Playfright By Emma Cooney

To me, the playwriting unit is an anxiety fueling yet fun couple of weeks. It is enjoyable because we get to learn about and read a variety of plays. Plus, I love bonding and spending time with fellow creative writers even if it is because we are stuck together for up to six hours after school in a dark theater. The pressure of having to memorize lines and act made it hard to relax. Being that acting is so unfamiliar to most of the creative writers, including me, we were not confident in our performances. Personally, I wanted to be able to fulfill the playwrights vision, even if I was lacking in skill and practice for acting. Even if I was unable to properly perform the playwrights characters, I felt that the show was more fun because of the acting. 

 

Besides the acting, there was also the stage fright aspect of the unit. Having to go up in front of one hundred plus people is scary enough, let alone having to keep calm enough that you remember your lines and delivery. When I go on stage, even if there are only a couple people in the theater, I panic and my brain goes blank. Even with my lines memorized, right when I walk onto the black platform, I forgot everything. The feeling of having a bright spot light shone on you and technical theater kids watching you causes a reaction unlike any other: total and utter failure of the mind. Thankfully, after rehearsing all week and practicing so my lines became muscle memory, going on stage became easier. 

 

When the show came, backstage, I was so nervous I fell totally silent and felt sick. Luckily, I was in the first act so I was able to get going on stage out of the way earlier and relax for the rest of the show (for the most part; I was still nervous about how the other plays would go). After the relief of getting off stage and knowing the anxiety from the week and being on stage was over, I was overwhelmed with endorphins. Done with all my parts, I got to silently celebrate with other creative writers as they walked off stage. It is an incredible experience getting excited and celebrating with the other people backstage; the community is strengthened by these experiences. To me, the stress and anxiety of the week was worth it because we were able to have an amazing show and make fun memories. 

 

Emma Cooney, Class of 2021

 

 

Standing on a Ledge by Rae Dox Kim

Here I am, in a place I have never imagined actually being in. I’m about to be a senior, or more specifically, a senior in the summer after junior year. Here is when all my morals will be tested, and I will be at the mercy of faceless bureaucracies until I get into a college. My parents’ friends are descending on me like vultures, taking advantage of my vulnerable situation to talk at length about their own college experience. “It was so easy,” is a favorite line. As I stare down into the swirling whirlpool of application and rejection, I cannot imagine any easy path. Watching my senior friends, warm and content in acceptance letter light, gives me a watery sense of peace. I am happy they are happy, and I know that if they can succeed, I could too one day when it’s my turn at the chopping block. Until then, I’ll have to get my self in order, organizing my personal internal chambers so when the College Board comes a-knocking, I’ll be ready. 

–Rae Dox Kim, Class of 2020

Playwriting as a Freshman by Otto Handler

Being a freshman, playwriting was something that I had rarely tried out. As a result, I felt nervous going into this unit because it was one of the only forms of writing that I had little to no experience with.

As the Creative Writing Department usually does, we read a lot of the specific kind of writing before we try our hand in creating a piece of our own. As we were reading some different plays with our artist-in-residence, Sara Brody, a feeling of dread started to form inside me. I didn’t have even a fainest clue about what I was going to write my ten-minute play about. Even though most people didn’t have ideas, I still felt like I was the only one. 

For the end of every unit in Creative Writing I and II, all the students put together a final piece that includes all new skills learned throughout the unit. Playwriting was no exception.  After a week of workshopping these plays, the students turn in all scripts and Isaiah Dufort, our department head, Heather Woodward, and Sara Brody, our artist-in-residence chose the lucky plays that will be cast and performed at our playwriting show which happened last week. 

Being a freshmen, my play was not chosen for the show (thank goodness) but I was worried if my play would even make it through the extensive week of workshopping. It did make it though and despite my attitude toward it when I first wrote the play, I ended up with a decent ten minute skit.  

When I finally came up with an idea for my play, I didn’t like it, but my play was due on Monday, and it was Friday and I had already written a little of my play and it was too late to change my idea. I spent many weekend nights hating what I was writing and then, on the weekend, I slowly began to actually enjoy myself. That’s when my play was the best, when I accepted that the first draft wasn’t going to be perfect and that I required time to really become interested in my idea to push it to its best potential. 

