Union County News

Springfield’s Dayton Drama I Students Win Young Playwrights Award for One Act Play, ‘Alex’s Secret’

From left to right Kathleen Kellaigh (Artistic Director/Co-Founder of ATC Studios), sophomore, Jaelyn Simmons-Larsen, sophomore, Maya Mehlman, and senior, Mia Matthews. Credits: Anthony DeNicolo
Anthony DeNicoloc Credits: Chip Dickson

SPRINGFIELD, NJ – Every year Jonathan Dayton’s (JDHS) current "Teacher of the Year" Anthony DeNicolo assigns his Drama I students a project, writing of a one act play.  For the last two years, the student’s plays were not just graded, they were submitted to the Action Theatre Conservatory’s (ATC) annual Young Playwrights Project.  

The script receiving “First Place” for the 2018 competition was “Alex’s Secret” written by three students in DeNicolo’s Drama class.  They are sophomore Jaelyn Simmons-Larsen, sophomore Maya Melson, and senior Mia Matthews.  Their play deals with being homosexual without others knowing.  They and their achievement will be recognized at Monday’s Springfield Board of Education meeting.

Theirs was one of three scripts submitted from Dayton and all were reviewed for the competition.  Three to four students worked on each script.  They had to help write it, make sure each participant had a part and then act it out for the rest of the class.  From start to finish including memorizing the lines, the entire effort took about two and a half weeks.  The scripts were six to seven pages long in addition to a title page. 

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Mr. DeNicolo says about going through the process of writing a play, producing it and submitting it for this competition, “The students learn theater is a collaborative effort and this project is a really unique experience.” 

This was the second year Dayton students submitted scripts to the Young Playwrights Project.  Their involvement in the competition started last year when JDHS’s Principal, Dr. Norman Francis, forwarded an e-mail to Anthony DeNicolo, Dayton’s Drama teacher.  The e-mail came from ACT Young Playwrights and encouraged Dayton students to participate in their annual Young Playwrights Project. 

All submissions were due March 16, 2018.  According to the website, all scripts are read and evaluated by professionals and teachers with only 10-12 chosen for public performance and produced through ACT.

Mr. DeNicolo always tells his students to make sure their play has a theme.  Once they started participating in the contest, he suggested they tailor their themes to those suggested by ACT.  For 2017, the theme for the plays was Gotta Laugh and this year’s theme was Dream It!

In two to three weeks, the video of the production of “Alex’s Secret” will be available on the Young Playwrights section of ACT’s website.

DeNicolo also produces Dayton's fall drama and this fall he is bringing Shakespeare to Dayton with "A Midsummer Night's Dream". 

ACT Studios’ website says, “ACT Studios is the definitive leader in NJ acting school, providing professional training to adults, teens, and children since 1990.”  The annual Young Playwrights Project “…is for Middle and High School Students anywhere, but we especially would like to read from NJ teens!”

Other past themes were Behind the Mask in 2016, Dreams & Nightmares in 2015, Believe in 2014, My World in 2013 and The Way It Is in 2012.



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