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‘In Relation to Alex’

Williamsport student helps peers cope through theater

PHOTO PROVIDED The play, “In Relation to Alex,” and cast, including Brian Bond, character Bailey (back row, left); Devin Swartz, character Cameron; Anna Vaughn Stewart, writer-director; and Mercedes Rothrock, character Mrs. Riley; Olivia “Konnor” Gautieri, character Logan (front row, left); Hailey Robbins, character Sydney; loan Wood, performs as the understudy for characters Logan and Mrs. Riley; and Rhamir Hatcher, character Alex; was performed 11 times with nine school performances and two public performances.

After four students took their lives last year at Williamsport Area High School, then junior, now senior, Anna Vaughn Stewart felt the need to help the administration and students cope through art. Stewart wrote and directed the screenplay “In Relation to Alex” in March 2017, touching on depression and suicide prevention, and has now been performed 11 times, she said.

Stewart is not a passive person, as she described herself, and as a way to help the student body through the tough times, she decided to write, she said.

“In Relation to Alex” “follows this character Alex, and it chronicles his interactions with people in his life — so his brother, his teacher, his best friend, his long-lost friend, coworker, show how they affect him, but more so how he affects them. So it’s pretty much all about connections and how our actions influence each other,” Stewart said.

“I thought … the best way to engage with my peers would be to show them what they crave, which was real, they want to see things as they truly are. So I figured writing a script, putting on a show would be the easiest way to show those real emotions. You know, to make them see the emotions and to feel okay to talk about the same emotions that might exist within themselves,” she said.

During the writing process, she got help from Marie Fox, the drama teacher at Williamsport Area High School, Stewart said. She approached Fox after writing the first scene. Since, Fox has given Stewart advice and tips on directing the play on how to show an emotion through a character. A rewarding moment for Stewart is when the emotion clicks with the performer, she said.

The cast also helped Stewart throughout the writing process, whether it was by helping figure out how not to pander, adding slang to the script or changing

lines, she said. Stewart described the bones of the screenplay as hers and the dialogue belongs to the cast.

Throughout the process, Stewart worked with the Guidance Office and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) chapter to ensure they were giving sound advice, she said, and were knowledgeable on the subject for the Q&A session held after the performances.

The Q&A session is rewarding for Stewart, she said, because she is able to connect with the audience and she enjoys meeting people.

Stewart had to fundraise for the play because whatever she couldn’t borrow, she had to buy, and her mother helped her because she didn’t have a budget from the school, she said. She needed about $100 and her mom started a GoFundMe for Stewart and helped advertise for it.

The play itself has raised $4,500 from public performance, donations and GoFundMe, she said. There were no in-person fundraisers, and all the money raised came from online support. The proceeds went to the NAMI chapter.

Overall, the cast has performed the play 11 times and other schools want “In Relation to Alex” to come to their school, too, Stewart said. Two of the 11 performances were for the public.

When beginning, she was nervous how students, the school and the community would respond, but she has received support from all, she said. The 10th-grade teachers have taken time out of their class from the literature Keystone Exams to bring the students to the show.

The community has responded positively because they could connect with the performance because it feels real, Stewart said. Students also have responded positively, she said, considering their ages.

Seeing her play on stage has been an incredible and humbling experience, as Stewart did not expect the response she’s received and she’s loved watching it evolve over the past year, she said.

Stewart grew up in Mississippi and was always interested in theater, she said.

“When I was little, the only thing I wanted to do was to drive two hours to see a play at the Orpheum in Memphis, and I’ve loved it ever since then,” she said. “I’ve always loved to perform, kind of born … doing it.”

When getting ready to move, a big selling point for Stewart was Williamsport’s music and theater program, she said. As a senior, Stewart is involved in theater, stage manages the improv troupe, has performed in school musicals, is involved in acapella and competitive choir and even works as a princess after school.

She is currently working on a second play, but is unsure where it will go. Growing up, Stewart wanted to be a novelist, but novels take time to write, she said. Now, she is into screenwriting and didn’t know this was a medium she liked until she tried it. She enjoys that you can show something without having to tell the audience something.

“Scripts can always be rough and dirty and they can always be edited,” Stewart said.

For example, in “In Relation to Alex,” you can discuss self-harm by showing a lighter or a knife to show its meaning, Stewart said.

In the future, Stewart will be attending Temple University for business and plans to stay involved in theater. She wants to be a part of the business side of theater, she said.

“Theater will always be a part of my life, and if they choose to put it on next year (‘In Relation to Alex’), I will be back to kind of oversee and make sure everything goes well,” Stewart said.

“I think theater is a way to reach people that other mediums can’t. You know, you can read a pamphlet, watch a movie, but theater is something that is live and it’s in your face and those emotions, like for the moment they are on the stage, they are very real,” she said. “It’s shown me that I can choose any path and be successful if I work hard.”

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