, you're determining how people will read it."