SOFIA BOTTINELLI discovered her love for performing by singing Disney songs with her older sister. She made her acting debut at age 7 in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Since then, theatre has taken Bottinelli to Scotland’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the stage of New York City’s Lincoln Center, and Lincoln, Neb., where her play Stratocumulus was a Thespian Playworks finalist at the 2018 International Thespian Festival.

In Stratocumulus, Reese and Piper are juniors coping with serious personal challenges above the regular pressures of high school. Piper is a child of divorce trying to decide what kind of relationship she wants with the mother who left her behind. Reese is struggling with his mom’s early-onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis and its implications for his future.

Sofia Bottinelli at the 2018 International Thespian Festival.

Sofia Bottinelli at the 2018 International Thespian Festival. Photo by Corey Rourke.

A theatre major at Denver School of the Arts, Bottinelli acts, sings, and directs with Troupe 5869. While Stratocumulus was her first venture into playwriting, the experience made a lasting impression. “Theatre has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I don’t think that will ever change,” said Bottinelli. “I’m not planning to major in acting in college, but I will certainly participate outside of classes. I plan to pursue writing, especially playwriting and journalism. I’m very excited to find out where theatre will take me in the next few years.”

When did you know you were a writer?
Stratocumulus is the first play I’ve written, but I’ve always loved stories. I was a big reader when I was little, and as I got older, my love for books began to evolve into a love for theatre and telling stories. Once I knew that I wanted to make stories as well as hear them, I started to write. Now more than ever, I realize how important it is to empathize with those around us, and sharing stories is my way of doing that.

What was your inspiration for telling this story?
People tend to underestimate teenagers and how hard it is to be stuck between childhood and adulthood. Adolescence is a weird time. We find ourselves faced with the natural challenges of growing up, even as we become increasingly aware of other lives around us. In Stratocumulus, the challenges both characters face are not particularly uncommon. Sometimes the pressures placed on kids go unnoticed by adults because they are forced to adjust to them so early in life.

When I set out to tell this story, I wanted to explore what keeps our heads above water when we have to grow up too soon. What I found is that it is infinitely harder to make sense of challenges and fears without connections to other people. In the play, Piper and Reese learn that life is a lot easier when there is someone to help you through it.

I could not be more grateful for the opportunity I had at the International Thespian Festival last year. I’m not sure I can quantify how much I learned from my incredible dramaturg Nick Pappas and director Carolyn Greer. My play only changed a little during the festival, but Nick and I worked together in the month leading up to ITF to make it as authentic, relatable, and honest as possible. There was a lot of joy in our rehearsal space. Playwrights don’t often get to be part of the entire creative process, but Nick and Carolyn made sure I was included every step of the way. Because of this, I was constantly reminded how much I love theatre and the impact it can have on people.

Your school has a history of taking shows to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where you assistant directed. Did you enjoy directing?
At first, it was difficult to transition from acting to directing because so many of the actors I was working with were my good friends. It ended up being an amazing experience. The director was wonderful, and I learned as much from observing him as I did from the responsibilities he gave me. The best part was being in Scotland. I was able to roam with my best friends and see performances from all over the world. Assistant directing helped prepare me for directing a one-act play this year. It was a lot of work but definitely worth it.

You also performed at Lincoln Center as part of a concert staging of The Secret Garden. How did that opportunity arise?
Every year, Manhattan Concert Productions produces staged musicals with a large ensemble choir. When I was a freshman, my school was given the opportunity to send students for a production of The Secret Garden. I auditioned and was asked to participate. We rehearsed during lunch periods and eventually flew to New York City for a weekend to perform. It was my first time in New York. I remember my eyes were constantly drying out because I was scared if I blinked too much, I would miss something. Also, Ben Platt held a door open for me. It may or may not have been the highlight of my childhood.

Do you have advice for young people interested in playwriting?
The most important advice I can give is to start writing. It’s natural to be worried about the final product and how it will be perceived, but those worries aren’t productive. Try to forget about others’ expectations and write because you want to and because it makes you happy. If there’s a story you are passionate about, it’s worth telling. Writing anything at all is far better than getting caught up in your fears and giving up.

Are you interested in writing? Learn more about Thespian Playworks, sponsored by Samuel French, online.

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