The power of the written word

The 2015-2016 Young Playwrights for Change Contest hosted by Children's Theatre of Charlotte recently gave middle school students an opportunity to express what they would change about the world.

Aru Hopper, a Jay M. Robinson seventh-grader, won the regional competition for her script titled Same Difference, which is about siblings Abigail and Adam. Abigail struggles to deal with how children at her school treat her autistic brother, Adam. She has to make some difficult decisions along the way. In the end, what brings their family together is love.

"I drew my inspiration from my personal life. My brother, Abhi, is autistic," said Aru. "One of my scenes is directly from an experience he and I shared."

Stacey Boone, the school's theater teacher, formed the Junior Playwrights Club for students interested in learning the process of playwriting and who wanted to enter the competition.

"I met with 10 students twice a week," said Boone. "The students brainstormed themes, worked on plot charts and critiqued each other's work. They wanted to tackle some very serious issues and topics."

Aruplaywrightwinner_insidepic2.jpgThe students were so committed that many of them worked on their scripts during the winter break. Three plays, including Aru's, were submitted to the competition.

"It's one of the hardest things I've ever written. I had to really develop my characters," said Aru. "I had to remember technical things like indenting, using brackets and indicating action. Plays are written in a very different format and style."

Aru doesn't see herself becoming a playwright but loves art, theater and music. She's thinking about a career in acting. She's already performed in several school plays, including Peter Pan and The Lion King. She has a variety of interests that include making iMovies, participating in sports and playing musical instruments. 

"It was fun to experience the writing side of theater instead of acting," she said. "It gave me a chance to tell others that people with special needs should, and want to be, treated like everyone else."

Aru's play will now advance to the national competition. The judging committee will announce a winner May 5 in Glen Echo, Maryland, preceding the Kennedy Center's New Visions/New Voices Festival. The winner's piece will be read during the One Theatre World: Sessions.

Principal Michael Miliote was captivated by Aru's message.

"Aru and the other students involved tackled serious social issues and showed an impressive maturity level," said Miliote. "I'm impressed by how willing she was to tell a story that some can't tell. That's not always easy to do."