The Tradition Behind New Works, New Voices

New Works, New Voices class rehearsal.

Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (FSSA) is riddled with traditions, and each art studio can say they own at least one special production. For the drama department, they have many: Names that Hurt, which was recently written and performed by the sophomore drama students, two annual spring productions, which are performed by the junior and senior drama majors, and a show that both showcases the culminated skills and the voices of the uprising junior class: New Works, New Voices.

New Works, New Voices, is a production that prides itself on being produced solely by students. While FSSA drama teacher Ms. Kelly, who is placed in charge of the juniors for the fall semester, is always available for guidance and helpful words of wisdom, the junior students are faced with the challenge of writing, directing, and performing their own pieces.

The process begins during sophomore year where students learn the art of playwriting. After completing numerous prompts and creating an anthology of work, the students select their best piece and bring it to the table. Each piece must meet certain requirements, the most notable one being that the play must not exceed ten minutes.

The table, however, becomes a chopping block once junior year commences. After learning the basics of directing, each play is assigned a director and a set of actors to fill necessary roles. The director must use their time to block the entire scene, give notes to fellow actors, and ensure that each minute is being used wisely. The process is arduous, requiring an immense amount of effort, precision and collaboration. 

This year, 32 plays went head to head in hopes to claim a spot for this year’s production. Out of the initial 32 plays, 25 qualified for screening by Mr. Cacciola-Price (CP), Ms. Brady, and the senior drama class. Each scene received feedback, a grade, and a notice as to whether or not the play had made the cut. Out of those 25 plays, only 14 made the cut. 

Andrew Martin, a junior drama major who is involved with this year’s New Works, New Voices production, explained how strenuous the process can be.

“We were immediately given 32 plays to rehearse,” he said, “At first it was extremely stressful until we cut about seven plays, and then it was much more relaxed. Now that we’re finally at the point of presenting our pieces to CP and the seniors, a lot of stress has been lifted from my shoulders because now I know which plays I can focus on.”

Students are not only responsible for directing their given play, but are also tasked with memorizing lines for a multitude of plays. Those responsibilities combined with the desire to put on the best performance induces a lot of stress on the junior drama majors.

Despite these challenges, the junior class aspires to produce a successful and engaging production. Ashley DiLorenzo, junior drama major also featured in New Works, New Voices, expressed how rewarding the process can be.

“It’s a show so reliant on teamwork,” she said. “I’m really grateful to have a very supportive class that cares about the work enough to come into school early or stay after school or just put in so much effort. I think that since this is the last time our entire class is going to have a show with our name and grade on it, it’s important to recognize that none of this would be possible without everyone involved.”

The process is heavily dependent on every student pulling their weight. If one aspect of a play is sub-par, whether it be the directing, acting or the play itself, the work often struggles and faces elimination from New Works.

“I didn’t realize how many moving parts are involved, from getting the first draft of a script to getting it to an audience,” Ashley said, “There’s so much that goes into it, and it’s something I hope the audience can recognize as well.”

Jasmine Aly, a senior drama student, can be considered a veteran when it comes to New Works, New Voices. She pulled her weight during the 2018 production: Not only did she perform in the plays Scrimmage and Beyond His Exterior, but both the play she directed, A Day in the Life of Fred and John, and the play she wrote, Cat Syndrome, which made its way into the Black Box Theater and out to the eyes of the audience. She explained how important it is for the junior class to put all of their energy into the production. 

“This is a big opportunity for you to showcase your talent without teachers stepping in, telling you how to do something and how to act,” she said. “This is on you, and this is a big deal breaker on how you’re going to be casted in the spring show. It may sound annoying, and you may think, ‘Oh, this is just a tiny show; it’s not a big deal,’ but it is. It decides a lot of things. Taking that into consideration and putting your all into New Works is key.”

Despite the imminent talent and ambition the junior drama students exhibit, however, a tradition threatens to be taken away. For each year that New Works, New Voices has existed, the students have always received four performances: two on a Thursday, and two on a Friday. Unfortunately, the current junior drama majors will be the first class to only have one day to present their work to the public.

“I would prefer two shows,” Andrew said. “First off, it’s always been tradition to have two shows, and I’m here scratching my head as to why my grade would only get one when every other grade has gotten two. I feel like New Works isn’t taken seriously, especially since it is a show that costs nothing to run. It makes some money because it always sells out. Our audience is mostly filled with family, and that often fills across three or four shows. It’s going to be difficult to have both my friends and families come to the show when there are less options.”

While Andrew explains that the show could bring in more money, Ashley explained that losing a show date would also be seen as discouraging to the hard-working junior class.

“Less people are going to come on a Thursday than a Friday. I understand that we’re probably going to have the same runtime as previous shows, and even though it’s the same work that would be showcased on a Thursday and a Friday, a lot of people are starting to think that the work doesn’t matter as much… I think that the work has the potential to suffer just because it takes away some motivation,” Ashley said.

For the most part, the junior drama class has expressed their disdain for losing the traditional two-day performance in exchange for only one day of presentations. While this could, in theory, increase the crowd size due to the limited amount of seating available, the junior drama class misses an additional opportunity to have their voices be heard and their stories be told, which happens to be the entire reason for the existence of New Works, New Voices.

“As drama majors, we don’t get much time to perform,” Jasmine said. “Our freshman year, we aren’t performing at all. So to get that opportunity to have more people see it taken away is upsetting. It’s nice to have these opportunities, and when they’re taken away from us, we all feel that pain.”

– by Kate Villacres ’20 and Emily Hellman ’20

New Works, New Voices, is currently scheduled to open on Thursday, December 5. Tickets can be purchased through the official Frank Sinatra School of the Arts website, or in the GO Store during the first fifteen minutes of each lunch period. The following plays will be presented in this year’s presentation (potentially subject to change):

La Familia Diferente, written by Darlisha Adames and directed by Miosori Polanco

Netflix and Chill, written by Issa Bernard/Brianna Chavez and directed by Brianna Chavez

Not Your Babysitter, written by Ashley DiLorenzo and directed by Esme Zohn

I Miss Her, written by Andrew Martin and directed by Angela Wang

A Man’s Reflection, written by Dakota Williams and directed by Isabella Barquet

The Jewelry Box, written by Vivian Lukens and directed by Ariunsanaa Odbayar

Proposals, written by Ashley Salacup and directed by Christian Archer

Memory, written by Lucy Morgan and directed by William Reisacher

Dinnertime, written by Brianna Chavez and directed by Issa Bernard

Suicidal Thoughts, written by Jessie Levin and directed by Nico Jung

The Sleepover, written by Esme Zohn and directed by Ashley DiLorenzo

Mr. Sniffles, written by Nicky Bernal and directed by Matthew Dennis

The Control Freak and Her Dog, written by Tess McGuire and directed by Leonardo Carini

Out of Africa, written by Leonardo Carini and directed by Tess McGuire