In 2009 Sarah Simpson-Yellowquill was diagnosed with leukemia and chronicled her recovery in a play called My Life's Journey.
Unable to attend school at the time, the 14-year-old stayed home in Elmwood and opted to write her first play for a drama credit. Her health ups and downs provided a lot of material, but it was emotionally hard to relive the experience on paper. She submitted her script to the Manitoba High School Playwriting Competition, but did not make the list of finalists.
“There was something positive that came out of having leukemia. I fell in love with theatre. It showed me I could write.”
Undaunted, the budding playwright saw a future for herself in theatre.
"There was something positive that came out of having leukemia," she says. "I fell in love with theatre. It showed me I could write."
She has been writing plays every since and this year, her latest, Left Out in the Cold, made the shortlist for the 13th annual playwriting competition being held May 23 and 24 at the RMTC Warehouse. The 20-minute drama explores the issue of homelessness. Again, her cancer provided her with a subject for her writing.
"Every day when I was on my way to the hospital for treatment, we would pass the Siloam Mission and there was always a guy on the corner with his dog," says Simpson-Yellowquill, a Grade 12 student at Elmwood High School. "It gave me the idea to write about the homeless and make the public reconsider homeless people.
"Most of us think it must be their fault because they did drugs or they are drinking booze or they are spending their money not the right way. I wanted to show there is more to it."
The characters in Left Out in the Cold are homeless because they were either evicted, suffer from mental illness, experience financial problems or ran away from home at an early age. Simpson-Yellowquill, who plans to study theatre at University of Winnipeg next fall, wants to remind her audience that the world can be cruel and people can find themselves out on the street through no fault of their own.
"We have to see these people for who they really are," she says. "They are just like you and I."
Simpson-Yellowquill, who is now cancer-free, is grateful to the playwriting competition for the opportunity it gives young writers to express themselves.
"The first time I saw part of my play being put together, I was just wowed," she says. "I couldn't believe something I wrote was being taken seriously and they were literally wanting to present it onstage. When I heard Left Out in the Cold was accepted, I jumped up and down for three hours.
"I don't really care if I win. Just being in the top five is good enough for me."
This year's shortlist of plays are all dramas that explore serious subjects. In A World of Our Own by Chris Porteous of Kildonan East Collegiate, a mother reflects on the challenges of her autistic son on his graduation day. The Tech Voc High School writing team of Andrea Lugtu and Carl Fabros penned The Angels, a mythological epic about a war in heaven. St. Mary's Academy students penned the other two scripts: Schitz, by Hannah Burns, a fantastical look at a girl's struggle with schizophrenia; and Intoxicated, by Beatrice Tuano, which deals with the aftermath of a fatal car crash in which a young woman comes to terms with the death of her boyfriend.
All five plays will be presented both May 23 and 24 at 8 p.m. at the Warehouse. The work with the most audiences votes wins the $200 first prize (second gets $175 and third $150) announced at the end of the Friday presentation. Tickets are $10, $8 for students, if purchased in advance by calling 204-942-8941. At the door, tickets are $12, $10 for students.