When coming up with an idea for his first play, Chris Porteous drew on his life experience.
The Kildonan-East Grade 12 student, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, wrote about growing up differently from other children in his play A World of Our Own.
"I remember the moment that my parents found out (about the diagnosis), so I wanted to write a story from those events," he said.
The writing has been a success so far, as the play is one of five finalists in the Scirocco Drama Manitoba High School Playwriting Competition. All five plays will be workshopped, rehearsed, and given full productions at the Manitoba Theatre Centre’s Tom Hendry Warehouse Theatre on May 23 and 24. Audience members will be given the opportunity to vote for a winning play, which will be announced after the second evening of performances.
Porteous first heard about the contest through his involvement in the MTC’s Backstage Pass program, where he met producer Angus Kohn.
"I thought ‘this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – I may as well go for it’," said Porteous, who began writing the play over Christmas break. "I still couldn’t figure out an idea, but suddenly, a quote came into my head saying ‘sometimes the greatest story ideas come from real life.’"
Porteous has been involved every step of the way, as he has worked with professionals to tighten up the script, and sat in on the audition process back in March.
"It’s exciting, and it’s a bit surreal to hear actors reading the words that I’ve written," said Porteous, who was planning to watch readings in early April.
Porteous knows the other side of the equation, as he has also acted, portraying Schwartz is an adaptation of A Christmas Story last year.
"Even the backstage moments right before you go onstage, there’s so much energy," he said.
"Once you go onstage and make the audience laugh, that just confirms it’s amazing."
Porteous’ teacher at Kildonan-East, Tannis Francis, said Porteous’ interest in theatre and film is "genuine", pointing to the Oscar contest he would run for students and staff each winter.
Francis has also seen Porteous’ growth over the years she has taught him.
"His writing has certainly become more mature," she said. "It’s been exciting to see that, and see his confidence grow. Now, to have won a finalist spot, I hope that lets his confidence soar."
Francis said Porteous has a gift for dialogue while creating believable characters.
Porteous said he plans to keep writing, as he has notebooks chock full of ideas for television shows he hopes to develop when he gets time. He has applied for the University of Winnipeg’s theatre and film program as well.
The four other finalists are Elmwood’s Sarah Lynn Simpson-Yellowquill, Tec Voc’s team of Andrea Lugtu and Carl Fabros, St. Mary’s Academy’s Hannah Burns, and Burns’ schoolmate Beatrice Tuano.