Maple Street duo are among play-writing winners

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MANCHESTER — Meeting Mackenzie Morgan, 13, and Meri Haber, 12, it doesn't take long to figure out they are close friends.

The seventh graders met last year, as new arrivals in the region and new students at Maple Street School. They're in the same classes, play together on the school soccer team, and ski together at Stratton. But what stands out is how they finish each others' sentences and make each other laugh. A lot.

They make a formidable writing team, too.

The students recently learned they're among the winners of the Dorset Theatre Festival's Jean E. Miller Playwright Competition. Their original one-act play, a drama with tragic overtones titled "One Lost Wish," will receive a dramatic reading from students at Bennington College at Manchester Community Library on Wednesday, Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. along with three other prize-winning student works. Twelve Vermont schools took part in the workshops, from which 54 plays were submitted to panel of 12 judges.

Haber and Morgan wrote the play last spring following Dorset Theater Festival's playwright residency, where they received instruction and feedback from artists in residence Annie Considine and Maizy Scarpa.

How's it going to feel to see and hear actors bringing their characters to life?

"It's sort of going to be 'do they like it? Do they not?' It'll be nerve-wracking, I guess," Morgan said.

"For other people to hear our play recited by actors? I can't wait to see how [the actors] interpret our play," Haber added.

Every year, the upper school English department at Maple Street School asks students to write submissions for the competition. The girls' story, about a girl with a disability who overcomes adversity, but at a high cost, had multiple sources of inspiration. Neither girl had written for the stage before, though both had some stage experience.

But they did have creative writing experience. After vocabulary quizzes, they said, their English teacher, Conor Welch, allows his students about 20 minutes of "free writing" — just making it up as you go along, about any topic at all.

"The two of us really got into it," Haber said.

"We started writing and each time after the test we'd go back to it. It turned out pretty good," Morgan said.

When they were presented the choice of writing a 10-page play on their own or 20 pages together, the pair decided to put their combined creativity to good use.

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"It's nice to work with someone else because you didn't have all the pressure so if you were writing something and you didn't know if it was good or if it worked for the play, I'd say, 'Mackenzie, does this work?' and she'd say yes or no ... and she'd do the same with me," Haber said.

"It made it much easier," Morgan added.

When it comes to the contest, "I leave it up to them and their total creativity," Welch said, "We do a couple exercises to get brains thinking about looking at images [such as Edward Hopper's painting "Nighthawks"] and interpreting what a scene might be. We talk about how to write dialogue," he said.

Directing his comments to Morgan and Haber — the Journal interviewed them in Welch's classroom during a planning block in the schedule — Welch spoke to their energy and creativity in taking the idea and running wild with it.

"Your play really took a life of its own and was interesting to watch both of your process about how you went about writing dialogue together," he said. "Because oftentimes you would inhabit your characters in some way, you'd pretend to be your characters, which is a great way to visualize and hear the sound of the dialogue."

Miller, who passed away on May 22 this past year, taught at Bennington College, served as a trustee at Maple Street School, and was president of the Dorset Theatre Festival Board of Trustees.

"Jean Miller was a great benefactor, not only to this school but the arts in Southern Vermont," Welch said.

Jean E. Miller Playwrights Competition winners

High School

Katie McCartney, Arlington Memorial High School: "D.A.B.D.A."

Cristina Gregory- Stratton Mountain School: "The Path Home"

Middle School

Max Harvey Wilson, Long Trail School: "Stoic"

Meredith Haber & Mackenzie Morgan, Maple Street School: "One Lost Wish"


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