Making a play | AspenTimes.com

Making a play

John Colson

Mandy Fral talks about her recent experience at a playwriting workshop in New York City. (Kara K. Pearson/Post Independent)

Mandy Fralé never even thought about being a playwright until she was a freshman at Glenwood Springs High School, three years ago.Now she has a number of serious accolades and accomplishments under her belt, including a recent trip to New York City to expand her abilities under the tutelage of some accomplished playwrights.And while there, she got to see some of the hottest shows on Broadway to get a feeling for the diversity of productions and styles that can take a writer to the top of the genre.Fralé, 17, is starting her senior year at Glenwood Springs High School this week. She moved to Glenwood Springs from her home city of Chicago at the age of 4, when her dad got a job as a chemical engineer with a Roaring Fork Valley firm.As she moved through the grades at the local schools, she recalled in an interview, she found she liked to write poems, short stories, longer stories, and just about every other kind of creative expression – except for playwriting.But, she noted, “I had always enjoyed writing … and I also love to act.”

So in her freshman year, when her creative writing teachers at Glenwood Springs High challenged her to enter a new playwriting competition, she gave it a shot. The annual competition is sponsored by Aspen Theater Masters, a group founded by former New Yorker Julia Hansen and dedicated to encouraging local young playwrights to pursue the craft. Hansen, who referred to herself as “a wonderful catalyst” though she has never acted or directed plays, ran an organization called the Drama League and was a founder of a program called the Director’s Project in New York. Both organizations hooked up young, unknown directors with playwrights and production companies to infuse new blood into the Broadway culture.She said she started Theater Masters when she moved here because she “wanted to do something here that wasn’t being done” to promote live theater. She allied herself first with teachers at Glenwood Springs High School through personal connections, and it has since spread to all the towns in the valley. Hansen also brings noted playwrights to the valley to teach local teachers about techniques and exercises to help aspiring young playwrights.For the Aspen Theater Masters competition, students were urged to submit 10-minute scripts for plays, and in the program’s first year Fralé’s entry took third place.”That was exciting,” she said, so she entered again, and her entry titled “Second Hand Shoes,” was one of two picked for stage production for the 2004 Take Ten festival of plays in Aspen.In 2005, she entered three plays, and all three made it into the final list of contestants. Two of them were winning entries (she shared first place with another student, Naomi Jones of Aspen) and staged at last year’s Take Ten.Fralé’s two plays were titled “Fever,” about a woman who encounters herself in a fever-induced coma, and “Botox and Butt Tucks,” which Fralé described as a satirical take on the phenomenon of body “enhancements” performed on women. The two plays got her a ticket to the Young Playwrights Festival, a workshop in New York City, thanks in part to a close relationship between Hansen and the organizers of the festival. Hansen said this is the first year for the alliance with the Young Playwrights Festival and the first time entries to the festival have come from Colorado. It is something she plans to continue.

“We felt that Mandy deserved to be taken farther, and encouraged to continue,” Hansen said. “She’s an emerging talent.”The 10-day workshop, which took place a couple of weeks ago, brought budding playwrights from around the country to practice the art with the help of people who make a living at it. Every day, Fralé said, the group would work on plays, either pieces written by students or by the instructors, and the finished script would be performed on stage by actors.A final exercise, she said, involved distributing props for the students to use in writing plays, as “a showcase of all the different writing styles [and] how we were able to apply what we’ve learned.”Fralé’s props were an umbrella, a deck of cards, a pint of ice cream, a jump rope and a yellow duck puppet. She chose the puppet, she said, because the other students thought it might be the most difficult thing to use as the basis for a play.But she came up with a piece titled “Jamie Knows Everything,” about a boy named Jamie who has a duck puppet that talks to him, explains things to him, and tells him to do things.”I just wanted to focus on the duck,” Fralé said. “It kind of played off the psyche a little bit” and incorporated a mother character who was worried about her child’s apparent fantasies and “trying to figure out what was going on. It was pretty subtle, until you find out that the boy did something pretty bad … but the duck made him do it.”

She said the others in the workshop enjoyed her work but made such remarks as, “Wow, that was creepy.” Back in Colorado and about to start her senior year, Fralé said she enjoyed the workshops but is not sure she’ll become a professional playwright.”I really like business and public relations and advertising,” she said. “I also thoroughly enjoy psychology.”She plans on “keeping all the doors open … until I have to make a decision” about what path to take in life. But she also plans to enter the Take Ten competition this year.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com