By Melanie Harrington
Every Wednesday, while SLA Freshman are at the Franklin, and Sophomores and Juniors are at their ILPs, Seniors are hard at work on their capstones.
For Senior Manna-Symone Middlebrooks, that means being immersed in her play.
The script she is writing draws from a National History Day project that Middlebrooks completed last year. It revolves around the idea of the different roles African Americans play, and have played, in media and society.
The plot follows a stereotypical African-American male who has just been released from jail. He has to deal with a previous relationship that he had with a white female a while back. Secrets about his childhood that he didn’t know existed also leak out.
“There’s different levels of communication of who gets to tell what story and why they have more power in story telling than other people,” Middlebrooks said.
Rehearsals started a few weeks ago. The cast, made up of about 15 students, were selected based on their acting and singing abilities as well as their race and physical features considering the certain roles race plays a part in.
Freshman Isabella Mezzaroba plays past Emily, one of the main characters.
“I found out about the play through advisory memos and friends,” Mezzaroba said. “I wasn’t even planning on auditioning.”
Although she has only been to one practice, Mezzaroba reports that the play so far is “interesting and fun.”
Although Middlebrooks has a full cast and crew, she admits that the play is still being written and is constantly changing.
“I really want the project to be something that is continuously developed up until the last minute,” she said, “just so that it’s fresh for me and it’s fresh for the cast and it’s also fresh for the entire audience.”
The actors were brought in fairly early. While it is true they have to memorize lines and become their character, Middlebrooks had another reason to start auditioning and assigning roles early.
“Actors on stage recognize things that the playwright can’t. If the actors don’t understand, then the audience isn’t going to understand.”
While the actors are slowly developing into their character, they are forming a relationship with Middlebrooks as well as each other. The play takes up about 20 hours of Middlebrooks’ week, and that number continues to vary. She admits that more of her time has been devoted to her play since the college application process has come to an end.
“At home I’m constantly reviewing and reading out loud to myself. My mom actually thinks I’m talking to myself,” she joked.
In order to ensure that this play is the best that it can be, Middlebrooks has several editors reading over her work to make revisions and suggestions as they see fit. She has been working with Philadelphia Young Playwrights for professional advice. Fellow teachers such as English and History Teacher Joshua Block, and English Teacher Alexa Dunn, are Middlebrooks’ go to people when she needs advice or more revisions.
For her capstone presentation, she will be filming portions of the process and editing it into a documentary. She will also put together a website that talks about her play, the actors, herself, and all of the progress and achievements she has made over the last four years.
The play is scheduled to be performed on April 5 at the InterAct Theater on 23rd and Sansom. Ticks will cost between five and ten dollars to help pay for the set and costumes.
What happens when the show is over? Middlebrooks isn’t sure yet.
“I’m trying to hone in on what exactly I want to do with the rest of my life,” she confessed.