CORINTH — Breanna Spink was terrified. Her theater directors at Lake Dallas High School had just angrily yelled her into their office, and she didn’t know what she had done.
Their anger was a ruse, a bit of playful showmanship leading to a big reveal: Spink had just won a national playwriting competition. Melissa Shamp, technical director for the school’s theater department, was the first to, indirectly, break the news.
“Mrs. Shamp had shoved her phone in my face and went, ‘Read this,’” Spink said, speaking through her teeth to get the tone just right. “And I thought it was like an email from the administration or something saying I had gotten in trouble, but it had been the email stating that my play had been selected.”
She doesn’t seem to remember exactly how she reacted after that, but she does recall laughing, crying and falling on the floor, all of which the school’s theater director Jordan Love confirmed.
Her play, which has the working title Leigh, was entered into the International Thespian Society’s National Playwriting Contest. Out of the approximately 300 entries, Spink’s was one of four selected as a final winner.
Leigh is the titular character and the central focus of the play. Just like all great characters, Leigh undergoes a lot of character growth to get to where she is now.
Spink said Leigh was originally a typical teen movie protagonist, full of angst and without much depth.
“You get indie music playing behind their big emotional monologues,” Spink said. “That was sort of the premise of her: This is what happens when the credits roll at the end of these teen movies.”
In Spink’s telling, Leigh has since developed into a three-dimensional young woman working through the grief accompanying the death of her child.
“Like Juno, and what’s happening afterward,” Spink said, referencing the 2007 film that follows a high school student after she becomes pregnant.
In that movie, which won an Academy Award for best original screenplay, the title character is played by Ellen Page.
Love summarized Spink’s play as an answer to a thought-provoking question: “What if Ellen Page had kept the baby and the baby died?”
Leigh first came into being during a high school theater project assigned by Love, and she wasn’t Spink’s first choice. Love said he latched onto the character and pushed Spink to pursue her.
The character emerged as a manifestation of Spink’s fears of losing her own baby brother, who is currently alive and well. After the project was over, Leigh was left abandoned for a while — until Spink had an actual death close to her.
“Earlier this year, I lost a very close friend of mine who I had very much considered to be a younger brother,” Spink said.
The death of a loved one gave her deeper insight into tragedy, which she used to inform Leigh.
The play became a vehicle for Spink to work through her own feelings of grief. Many of the lines given to Leigh were things Spink had herself said. Feelings were shared between them. Leigh grows and heals because she was a healing force in Spink’s life.
“The best playwrights write what they know,” Love said. “It’s tangible for them, which allows it to be tangible for other people."
While Spink has been involved in theater programs for quite a while, and writing for even longer, she had never attempted to write a play until her recent competition submission.
Along with ample bragging rights, Spink also won help from professional directors and dramaturges. They will help with rewrites leading up to a publishing deal with publishing company Samuel French.
At this point, the play has an approximate run time of 30 minutes. Those looking to see it can catch a performance by Lake Dallas High School students on May 11 in the school’s black box theater.
The performance is free and open to the public. Doors will open at 6 p.m., and another student-directed play will be performed: Jake Misco: Outer Borough Paranormal Investigator, directed by Max Calabrese. Love described it as a humorous noir piece meant to offset the darker themes in Spink’s play.