At Germantown Friends School’s recent Poley Festival, students had the leading role in dramatic productions – both on the stage and behind the scenes – having dedicated a quarter of the school year to works they selected, wrote, acted in, designed and produced.
“The most exciting aspect of Poley Festival is that it is student driven,” said Lisa Burns, head of the GFS drama department. “They worked collaboratively, making directorial decisions and, as actors, chose the plays that they wanted to explore. It’s about students playing many roles: listening, observing and learning.”
This year’s festival ran from May 14-17, and featured Neil Simon’s “Rumors,” an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s “Sunbird,” Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Ernest,” a comedy by Matt O’Connor ’15, called “Dating Olympics,” Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants,” which Marielle Issa ’15 and Oliver Mitchell-Boyask ’15 were inspired to perform after reading it in English class, plus a wide range of other productions, monologues, videos and performances.
The student theater showcase, named in honor of Irvin Poley, a 1908 graduate of GFS who returned years later as a teacher and administrator and was instrumental in introducing the arts into the GFS curriculum, was started by GFS graduates Julie Rottenberg ’88 and Elisa Zuritsky ’88, who went on to write for HBO’s critically-acclaimed series “Sex and the City” and together co-produced the ABC television drama “Smash.” Drama students in ninth through twelfth grade participated in this year’s annual Festival.
“Poley Fest was originally started as a way to showcase original student work, so we are trying to go back to that,” said O’Connor, who premiered his one-act play and online sitcom on Saturday, which was the evening devoted to original pieces.
The students appreciate that Poley Fest is inclusive.
“It affords more opportunities to the kids who take drama but don’t necessarily get leads in the bigger productions or can’t do as much as they would like to because they are busy with other activities or sports,” O’Connor said. “It’s fun to see kids you won’t expect doing plays and having big roles.”
In addition to a diverse group of performers and producers, there is a lot of room for experimentation.
Brad Sachs ’15 said, “When people think about theater they often think, ‘Oh, there is that one musical during the year and I go and sit for three hours,’ but Poley Fest is a really interesting way to show that there is more to theater. It’s a time to say, ‘Let’s do it differently, let’s take a stance and do something that isn’t done a lot.’”
“There is so much diversity in what is done: short comedy, long dramatic pieces, monologues, stand-up. You can really do anything that you want to do,” said Jamie Clauson-Wolf ’15. “It gives kids a really powerful platform on which to experiment and try new things.”