The best part of the playwriting show was the casting process. It was interesting to figure out who worked for which role. When I was asked to try out different roles, it was the first bit of acting I had done since middle school. Most plays and musicals at Ruth Asawa SOTA are put on by the more performative departments such as Musical Theater or Theater. I think that the Creative Writing shows always turn out good, despite the fact that we are not a performative department. 

My parts in the play were playing two children. One of them is living in a sad suburban midwestern town that had pretty much nothing going on. The other one lives in a suburban town full of people with wacky christmas lawn decor.  They were both different characters with different emotions and personalities. 

This show was an opportunity to act and be a part of a bigger thing. Both are things that don’t often happen in a normal high school.

— Otto Handler, Class of 2022

Middle School Reading Adventures by Lauren Ainslie

As part of an effort to improve Creative Writing’s Middle School outreach, the director of Creative Writing, Heather Woodward, had us complete a survey detailing our reading habits in Middle School, as well as the English reading and writing assignments we completed. It seemed to me that I had read very few books, only a few appearing vividly when I tried to recall them. I felt depressed, knowing that I had blasted through shelves of books in elementary school, and it seemed as though I had only read five in the following three years. There were a few factors I immediately knew to have caused this in part: time constraints, re-reading, and the internet. For most kids (in my experience), their parents give them their first cellphone in sixth grade. Before then, our only option for relaxing entertainment was reading books; I was forced into reading by boredom. Then, a new option appears, one that requires a lot less work, and so it makes sense that I’m reading a little less. As for time constraints, we suddenly had real homework, so that made sense, and as for re-reading, if technology wasn’t cutting it, I would fall back to something familiar that didn’t require real participation. 

All of this made me re-examine my relationship with reading for entertainment throughout my life, and why it changed. After thinking about it for a few weeks I’ve come to the conclusion that yes, I did read more in Middle School, but the books mattered a lot less. Unlike before, I don’t have to read, it’s harder and more time consuming, and reading of my own volition made the book’s impact more meaningful. As cringey as it sounds, I’ve also been coming to terms with my own identity, and how I was placed in current society, and books were a more personal guide to life. I also began writing in Middle School, which changed the whole game, as reading also became a tool to better my writing skills. Thinking about the stages I had to go through to understand where reading would fit in with my daily life makes me appreciate books more, and even pushed me to lend out books to friends, to share the joy of literature with them.  At first I wanted to yell at my younger self to read more books, but I now understand that taking a step back, and realizing why I returned, gave me the value I place on books today.

 

–Lauren Ainslie Class of 2021

Reflecting On My First Year in Creative Writing by Sofi Orkin

On the first day of CW, I was scared and sitting in my seat when suddenly Heather was all like “Dance party everybody!” and I thought “oh I’m probably gonna die.” Then we wrote to a prompt and some people read theirs and I was like “also I really don’t even hold a candle to these people wow.” And during the first marking period, with all the due dates buzzing around in my head, I was like “yeah there’s no way I’m actually going to do well in CW but might as well enjoy it while it lasts” but guess what? Guess what everybody? Here I am haha and I am thriving!

 

I mean yeah of course CW is stressful at times, but at the same time Heather is always understanding and sympathetic to everyone’s needs and I always feel totally supported. So am I thriving in life? No, definitely not. But I do feel like I’m beginning to get into the rhythm of things in CW (aside from the extremely rare slip up).

 

I also just really like Creative Writing, and here is a poem, a haiku actually, I wrote to express that:

Creative Writing never fails to amaze

I really really like it a lot

my computer’s had no backup for 31 days

I would’ve done it yesterday

but then I forgot

 

Is it technically a haiku? No

Should it be a haiku, seeing as I’m in a department for writing?

Yes, definitely, but look, I’m an iconoclast.

 

Additionally, Heather works really hard to give us writers exposure to lots of different arts, whether its having a visual artist come talk to us in class, or having us go to cine club and write film reflections (the movies there are pretty great, so it’s not really a chore and more of a Fun Thing To Do, I highly recommend it). Because of that, as well as all the discussions we have about different texts in class, I’ve found myself growing a lot as a writer, and now I can’t read my old work without having a very painful stroke and wanting to burn my entire computer. But it’s ok because my newer work is a lot less bad, as you can see with my poem up top.

