Play Lab students to share original stories at upcoming 10-Minute Play Festival


Deepa Gautam

All 32 playlab students get together for a group photo after class, with Towers in the center.

Deepa Gautam, Features Editor

A conversation between two strangers at a park bench. The story of two sisters processing grief. A forbidden romance. In just 60 minutes, audience members at the WA’s upcoming 10-Minute Play Festival will have a chance to get a glimpse at each of these original, student-made stories.

Over the past month, 32 play lab students have been tasked with writing, directing, and casting their own ten-minute plays, guided by WATA director Michael Towers, for the 10-Minute Play Festival. Each play will be showcased at the Performing Arts Center (PAC) over the course of the following four days: Dec. 21 and 22, and Jan. 5 and 6. Tickets will be $10 for adults and $5 for students and will be sold before the showcase.

“This project really tests the strength of a theater artist, with their vision and their ability to imagine and to write. Then to direct their story, to give it light, and to shape it,” Towers said. “It’s an incredibly thrilling thing to watch.”

Once the original plays are written, they will be sent to the Boston Playwright Festival, where winning submissions will be produced by a professional cast and crew.

Because the play lab class is composed of students at all different levels, the assignment of creating an original play has produced an array of experiences. For students such as sophomore Megan Piendak, who have never written or directed before, the assignment was initially approached with fear.

“When it was first announced, I was terrified and I think everyone in my class was too,” Piendak said. “I’ve always been at the edge of tech, doing costumes, so this was completely new. It took a while for me to actually get a concrete idea and start writing it.”

With the writing stage, Towers encouraged the class to let their creativity flow and let their ideas shine for themselves.

For her play, Piendak was inspired to delve into darker themes such as grief and survivor’s guilt amongst a pair of siblings. Others in the classroom were drawn to a wide range of ideas, whether it was a lighthearted romance or a deeper look into the value of generational exchange through a conversation between two strangers.

“As Mr. Towers put it, it was really a process of creating a world, putting two characters in it, and listening to the conversation. All you’re doing is writing down that conversation,” senior play lab student Roman Munichiello said. 

According to Towers, what distinguishes this project from other WATA productions lies within the casting directions. Students are encouraged to cast beyond their theater peers and truly find the value in engaging with their community by casting those who are not as experienced with theater.

“These plays will have people from all walks of life. So we’ve got kids who have never stepped on stage before, we’ve got parents and kids from other towns,” Munichiello said. “Seeing your classmates trying something new and taking a risk to try our show is a really cool part of this.”

Towers anticipates at least 100 students and adults will be involved in the project, as each play must cast two actors who are not currently in the play lab class. This has provided an opportunity for students who want to try a new experience and gain an introduction to WATA without auditioning for some of the larger productions.

For instance, sophomore Leoria Dantas had never stepped foot on stage as an actor before becoming a part of senior Zach Mantenuto play, which explores themes of sisterhood.

“It’s been interesting, and it’s definitely different. But it’s a good different,” Dantas said. “Acting is just so much and I’m obviously nervous to do it in front of actors who have been doing it for years, but I’m glad to have a low-stakes way to explore it.”

Even students who have had experience in certain fields of theater, such as acting, have received the opportunity to explore different aspects. For senior Summer Hart, who had never written a play before, the process of simultaneously writing and attempting to execute her vision was one of the most difficult, yet rewarding learning experiences.

“Because I wrote it, I had such a specific vision of what it’s supposed to look like and how the things are supposed to be said,” Hart said.  “It’s different having to put that in the hands of my actors now, so obviously it’s not always exactly what I imagined. I’ve never been in a position before where I had so much agency over a project, ”

After weeks of writing, rehearsing, directing, and trying out a plethora of new experiences, the play lab students are eager to showcase their original stories to the Westford community. According to the play lab class, the ultimate goal of the festival is to provide a platform for everyone to explore their skills and use theater to engage with a wider community.

“Theater is just literature until it’s on a stage and we have an audience seeing it. It’s literally just another book before you pick it from the shelf,” Munichiello said. “So this gives us a really awesome opportunity to experience having the audience interact with our writing, which I am really excited about.”

Whether community members are on stage or in the audience, Towers hopes this experience can ultimately be something for all to enjoy.

“This is the nature of the theater, which is to build that community,” Towers said. “Through the years and the pandemic, we’ve become a kind of separated as a community, and we really just want the show to be a moment for students, teachers, parents, and people out of town to come together in one space and experience student work.”