The Paula Vogel Mentors Project was the first experience I’d had of its kind, working with people outside of my school (let alone professionals) to create a fully developed production of a play I had written. Looking back, a whopping 18 weeks later, I feel truly blessed to have been a part of it and I can only hope there will be similar opportunities in my future. From start to finish, the project presented me with joys and challenges like none I’d had before. I was exposed to parts of the theatre world I hadn’t known existed and to a part of myself as a writer I hadn’t known existed. I was writing at an unprecedented pace and with a renewed passion. And I think I owe it all to the people I was surrounded with, committed artists on the same wavelength as me. Not only were they dedicated to my own work, taking the time and energy to pore over it and bring it to life, they were also willing to teach me what they knew and guide me in navigating my craft in general. I’ve already caught myself reminiscing about our conversations and experiences together, centered around the things I cared about most and how they were expressed through art. The Paula Vogel Mentors Project showed me the corner of the world I want to live in—one where I can produce art that’s the best it can be, work capable of making a tangible difference. But that’s not even the best part—I get to see the work of others, too, and be the one affected by it, and become part of an inspiring cycle. I was already nostalgic as I edited the footage of this piece, finding it difficult to choose between clips of each moment from each of the two performances. I was again filled with the same feeling that rushed through me during rehearsal—that I’d taken part in creating something to be proud of, but it certainly wasn’t entirely mine. When the dry cleaning shop lived inside my head, when I sat on my bedroom floor and wrote furiously for hours on end, it belonged to me. But the second I printed my first draft and handed it to the members of my newfound community, it became a team effort. Nearly Famous couldn’t have been what it was without the Paula Vogel Mentors project, without the dedication and passion of the entire team behind it (at Philadelphia Young Playwrights, Found Theater Company, and Writers Theatre of New Jersey). And for that I’m forever grateful.
This week, current Paula Vogel Mentors Project fellow Helen Everbach is working with UArts student and PYP intern Shira Berger, to stage Helen's play Better Than Abnormal.
They are also using this experience to create a How-To Guide for future students interested in mounting a production of their work.
Read below as Helen talks about her process, her play's characters, and the underlying activism in her writing.
About the Play
Better Than Abnormal is a slice of life comedy about 32 year old Dani- messy, awkward, and the 'token straight friend' of her progressive predominantly queer friend group- and the people in her life. Her recently heartbroken brother is dangerously depressed, her best friend is often busy spending time with her crossdressing boyfriend, and Dani's lawyer colleges seem to be sexist and sleazy. Then she meets Allan- clever, musically talented, Scottish, but also kind of conservative. In a show that explores such themes as gender, sexuality, political differences, and normalcy, it begs the question: can we get past our differences, even when they divide us?
BY: Helen Everbach
Shira and I first worked together two years ago when she helped me develop my first play, “The Mundane Life of Joe Schwartz”, which I had written for a class at the end of eighth grade. The process of working with her was very important for me. She is a kind and talented director and I was (and am) so lucky to have had the chance to work with her. So when she contacted me about this opportunity to have “Better Than Abnormal” performed, I was overjoyed.
By Ethan Brunton
2014-15 Paula Vogel Mentors Project Fellow
My name is Ethan Brunton. I’m an intermediate playwright and cartoonist. I started getting involved with Philadelphia Young Playwrights through their collaboration with Theatre Horizon, “Playwrighting and the Art of Storytelling”. It was a scriptwriting class for young adult Autistics and I got really invested into it. My first script wasn’t all that great but the second one, “Let’s Fly A Plane” got special attention. People loved it. I got to participate in Write On! and another festival in New Jersey (we had breakfast there). Eventually the announcement of the Paula Vogel Mentorship Program fell into my hands. I thought about it. Then I figured it would be a fun experience. And fun it was. I’ve been asked a few questions by one of my teachers, MR Stine, so here are my answers.
MR: What did you learn from the PVMP?
Ethan: Don’t be afraid to write what you love.
MR: What were your expectations when you started?
Ethan: To revamp my Waffle story, which is about an alien confectionary befriending a humanoid child with a fluctuating palette of super powers. I’ve written three scripts but I am still trying to write a consistent story within that universe. Everybody noticed the potential in it and I still want to make sure it exceeds those expectations.
MR: How did you change from the beginning to the end of the PVMP?
Ethan: As the Mentorship was about to begin, I met my mentor, P. Seth Bauer, and showed him some drawings I made so we could talk about them. The first ones he saw were face designs I made of the Greek Gods. We had fun talking about them again and again. Eventually we decided it would be fun to write an adaptation of one of the myths. So from there, I wrote a script that centered around Hades and Persephone. But I finished it sooner than expected. So, my mentor asked what other god I’d like to write about next. I chose Athena. Before I started, I didn’t know how to write female characters properly. Sometimes, I worried that I couldn’t write them with relatable or believable voices. The writing is a good opportunity to metaphorically punch some misogynists in the face. It made me want to do more of those kind of stories because I feel like I’ve only touched the surface with all the characters in mind, especially the gods. Every region of ancient Greece had their own interpretations of each myth, so there’s a lot of interesting ways to interpret each god’s personality. There’s just so much fun to be had.
MR: How was your writing style affected by PVMP?
Ethan: I came to understand the sense of conflict. I’ve also been given an opportunity to understand what purpose each character has. I still try to find ways to make most of them funny.
The Paula Vogel Mentor Project helped me learn not to be afraid to speak my mind. The imagination is a powerful tool and I’m glad I have it at my disposal. Sure, I’m slow sometimes but as long as I’m confident with my work I shall never worry.
"As long as I’m confident with my work I shall never worry."
By Ethan Brunton, 2014-15 Paula Vogel Mentors Project Fellow
Goofus is careless.
Gallant is graceful.
Goofus is mean.
Gallant is friendly.
Goofus is irresponsible.
Gallant is trustworthy.
These cartoons tell you how they fare in the scriptwriting business.