Get our newsletters

Happy to Be Here: Out of the mouths of adults...


Phillips’ Mill may be best known for the art exhibitions that have been presented by the Phillips’ Mill Community Association for almost a hundred years. It’s also a social club, producer of cabarets, stage shows and gala celebrations in the history-laden stone building on River Road north of New Hope.

The association’s mission is to promote the arts and preserve the artistic and cultural heritage of Bucks County. That includes bringing young people into the fold.

With the future in mind, the Phillips’ Mill Drama Committee established “Play with Words,” a juried one-act playwriting challenge for students in grades seven to 12. This winter, the committee chose the works of six student playwrights with each to receive cash prizes of $100.

On March 3, the drama committee staged a remarkable event — adult actors, not students, read the plays in front of a live audience.

After the readings, Valerie Eastburn, chair of the drama committee, asked the winners a question, “How did it feel to hear your play read on stage?”

Corinne Brintnall, a seventh grader at Tohickon Middle School in the Central Bucks School District, loved how the actors performed “The Great Bake Fiasco.”

“I had so much fun watching it and laughed a lot,” she said. “It also made me feel happy when the audience would laugh, because I made mine a bit of a comedy and it made me smile. I love to write and this was just a really fun contest my teacher showed me, and it was a great experience.”

“I felt like these characters were pieces of clay that I molded with my own hands, but on stage they became actual people,” Avigail Wus, a ninth grader at Pennsbury High School said of her play, “The Blame Game.” “It was an experience I never could have imagined but it was even more beautiful than I expected. To anyone who has an affinity for writing, I urge you to get your work up onto the stage.”

Saskia Cooper, creator of “The Calamity Crew,” had a different reaction. “I felt nervous and was worried that a joke wouldn’t land also kinda felt a bit embarrassed during it, but I was really happy to see the actors having fun.” She’s a sophomore at the Pennington School, Pennington, N.J.

Srikar Pothuraju, writer of “Supernatural” and a junior at West Windsor High School in Mercer County, N.J. had a long answer. “My script acted out on stage made me feel anxious in the best way possible. The audience tilting their heads, hopefully captivated in the dark, quiet room with one center of attention, showed me for the first time ever, why I made a script in the first place. I learned a lot about my weaknesses seeing actual people reading my script that I could not properly identify by simply reading the play in my head .... Without my play being played on stage, I would not have been able to clearly envision such possibilities for a script that I could be certain of not losing the audience’s attention. Ultimately, winning this competition gave me an essential encouragement to continue making more scripts down the line.”

“Being able to see my words breathe life for the first time was a truly exhilarating moment for me,” said Finn Anderson, writer of “I Spy,” a senior at Upper Dublin High School in Montgomery County. “The first step for any playwright to produce their play is to allow actors to first make sense of your work and gain critical feedback in order to workshop what you’ve written. The Phillips’ Mill allowed me to accomplish this first step in the presence of such a loving community and has inspired me to only hone and adapt my one-act in the future.”

Matilda Bray, a senior at Solebury School, wrote “The Finale of the Magnolia Trees.” She said, “I truly enjoyed watching the staged reading of my play as it aligns with my aspirations to direct and produce in the future. The proximity of the audience proved insightful, because I could see up close how people responded to my work. Overall, I gained a much better idea of the nuances involved in portraying human emotions such as sadness, humor, and irritability.”

I wondered if it was unusual to use adult readers and not students for readings.

“First off, there aren’t a whole lot of groups who do challenges like this for students,” Valerie Eastburn said. “Some who do hold contests, do not have readings associated with their contests. We think that the readings are the greatest reward. We decided that using adult actors was the way to go because of two things; finding students to read the plays comes with an extra set of challenges that we don’t have the people power to deal with at this time, and we’re also not convinced that it is a crucial benefit for the playwright.

“A ‘reading’ by definition, circumvents having to have age appropriate characters. Are there benefits to the playwright to having students versus adult actors read the plays? We’re not convinced, but we continue to have that conversation.”

Actors Rick Goodwin, Tim Wade, Joyce Vollmer, Michel Weisser, Leslie Crilley, Nancy Vander Zwan, Tabitha Dell’Angelo, Fran Young, Laura Scotti, Rita Roley, Steve Young, Cecily Laidman and Fran Ferrone read and narrated the students’ plays.

Now they’re preparing for a cabaret in May “The Mill’s Guide to the Best Vacation EVER!”

Join our readers whose generous donations are making it possible for you to read our news coverage. Help keep local journalism alive and our community strong. Donate today.