Spinning Tree Theatre’s “Young Playwrights Live!” Puts a Spotlight on Some Exceptionally Creative Young Talent

A group of young actors poses dramatically on a stage.

The cast of “Young Playwrights Live!” (Nicole McCroskey/Spinning Tree)

Three exceptionally unique plays had their world premieres in Kansas City this weekend, as Spinning Tree Theatre’s “Young Playwrights Live!” program took the stage. Spinning Tree pairs young actors and artists, both those with and without disabilities, in collaboration with adult professionals. For this program, three artists were matched with professional directors, designers, and playwright mentors to develop their ideas and mount them with casts of talented young actors.

Play #1 is Murder on the Transcontinental Express by M.J. Bradshaw, directed and mentored by Cynthia Hardeman. One might reasonably assume the play is based on or inspired by Murder on the Orient Express. In actuality, as Bradshaw tells us in a video introduction preceding the performance, it is inspired by the My Little Pony episode based on the Agatha Christie classic. If you’ve ever heard it said that Gen Z thinks in layers upon layers of impenetrable, impossibly complex irony, Bradshaw’s work here puts that depth of creativity on full display. What they’ve put forward is a wholly unique production—a play based on a cartoon based on a classic, that’s also a nuanced and heartfelt exploration of gender identity.

Play #2 is The ADHD Show by Nicholas May, directed by Michael Grayman-Parkhurst and mentored by Frank Higgins. May’s one-man show starring Caleb Mitchell aims to present the audience with an immersive understanding of ADHD, giving us a window into the impact the disorder has on a young person’s life, both the challenges as well as the more admittedly hilarious effects.

Play #3 is Rachel/Leah by Riley Martin, directed by Julie Shaw and mentored by (fellow KC Studio writer) Victor Wishna. In this play, two teen girls unknowingly emulate the story of the titular sisters from the Old Testament. In her introduction, Martin says she hopes the production appeals to all audiences but that it was specifically created to address a “representation crisis for Jewish stories.” What she has created is a complicated, layered exploration of young women’s struggle to claim independence and autonomy while also respecting and internalizing the stories of those women whose lives (and “mistakes”) have become parables for generations to come.

According to Spinning Tree co-founders Andrew and Michael Grayman-Parkhurst, these plays were created via a completely no-pressure process, with no insistence on ever even presenting them to an audience—no expectations at all beyond just getting their stories out, getting words on a page. For any young person, sharing stories and creating art is an invaluable channel for self-exploration, but we cannot forget that there s an entire generation of young people who went through some of their most formative years during a scary, isolating global pandemic. We likely won’t know the full effect of that ordeal for many years to come, but allowing them the opportunity to express themselves creatively in a safe, supportive environment, guided by experienced mentors with professional resources, can only be a profoundly impactful experience. That’s definitely the impression given by the work presented.

Young Playwrights Live!, a production of Spinning Tree Theatre, runs through April 30 at the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center, 8788 Metcalf Ave, Overland Park. Their next Young Playwrights and Directors Lab begins in August of 2023. For more information, visit spinningtreetheatre.com.

Vivian Kane

Vivian Kane is a writer living in Kansas City. She covers pop culture and politics for a national audience at The Mary Sue and theatre and film locally, with bylines in The Pitch. She has an MFA in Theatre from CalArts.

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