The lights dimmed in Concord Academy’s Performing Arts Center as a huddling group dressed in grey tones readied to give a show. It was the late evening of Friday, December 3, and CA’s What’s On Your Mind (WOYM) Playwriting Project was delivering their annual winter festival. First came introductions from the Project’s co-heads, Liam O’Brien ’23 and Kelly Kong ’24. Then, one after another, student actors performed plays by seven student playwrights in a series of staged readings—except for a row of chairs and music stands, the set was completely empty.
Guided by faculty advisor Megan Schy-Gleeson, WOYM was launched two years ago in hopes of giving CA students agency in telling their own stories and perspectives through playwriting. Each of the project’s members gets involved either as a playwright who crafts their own ten-minute play (corresponding with the current year’s decided theme), or as an actor who brings the diverse array of stories to life onstage. Over the course of a semester, members of WOYM meet weekly to review a playwright’s work. During this process, they learn more about how an original one-act play gets off the ground, from an idea lingering in the back of a storyteller’s mind to a polished performance ready to be presented to an audience.
We interviewed Smile Jiang ’24, who wrote a seven-page play called Murder and Other Excuses. Smile joined WOYM as a playwright last year. This season, she was inspired by Vladmir Nabokov’s 1972 novel, Transparent Things, borrowing plot ideas from a section about a surgeon who secretly wished to kill his patient. After weeks of meditation over the challenging themes of her new story, Smile brought a draft of her play into a WOYM meeting for the group’s first reading. “WOYM meetings have always created a space […] where you have all these people willing to help you, brainstorm with you, and bounce ideas off of each other. It is a really dedicated and safe space for you to talk about everything on your mind!” Smile commented.
WOYM has always, for one reason or another, played with format. Its first year, the Project’s founders set goals for the club and established the weekly review standard but never delivered a final performance, having lost steam due to the global pandemic. Last year, each meeting and rehearsal had to be held on Zoom, with the final performances being pre-recorded and sent out to the community through email for viewing. So, this year being fully back in-person meant WOYM’s first real try at live, in-person staged readings.
Staged readings require different preparation than fully-staged performances do, as the former relies on the actors to deliver a dynamic performance without elaborate sets or costumes. Context in the story must be inferred by the audience, if not given outside the story by a stage direction reader. As the last stage reading of the seven original plays came to a wrap at the Friday evening performance, WOYM members gathered across the stage and joined hands to give their final bow to the audience, marking a successful finale to their semester-long storytelling journey.
Requiring no experience or auditions to join in on meetings, WOYM is an accessible slice of CA’s theater world. CA’s student playwrights have always had messages to send and stories to tell. Looking forward to witnessing more work next season!