 

For real though, I absolutely love CW, and everything I’ve learned from it, and I’m always excited to go (especially now because it’s almost the playwriting unit!), and without Creative Writing I would probably be a lot less happy and a lot stupider.

 

–Sofi Orkin Class of 2022

Peak Piece by Emily Kozhina

Every once in a while, in the midst of writing all sorts of prompts and small pieces, you strike gold. It’s a rare thing, when you write a piece you can’t seem to outwrite for a long while. When it does happen, you at first don’t realize it, either. Typical, I find myself turning in these pieces, or reading them for a class, and that’s when I realize how much potential the piece has. So, being told how much people like the piece, you begin to submit it for journals and reading it at performances, with everyone sending their compliments your way– You know it’s a good piece, no matter how humble you like to consider yourself. And it feels good, to have a poem or story or play that everyone, including you, can read and think “That is a good piece and more people need to see it.”

Your doubts about your writing fade into the distance for a small while, as you use the piece with every chance you get. But very quickly, that triumphant glow fades as you try to write another piece. You start to think “How do I write something just as good as…?” and you try to, but it doesn’t seem to work. It feels like you only get worse from there, like you’ve peaked, like you’ve stopped growing as a writer, which is the most frightening thought of them all.

Whenever this happens to me, writing my way up when I feel I’ve already reached the top of my metaphorical mountain of progress, never works. It’s hard to keep writing afterwards. You know you will be unhappy with those next few completed pieces, but you know you have to keep writing. The worst part isn’t even sitting down to write something new afterwards, nor is it reading it aloud and not hearing the same excited swarm of comments afterwards. What’s most difficult, I’ve found, is accepting that you won’t always write things you are happy with, and this is proof.

But I like to think these downfalls of trying to write after a piece you’re proud of are what truly show your skill as a writer. Even after you’ve seemingly peaked again, you find you aren’t finished, and there is a taller mountain for you to climb. The climb up is grueling with drafts and drafts and disappointment and almost giving up and more drafts, and you’ll come to see that you never really stop climbing, and writing never really gets easy. I’ve found you just learn to work with the mountains with each piece you write.

Emily Kozhina, class of 2020

My Experience with the 10-Minute Play by Eva Whitney

Upon entering the Creative Writing Department at SOTA, I was surprised to learn that, aside from the expected Fiction and Poetry units, there would also be a Playwriting unit taught by a real playwright. I had avoided the choice to write a play for my audition portfolio—the thought of creating a whole, live scene on paper was far too daunting. I had never even considered plays to be included in creative writing. To me, they bordered film and entertainment—I never considered the fact that someone was behind the show, putting these characters into existence, and I certainly didn’t believe I was ready to do that myself.

It took me a year to realize what made a good ten minute play. Through countless exercises, examples of groundbreaking plays, and even attending live performances, I still couldn’t grasp what it was that made a short play. I wrote a mess of a play my freshman year, complete with strange characters with weak motivations in an odd setting. Here is an excerpt from my freshman year play, “To Reno,” which follows a couple on their way home from Burning Man who are bombarded by Ivan, a criminal:

POPPY: So, Ivan, tell us more about yourself. Where are you headed?

IVAN: I have to visit my parole officer, Vicky, in Reno. I fucking hate Vicky. She’s pale… so pale. And her hair is greasy and gray. Thinking about her makes me want to vomit.

ARLO: Why are you on parole?

IVAN: A few months ago I was in Reno, minding my own business. And then I had to piss, so I went over to a Chuck E. Cheese’s and asked if I could use their bathroom, as any gentleman would. They said no, the bathroom was “customers only.” What kind of bullshit is that? So I took a piss right on their building. Turns out Sharon and some other tight-ass mothers had an issue with that and I landed myself a week in jail. Now I’m on parole for the next three months and I have to visit Vicky each week. Honest to God, I’d rather be in jail than have to see that bitch every week.

POPPY: I’m sure Vicky isn’t that bad…

IVAN: Oh, she is! She tried to get me to interview for the position of a secretary at a law firm! Who does she think I am? Some delicate housewife? Give me a break!

