SAM KAPLAN wouldn’t necessarily call himself a writer, at least not until he wrote Memories of Vichy, selected as a 2019 Thespian Playworks winner. “I wrote here and there, but it was never a big hobby of mine,” he said.

That’s not to say he didn’t enjoy the occasional scene-writing assignment at Denver School of the Arts, where he’s a member of Thespian Troupe 5869. But it wasn’t until he tapped into his family history that characters came together and dialogue started to flow.

Sam Kaplan

Sam Kaplan

Memories of Vichy is based on a story my grandmother told me about Nazis invading her small hometown of Clermont-Ferrand in France,” said Kaplan. “Amelie, the main character, is inspired by her.”

Kaplan decided to write the play after reading a news article about U.S. immigration detention centers and the treatment of asylum seekers from Mexico and South America. “It resonated with me because I come from a Jewish family, and the way our nation has treated immigrants of color reminded me of the detentions and family separations initiated by Nazi Germany in the 1930s.”

Kaplan’s grandmother was raised Catholic in Vichy-France during the Second World War, so he called her to learn more. “She shared a story with me of how German soldiers arrested the teenage girls who lived above her apartment. I imagined my grandmother as a little girl being taken to a court where she witnessed the treatment of Jews arrested and sent to camps. My intention was to highlight how the same denomination of ‘others’ that caused the Holocaust is resurfacing today in our treatment of immigrants of color.”

Kaplan, who recently graduated, plans to study acting next year at either the University of California, Los Angeles, or Marymount Manhattan.

When did you get involved with theatre and ITS?
I’ve been an artistic person my whole life. I was a dancer by the age of 5 or 6, and I took piano lessons and other activities here and there. In third grade, I was in my first play, The Tortoise and the Hare. I think I had one line in the show, but I instantly fell in love with theatre.

After that, I was in as many shows at my elementary school as possible. I did Shakespeare plays, Toy Story, The Night Before Christmas, and more. Then, I auditioned for Denver School of the Arts and, much to my surprise, I got in. I first joined Junior Thespian Troupe 88486 in sixth grade and transitioned to Troupe 5869 my freshman year of high school.

Theatre has basically been my life for the past seven years, and I’m really grateful for that. I had extreme social anxiety — like I was just so quiet and shy — when I first got to my school, but through theatre I have developed into the person I am today.

The staged reading of Memories of Vichy at the 2019 International Thespian Festival. Photo by Corey Rourke.

What inspired you to write on this topic?
The spread of hatred, fear, ignorance, and stereotypes has resulted in a polarized political climate. Theatre for social change creates opportunities for much-needed open and honest discussions that encourage audiences to learn from the perspective of others.

Issues can be contentious and polarizing due to our current political administration and misinformation about immigrants of color. I believe instead of shutting down political disputes, we should embrace them and learn as much as we can from them. By creating a platform of discussion through theatre, we can inform audiences about perspectives that are often misunderstood. Although it may not change minds right away — or ever — I want to create art with a message that humanizes minority perspectives and opens the chance for this change.

What did you get out of the Thespian Playworks program?
I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities I received at the 2019 International Thespian Festival due to the Thespian Playworks program. Being able to create something on my own pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me grow as an artist. I often let other people’s ideas take priority over mine, but I was able to really mature when making this show.

Mostly, I’m so grateful my grandma was able to see the show I wrote [based on her memories] with actors onstage. I’m passionate about the message my show portrayed and being able to have an audience was a great privilege — especially at my age — that I will never take for granted.

Also a performer, Kaplan plans to study acting in college next year. Photo courtesy of Sam Kaplan.

What do you love about playwriting?
I don’t want to sit here and pretend I’m the most passionate person about playwriting because this was the first show I wrote. However, I’ve been telling stories my whole life. Being able to create fictitious worlds where I can exist as I am, free from any constraints — it’s something I will cherish my whole life. Art is one of the most important tools for our species.

What advice do you have for other Thespians interested in playwriting?
I have no advice in terms of the technicalities of playwriting, but my advice to creators in general is to just do it. I had no expectations of winning this competition. I wrote the show for fun and submitted it on a whim. Just create, create, create — no matter what you do, make sure your voice is heard, and don’t limit yourself based on what you or other people think you can and can’t do.

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