JCHS students find voices with original one-act plays

Sophie Kreeger is overcome with nerves when she imagines the moment that stage lights illuminate the first scene in her original play, “Rarely Pure and Never Simple,” for the audience at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay.

“I’m so nervous for that,” said the high school sophomore. “This piece is really close to me. I’m going to have a hard time separating the critique of the work from me as an individual. And the critiques will undoubtedly come. Because that’s what people do when they come to the theater.”

Kreeger is one of seven students in JCHS’ playwriting class — the first in the school’s history to have their work produced in full.

Max Lewis, Sophia Wilkof, Benjamin Ryzak, Ally Liberman and Mark Lipkin (from left) in the one-act play “Three Step Program.”

Students worked on all elements of “Nu Wurks,” a three-night drama festival that starts Tuesday, May 19 at the high school. They wrote, acted in and even helped design the sets, lighting and costumes for the seven original one-act playsKreeger, for example, served as an assistant director and as an actor in her peer’s play. As a writer, she helped cast her play, rewrote it after consulting with her actors and sat in on rehearsals to give feedback.

Dylan Russell, chair of the performing arts department and the playwriting instructor, wanted to mimic the professional playwriting experience for her students.

“I want to create as many opportunities as possible for students to engage with theater,” Russell said. “If they pursue theater professionally, I’ll be their biggest supporter, but it’s more important to me that we’re growing a group of people who will continue to have the arts always be a part of their daily life.”

In the past, one student’s script was selected to be performed at the school’s annual arts night.

But “this year I have a unique and extraordinary group of individuals” to warrant an entire evening dedicated to their work, Russell said.

The one-acts include stories about a fairy tale wolf, a love triangle during the early 1900s, a young girl who seeks meaning in her mental illness, a nerd rapping about social acceptance and seven characters in search of the meaning of their dreams.

Corey Libow (left) and Sophia Wilkof in “Who Gets Paid But the Big Clyde Wolf,” one of seven one-act plays in the Nu Wurks festival. photos/courtesy of jchs

Kreeger’s play tells the coming out stories of three gay teenage couples.

All of the plays wrestle with identity.

“I think we’re all struggling with our identities,” said Ross Fineman, a senior at JCHS. “A lot of us are questioning what we want to do, who we want to be, and none of us are 100 percent sure of anything.”

Fineman, of Burlingame, will be a freshman at U.C. Berkeley in the fall. His play reimagines the fairy tales he heard when he was a young boy.

He’s most nervous that the jokes in his play might be lost on an audience that isn’t familiar with his sense of humor.

But even that will be a learning experience, Russell said.

After the performances May 19, 20 and 21, students will be asked to reflect on the experience of showing their work to an audience.

Russell said the writing exercise will help them understand that “the audience members are active participants in the growth of new work.”

“Nu Wurks” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. May 19, 20 and 21 at the JCHS Performing Arts Theater, 1835 Ellis St., S.F. Q&A session with the playwrights will follow each performance. Tickets: $10 adults, $5 children. Information: (415) 345-9777 ext. 100 or www.brownpapertickets.com/event/61398.

Stacey Palevsky