While “To Reno” had a good back-and-forth between the characters, there was no movement on stage and the situation itself was unbelievable. The Burning Man couple, although self-proclaimed “open-minded” people, would never have been able to understand Ivan as well as I wrote them to. Looking back, I think this scene would’ve been more appropriate for a short story, where the audience is not so concerned with what it looks like, but rather how the characters are speaking to one another.

My sophomore year I was determined to write a play that was undeniably better for the stage than the page. I began to think of what I felt was missing when I read a story: the characters’ actual voices, how they physically interacted with each other, and the power of props.

The result of this list was “The Lord Provides,” which focused on an isolated, Mormon-like family who discovers a yam among their potato crops. Here is an excerpt:

GERSHOM: When I went to the well with Mother last week, she said that Gilead isn’t going to return home.

GIDEON: She speaks the truth. Gilead made the decision to leave and he knew that meant he was cutting contact with us and the rest of the community.

GERSHOM: Where is he?

GIDEON: Ecrin.

GERSHOM: Where’s that?

GIDEON: We took you to see horses there when you were younger. It’s hard to explain, but your mother and I knew your brother would not fit in from the beginning. He asked too many questions. I remember when Gilead was very young we took him to The Holy Rocks–– remember The Holy Rocks, Gershom? Well, Gilead ended up finding some kind of toy witch from the Outside, left behind from an Outside child and Gilead refused to give it up! A real Godly child would have obeyed us. Your mother and I had to put up with a lot of egregious behavior from your brother. He was a little too headstrong, you know? But God smiles on you, Son.

GERSHOM: Father?

GIDEON: Hm?

GERSHOM: This isn’t a potato.

What made “The Lord Provides” superior to “To Reno” were the characters. Not only were their names very unusual, but so was their way of speaking. They addressed each other formally at all times, the son always the one asking the questions, the father always answering. The rigidity of their dialogue showed more onstage than it did when read, and revealed how strict the made-up society really was. Beyond the dialogue the usage of a prop, a yam, also strengthened this play. In “The Lord Provides,” the yam symbolizes the brother, Gilead, who is the first person to ever have dared to leave this tight religious community. I used the prop as a means of showing how each character felt about Gilead’s departure—the son is curious and accepting, the mother more cautious but still interested, and the father completely rejecting it. It was also helpful as a playwright to have one, solid object that I could keep returning to. This was the first play I got into the annual playwriting show.

Finally, this year I knew I wanted to take a more humorous route with my play. I had to write a serious play in sophomore year in order to understand how a short play works. Adding humor on top is another large step that, at least in my case, had to be worked up to. From what I learned through writing and producing “The Lord Provides,” I now knew that dynamic, slightly unbelievable characters were a must, as well as keeping a quick pace, and having delivery that characterizes the speaker. With this new checklist, I produced “What’s Going On in Colchester, Illinois,” which centers on a town meeting where the kooky, small-town people politely testify against naming their park “Hugh Janus Monument Park” after the richest man from their town who was given an unfortunately vulgar-sounding name:

MODERATOR: Next!

VIVIAN: Hi, I’m Vivian, and I’m real big on tennis. I go to the park every day and just hit balls against the wall because no one else in Colchester likes tennis. You see, I had this one friend, Alice, who liked tennis, but she got real good and now plays in Springfield with the big guys. I’m not that good at tennis, but I’m pretty good, you know?

MODERATOR: Vivian, let’s get to the point, okay?

VIVIAN: Yeah, yeah, I know. Basically what I’m saying is that “Hugh Janus Monument Park” just doesn’t sound athletic, you know? Not your name, you look very fit, Mr. Janus, but as a park name, I wouldn’t be drawn to play tennis there. But if you ever want to have a match, just let me know, Sir.

MODERATOR: That’s enough, Vivian.

I was aware of the danger that came with centering an entire ten-minute play on one joke, so I was sure not to reveal the joke for about three minutes. As I watched the play be performed in front of its actual audience, I could feel everyone growing bored, believing that they were about to watch a normal town meeting for the next ten minutes. I felt that this initial boredom actually strengthened the reaction to the first time Hugh Janus’s name is said aloud. After Frances, the town’s nervous historian, gave a painfully long introduction on Mr. Janus, the moderator thanks her by saying, “Thank you for that eloquent speech, Frances…I wholeheartedly agree with this name change. I cannot see why anyone would object to the ‘Hugh Janus Monument Park.’” I then reinforced the joke by having every character repeat his name when they went up to testify; it would’ve been impossible to miss the joke. I thought that this play’s quick pace also kept it interesting to the audience, as there were about fifteen moving characters onstage, each with similar but slightly differing motivations.

