If Winnipeg students truly take that advice to heart, you have to wonder what they've been doing after class -- if the disturbing topics of the finalists of the 2003 Manitoba High School Playwriting Competition are any indicator.
One drama called A Disconnection spotlights a lonely, bullied guy who never notices the interest of a young woman before he kills himself. It's Simple tells the story of a teenage girl who succumbs to the financial pressures of caring for her kid sister by resorting to drug dealing and prostitution. Escape explores the tumultuous relationship between a brother and his sister after horrendous physical abuse causes a murder in the family.
Even .COM downloads the audience into a chat room where two unlikely visitors tell lies to create false personas.
Only Harlot: The Queen of Denmark, reveals a light heart, poking fun at Shakespeare's most famous tragedy.
These are the five titles vying for the top prize of $175 at the third annual playwriting contest being held tomorrow and Saturday at the Warehouse Theatre. Each of the works presented at the Manitoba Association of Playwrights-sponsored event will be produced with professional directors, after which the audience will choose the winner.
Angus Kohm -- one of the three judges who culled the thirtysomething entries to a final five -- was impressed this year by how many writers understood what went into a play, and weren't passing off their hackneyed screenplays as theatre scripts.
"They've generally been a pleasure to read, although depressing," says Kohm, whose Sorority Girls Slumber Party Massacre stands as the most successful Winnipeg Fringe Festival production.
"When you read all these scripts you think, 'Boy, these teens must be really depressed, troubled writers.' Then when you meet them they are just normal, happy, intelligent teenagers."
Three of the finalists are Westwood Collegiate students. Their drama teacher, Demetra Hajidiacos, says these writing exercises offer a wide-open window on their world. Young scribes tend to write about the big issues, such as life and death, while older writers are often more interested in exploring the small details of life.
"Handing them a pen is a way to figure out what young people are feeling about issues that are important to them," says Hajidiacos, who will direct .Com by Cora McKenzie of Portage Collegiate. "It's amazing what they will come up with."
Jenna G. Tichon, 18, wrote It's Simple as a playwriting class assignment and a literary walk on the wild side of her imagination. It's a year after mom has died and evidence of Gina's sordid moneymaking activities is starting to show up at the front door of the home she shares with kid sister Angie. Gina's world is spinning out of control and there is no happy ending.
"It's so removed from my personal life," says Tichon, the graduating Grade 12 student from St. James. "I've never smoked or have done drugs. I get straight A's and I've never had a boyfriend. But just because I have this very clean life doesn't mean I'm not able to have opinions. It's a piece of creative work. I don't think I have to justify it."
It's Simple is so out-of-character for Tichon that even her closest friend responded to reading the script with, "Where the hell did you get this from?" All her other buddies offered variations of that reaction. Tichon has purposefully kept the script from her parents.
"I'm a little apprehensive about the bad language and content." she says. "I know my dad will ask me who put it in there and I will tell him I put it in. But it's not me. I'm so not like the characters."
Some of the inspiration for It's Simple came from Tichon hanging out in the cafeteria instead of her normal haunts of the drama and choir rooms. Overhearing what her fellow students did on the weekend provided plenty of gritty fodder.
"The principal is not going to want to hear this but I learned about this whole other world from sitting down in the cafeteria," she said.
A Disconnection is about two loners -- a girl who watches from afar a guy who is so wrapped up in his depression caused by relentless bullying that he ends his life. It was written by Kelvin High students Ashley Sy and Katherine Vong.
"It's not something we knew about," says Sy, 17. "It's an idea teenagers have to deal with. We didn't think it would be shocking to our target audience, that it was something that hadn't been brought up before."
David Barkman, 17, is a Westwood writer who has penned a disturbing story of redemption for a brother and sister suffering the consequences from a terrible act of physical abuse. He can only guess that mass media saturation coverage of global events has invaded his consciousness.
"I don't know much about murder," says the Grade 12 student. "I just put myself in my character's shoes and assumed how they would react."
Barkman is performing in Harlot: The Queen of Denmark, the farce written by his schoolmate Craig Haas. In Harlot, Queen Gertrude is an arch-murderess who uses lies and sexual seduction to get her way.
"It's not overly different," says Haas, a confirmed Bard-lover. "Everyone still dies. It's fun and campy."
Harlot is slated to be the final play of the competition each night, ensuring the competition ends on an upbeat note.
"There are going to be all these downers and then comes Harlot and it will be a complete 360-degree turnaround," promises Barkman.
The competition begins at 8 p.m. tonight and tomorrow at the Warehouse Theatre. Tickets are $8 (for adults) and $5 (for students and seniors) and available at the door or by calling 842-8941.
PHOTO PHIL HOSSACK/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS