SARAH LINA SPARKS, a senior at Orange County School of the Arts, was inducted into Thespian Troupe 6826 in 2019, but she’d been taking acting classes at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, California, since she was 10. Sparks started writing plays her sophomore year of high school when she discovered her love for script analysis and dramatic writing. After penning several one-act plays, she began to dabble in longer stories, including Silent Night, her 2019 Thespian Playworks script.

Sarah Lina Sparks. Photo by Corey Rourke.

As a Thespian Playworks winner, Sparks attended the 2019 International Thespian Festival, where she workshopped the play, directed by Carolyn Greer (chapter director for Kentucky Thespians), with dramaturgy by playwright Stephen Gregg (This is a Test). There, she worked with fellow Thespians to stage its first reading. In fall 2019, her school performed Silent Night at its Thespian Showcase, an event introducing prospective Thespians to the opportunities offered by their troupe. In fall 2020, Sparks plans to study theatre at UCLA, with an emphasis on playwriting and directing.

Silent Night follows the story of three children who have been killed in a school shooting. They wake up in a fantastical, in-between world where the gentle Mr. Elephant leads them to the afterlife. Meanwhile, the audience sees the community’s reaction to the tragedy.

When did you write your first play?
I had been lucky enough to be part of a newly commissioned show [Cursed] at South Coast Repertory and got to observe the playwright [Kristina Leach] during the entire process, which really excited me. It opened my eyes to a new part of theatre, so I started writing little scenes and stories whenever I could. My first [full-length] play was called Childish, and it was about two teenagers facing their childhood imaginary friends warning them not to grow up.

I love playwriting because I am the type of person who constantly has inner dialogue and thoughts about everything in my head. Playwriting gives me an outlet to express that. I also love that playwrights get to study humanity and human interaction. But one of the best parts is that I can let my imagination take the wheel. When writing, there are no limits.

What inspired you to write Silent Night?
I started writing this play around 10 years after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. I couldn’t imagine how that was 10 years ago, but we still don’t have a solution to the problem of gun violence. The children in the Sandy Hook shooting were so young; it broke my heart and made me ask, ‘How wasn’t that enough?’ I wrote this show as my way of coping but also to send a message.

I deliberately wrote the characters to be ambiguous, with names such as “Child 1” to show the audience it could be any child at any school in any town. I also used direct quotes from politicians as dialogue from the antagonist to bring the show closer to reality. Additionally, I chose to showcase the children’s lives as balloons and used simple shadow shapes, such as a sailboat, to reflect how a child might try to comprehend the situation.

Why did you want to participate in the Thespian Playworks program?
I had a friend [Mitchell Huntley] who won the Thespian Musicalworks competition in 2018 [for How to Get a 5 on the AP Test (Without Really Trying)]. He introduced me to the International Thespian Society and the opportunities it offers writers.

Working with professionals on my play as part of the Thespian Playworks program was by far the best part of my ITF experience. It was incredible to get to work with a playwright-dramaturg [Stephen Gregg]. He taught me so much about which questions I need to be asking when writing, reading, and revising my own work. I look at playwriting completely differently after working with him.

What playwrights most inspire you?
I am very inspired by Lauren Yee. When I saw Yee’s Cambodian Rock Band, there were multiple times when I felt the story pulled my heart out of my chest. As an Asian-American, female playwright, I really look up to her. I also like Mary Zimmerman; I was in a production of The Secret in the Wings, and it opened my eyes to different writing techniques and abstract styles I try to incorporate in my writing.

What advice do you have for other Thespians interested in playwriting?
My only advice would be, write! Just write. Writing is so therapeutic for me. It helps me not only express myself but also process experiences. If you think you want to write something, you are meant to write it. Get your thoughts on paper, write the first scene last, change the entire plot midway through, and do whatever your head and your heart tell you. Just write.

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