TAN’YEASIA BREWSTER has been a storyteller for almost as long as she can remember. No stranger to the stage, Brewster began her Thespian career as a performer. During her junior year, this alum of Troupe 8117 at Nuview Bridge Early College High School in Nuevo, Calif., added a new credit to her theatre résumé: playwright.

Brewster’s Placebo, a 2018 Thespian Playworks winner, tells the story of a young woman navigating adolescence with an added challenge most of us can only imagine. Amaya lives with a damaged amygdala, the part of the brain charged with processing emotion. She finds herself increasingly frustrated by her inability to recognize common social cues and experience the same feelings her peers take for granted. It’s not until Amaya meets Jessie, a fellow student assigned to help her complete an accelerated art class, that Amaya discovers what she’s been missing.

Placebo was staged during last summer’s International Thespian Festival and published in the December 2018 issue of Dramatics magazine. We recently caught up with the aspiring writer to discuss the inspiration behind her story and her advice for other young artists struggling to find their creative voices.

Tan'yeasia Brewster at the 2018 International Thespian Festival.

Tan’yeasia Brewster at the 2018 International Thespian Festival. Photo by Corey Rourke.

You’ve been writing stories since the fifth grade. How and when did that interest in writing turn to playwriting?
TAN’YEASIA BREWSTER: I didn’t write my first play until my junior year of high school. It wasn’t until high school that I got interested in theatre. Once I became a Thespian and learned about the Playworks competition at my state’s festival, my drama director suggested I write my own play. I briefly mentioned to her that I enjoyed writing, and she gave me the courage to give it a chance.

What was your inspiration for Placebo?
TB: Story ideas come when you least expect them. I knew that I wanted to write a play for ITF Playworks, and with that in the back of my mind I was constantly on the prowl for ideas. Oddly enough, Placebo came to me in church. My pastor mentioned something about having a new emotion every day of the week, and then I pulled out my notes app in my iPhone and jotted it down. Originally, I was going to write a story with a character who had too many emotions but then explored the possibility of her having none. From there I wrote the first two pages, but it wasn’t until talking to my friend, who’s the inspiration for Jessie, that I got the idea to add the art element.

I did a lot of research before I truly started writing Amaya’s character, and more as I got into the world. I had taken a psychology class, so I had an idea of what I needed to research, and I just ran with it. I learned a lot about the amygdala and even read personal stories some people put online about their experience with not properly experiencing emotions. That took me into autism and such.

I wanted to make sure that, while Amaya is fictional and even the disorder I write about isn’t completely spot on, I made it seem as real as I could. I wanted to make sure people would be able to identify with Amaya. I also wanted Amaya’s relationships with Jessie and her parents to seem genuine. It was important for me to create something that other people could feel for.

How did your participation in Thespian Playworks help shape your play?
TB: International Thespian Festival was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. My dramaturg, Stephen Gregg, and the director, Michael Daehn, were amazing. I didn’t think it was possible to meet two people who loved Placebo as much as I did, but their support for Placebo was insane. The play did not change much through the rehearsal process. I did add an extra scene and tweak other scenes, though.

What would you tell aspiring playwrights who aren’t sure how to get started?
TB: I encourage aspiring playwrights to start writing. I think a lot of writers call themselves writers but never start writing. Write what makes you happy, submit it, and see what happens. Once you create something that you can vouch for, something that you’re truly passionate about, people recognize that and take notice.

How did your high school theatre experiences prepare you for college and the kind of stories you hope to pursue?
TB: I’m currently a screenwriting major at Chapman University, which I don’t think I would have pursued if it weren’t for playwriting in high school. Taking the risk in high school and being met with so much encouragement gave me the courage to pursue writing full time. I currently love writing about children and their relationships with their family or about coping with the world. I think the goal for me right now is to be a writer for an animated series. I’m excited to see where writing takes me.

Are you interested in playwriting? The deadline to submit your original play for consideration in the 2019 Thespian Playworks program, sponsored by Samuel French, is January 15. You can view detailed guidelines online.

  • Like What You Just Read? Share It!

  • Other Related Articles You May Enjoy

    Five questions with <br data-lazy-src=
    View from the top

    View from the top

    International Thespian Festival 2018 main stage

    Oct 01, 2018

    The three-minute play

    The three-minute play

    Grab some friends, set a timer, and get ready to write

    Dec 01, 2015