Red tape closed the curtain last year for two local, teen playwrights who were hoping to perform their original drama "Five Reasons" last year at school. Thanks to the Smyrna Opera House, though, the play is getting a second act.
Three years ago, Jon Richardson and Alex Stubbolo began working on an ambitious project for two students with busy schedules that included Advanced Placement courses, extracurricular commitments and all the normal trappings of high school life.
Both were active in the drama club and both found themselves kind-of annoyed with plays and stories that were supposed to be from the teenager's perspective. So, they decided to take matters into their own hands, writing their own version of what being a teenager can sound and look like. Now, next weekend on Friday, Aug. 9, after computer glitches, writer's block and the disappointment of not being able to perform their play where or when they initially wanted to, the curtain will finally rise on the project they call "Five Reasons."
Originally, the boys thought the play they wrote would be performed at Smyrna High School. Going into his senior year this time last year, it was supposed to be Richardson's swansong. He was vice president of the drama club and easily proclaims that drama, books, film and writing were pretty much his only interests. In a few weeks, he'll even start honing his skills as a playwright when he starts his freshman year of college at the University of New York at Purchase.
"Alex is much more well-rounded than me," said Richardson, who has already adopted the perfunctory college attire that becomes so many 18 year old males: a sportcoat, jeans, shaggy hair and a well-trimmed beard. "Plays, dialogue, film; those were always the only subjects that interested me."
Now, however, the play will be more like the declaration of his post-high school life while it also marks the beginning of the end of high school for Stubbolo, who starts his senior year at SHS in just a few weeks.
The trouble with the original performance dates started last September when the Smyrna School Board and SHS principal Tony Soligo decided, just a few weeks before rehearsals were scheduled to begin, that the play could not be performed as an official high school production.
"The play was not rejected on the basis of merit or content but rather due to the fact that it was a student-written play and thus possessed no royalties or ratings," said Richardson at the time.
The reasoning shocked Richardson and Stubbolo, who thought that a royalty-free play written by students would have been the reasons to allow the performance.
"No royalty costs meant greater profit, which would have given the drama club more money," Richardson said. "We also thought that a student-written play was a good gimmick and that people would have been intrigued to see it."
The decision by the administration should have closed the curtain on the show but both young men are adamant that it didn't dampen their spirits. It actually made them more determined.
News spread quickly that the club wouldn't be able to perform the play and a Facebook page sprung up called "I Support 'Five Reasons.'"
"Within days, we had 480 followers," said Stubbolo. "We couldn't believe how much support we had."
Nodding his head, Richardson agreed with his co-writer about the support.
"So many people have been supportive from teachers and parents to community members," said Richardson. "It's why the show didn't die and how we wound up here at the Opera House."
Several months ago, with the demands of their academics behind them, Richardson and Stubbolo began looking at venues and revisiting the idea of putting "Five Reasons" on a stage. They were open to suggestions but felt kind-of married to the idea of performing it in Smyrna where it was written.
Stubbolo, who had once been in a play at the Opera House felt comfortable with the staff and the people there and thought it might be a good idea to reach out to them.
"We met with [Executive Director] David Keller and he was great," said Stubbolo. "He believed in what we were doing and has helped us out every step of the way. Everyone at the Opera House has been good to us."
Once Keller's name was brought up, Richardson was quick to chime in.
"David Keller has been great for many reasons," Richardson explained. "He's made no attempt to censor us and when we explained to him why we thought the play didn't work for the school, he was still on board. He seemed to like the idea of us examining a real-life topic."
The real-life topic that Richardson is referring to is suicide. No one ever told the boys that the topic had anything to do with the decision to not allow the play to be performed but given the rash of suicides reported in Delaware in 2012, it is their best guess.
"No one ever really gave us a reason," Stubbolo said. "Our play deals with the topic in what we think is a positive manner. If that's what it was, if that's what made the administration uncomfortable, we would have listened. We would have understood."
As playwrights, the guys don't want to give too much of the story away but they describe the plot by saying that it is about a smart, inquisitive teen who generally has a bad attitude. A friend gives him a notebook with a list of five reasons to live. That notebook spurns a quest for even more reasons. The protagonist, played by Stubbolo, suffers a setback but it's all wrapped up with a good lesson and a positive attitude.
"We think it mirrors real life," said Richardson. "I mean, it still has to be entertaining so there is snappy dialogue and action but we think we've stayed true to what life looks like through the eyes of a teenager."