It was so gratifying to sit backstage and hear the audience actually laugh at lines I had written to be funny. Unlike “The Lord Provides,” which relied on symbolism that likely went over much of the audience’s heads, “What’s Going On in Colchester, Illinois” centered on such a low-level joke that anyone could find some humor in it. I certainly have quite a ways from mastering the ten-minute play, but each year I see so much growth in both my own and my peers’ work that I have motivation to continue the search for the perfect short play.

Eva Whitney, class of 2020

We Will Not Stop by Nadja Goldberg

When I left the house on the morning of Friday, February 22, I had no idea that was the day I’d go viral. Instead of going to Chemistry class, I walked downtown and joined a small rally outside Dianne Feinstein’s office. Three young students had written a letter to Senator Feinstein urging her to support the Green New Deal. They invited me and other students to join them to present the letter to her in person.

I expected Senator Feinstein to smile, nod, take notes, and thank us for coming. A part of me fantasized that we could actually convince her to vote yes on the Green New Deal. But what I didn’t anticipate was that she wouldn’t even pretend to listen to us. Senator Feinstein said she knows what she’s doing, that she’s been doing this for thirty years. However, those were exactly the years when our environmental crisis should have been addressed.

When I slipped into World History later that day, my teacher called me up to his desk and asked where I was. Still energized and somewhat stunned, I told him, “I was meeting with Senator Feinstein to urge her to support the Green New Deal.”

He was unfazed. “You’ll have to make up your work.”

The encounter with Senator Feinstein swiftly went from being my own exciting secret to being seen by over ten million people. The next few days were a flurry of film crews, news interviews, and magazine articles as we rode the rapid current of media attention. We then used this momentum to organize the Bay Area climate strike. I had video meetings with other student planners late into the night, and only afterward did I begin my homework. Climate activism became by wholehearted focus. I was busy and sleep-deprived while organizing the climate strike, but I was focusing on something that truly matters. The effort I put into this endeavor counteracted the tedium of sophomore year. I learned an immense amount about climate change, communication, collaboration, and working toward a goal. I became close friends with the other amazing young people on the planning team. The thought of growing up to hear more and more devastating reports of flooding, forest fires, and drought terrifies me, but my environmental work gives me hope.

On the morning of the March 15th climate strike, I got off Bart shortly after ten. I turned onto 7th street and saw the huge crowd forming outside the Federal Building. I ran down the block smiling wide, reveling in the product of my team’s hard work. As I helped lead the march, I felt the sense of power that surged through Market Street. I stepped in rhythm with the chants rising from the crowd, united with the two thousand students on strike in San Francisco and a million more around the world. The group pooled into Union Square where a sequence of speakers shared their perspective on the climate crisis and offered words of inspiration. When I began delivering my speech, the microphone malfunctioned, and I waited on stage as someone replaced it. Two friends of mine began chanting my name. Soon, the entire crowd joined in. It was a surreal moment: the sun on my face, my name echoing off tall, windowed buildings.

My speech included a call-and-response. I will never forget the sound of two thousand people saying, “We will not stop.”

I will not stop speaking to politicians who should represent me. I will not stop organizing large scale actions. And young people will not stop fighting for a bright future.

 

Nadja Goldberg, class of 2021

The Body Electric by Charlotte Pocock

In April of 2018, I was diagnosed with a rare migraine condition known as New Daily Persistent Headache, or NDPH. The details are vague and, from what I can gather, not fully ironed out. The basics of my condition are as followed: two days before my seventeenth birthday, I was recovering from the common cold and developed a splitting headache that reduced me to a noise-sensitive puddle curled in a dark room, and it has remained this way for fourteen months now. “The brain’s job,” the pediatric neurologists explained to me, circling my brainstem on a diagram, “is to keep on doing what it is already doing. It is quite good at this, it’s what keeps us alive.” With NDPH, the brain recognizes the amount of pain chemicals it is releasing as normal, and thus registers that pain level as the homeostasis it is meant to maintain. This level of pain is referred to amongst NDPH patients as a “baseline.” In my family and amongst those who know of my medical condition, it has become common practice for me to respond with “how are you” with a number. In the beginning, my baseline was a near-constant seven. I spent most of the latter portion of my junior year lying behind a screen in my Marine Biology class, head a fog of migraine medication: naproxen, sumatriptan, naratriptan, prochlorperazine and diphenhydramine. I would register that my body was floating down the halls to my Pre-Calculus course, but I was unable to feel any of my limbs. The only feeling present was the pain. For several months, I was rated by the doctors as having “moderate to severe disability.” And I was angry, God I was so angry. This wasn’t supposed to be my life! I loved poetry and museums, spending nights out late with my friends and getting into trouble, going on long walks around the city. My grades had slipped tremendously, but I was too tired and embarrassed of my condition to tell any of my teachers why; I was too afraid of being seen as faking it for attention. One of my clearest memories of this time is lying on the floor of my bedroom, staring through the dark to the ceiling and thinking “something has got to give.” I could feel the itch to live again in my blood, like static, like the electric impulses in my brain telling itself that it’s fine, it’s okay, everything is happening as it should be. These days are gone now. I’ve learned to be what nurses call “high-functioning” while they pump dihydroergotamine into my veins. Treatment hurts, of course it does, but it’s not as painful as watching your life pass you by, drowning under all that could be if it just had been different. I’m not sure how I identify these days. My disability numbers are still high, but not as high as they were, and my family panics whenever I mention it. I’m in school, I have good grades, I am attending the University of California, Santa Cruz in the fall. I have a part-time job, friends I love, and I learned how to drive at a baseline of five. Life is out there, and I’m very likely to be able to experience it despite my barriers. I’m not sure what the take away of this is for you, if you are reading this. I encourage you to live your life to the fullest. I wish you health, and fulfillment.

Charlotte Pocock, class of 2019

Happiness is a Warm Gun by Tess Horton

I will admit, through gritted teeth, I miss—and mourn—the poetry unit. This sentiment is strange indeed, for I do consider myself to be a grander writer of fiction, and although I respect poetry and understand its’ appeal, I tend to detest the act of creating it on most days. What a funny thing it is, because as soon as I need not write poetry any longer, I suddenly have the incentive to do so!

As a product of this grudging realization, I have written poetry with sad fingers during class, as we speak of, admire, and discuss stories by Bernard MacLaverty, Italo Calvino, and Edward P. Jones. Through bouts of impulse I scrawl haphazard lines of prose, swimming in and out of structured language and the opposite. I am inclined to write poetry now, and yet the words I write are absolutely and utterly vile: a disgrace to poetry itself. That is why I will share the poetry I wrote last semester, while I was under the influence of disgust and bitterness—somehow, I managed to conjure somewhat of a poem. Why can’t I seem to amalgamate words like I did not two months before now? This world is a cruel one.

 

Able-Anna, Able-Anna

She walks between a guided path,

Toes of lace, dipped in a bath

Of early morning breath of birds

It drips below her feet-cut thirds

And with the candle placed in her palm,

She twists the wax and hums a song,

Fit for a king, fit for a man

Of humble words, from South Sudan

She wanders to, from fro and back

With nothing left to whom she lacks.

 

O’ Anna knows she is forlorn

She has been, too, long since the mourn

When little boys breathed in her ears:

“Anna, O’ Anna, You have more tears!

You must go back to the weary tomb

Where lies your birdies, since the womb—

They call you now, they have since noon!”

And so she did, she upped and left,

With nothing but a mood; bereft

She felt as if she were not able

To see the light from which the sable

Dress she wore sucked away till drought

Past meaning; the past without

Her faith in what she knew as opposed

To Mordecai on the tip of her nose.

 

She wanted nothing but a small, brief taste

Of the bitter paste served once, with haste

Perhaps, she thought, it would be sweet

To add a bout of sick, petite

She’d read the words on paper-thin

Turned the ink before the tin

And once old Gideon had said enough

She’d turn back to the door; a bluff

Bite into the muted, whispered words

Flee again, past mountains, past birds

Back to the path she knew and heard.

 

Tess  Horton, class of 2020