LOUISVILLE—When Floyd Central High School sophomore Gabriel Cora wrote a 10-minute play last fall, it was his first experience with playwriting.
Next week, his play will be performed for Actors Theatre of Louisville's New Voices Young Playwrights Festival.
The 14th annual New Voices festival features short plays by local students from Kentucky and Southern Indiana, which will be performed Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at the Bingham Theatre. Actors Theatre received a total of 836 submissions, and Cora's play "The Wilting" was one of only eight selected for production.
Once they are selected, Actors Theatre provides each play with a director, a dramaturg, design team and actors from the theater's Professional Training Company. In recent weeks, Cora has worked with the team in a series of workshops, production meetings and rehearsals.
"It’s really exciting," he said. "The actors are doing a great job, and it’s really exciting to see all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes to make it happen."
Actors Theatre also gave honorable mentions to two Southern Indiana students, whose plays will be published with the winning plays in the annual "New Voices Young Playwrights Anthology." Abigail Scott of New Albany High School received an honorable mention for the play, "Just Another Hunt," and Quinton Byrd of Jeffersonville High School was recognized for the play, "Oh Crap! Bees Are Attacking Our Airbase."
Cora created the play for his 10th-grade English honors class, where an artist from Actors Theatre visited to teach students about playwriting. It took him a little over a month to write it, he said.
"The Wilting" is a science fiction story set in the year 2243. In his play, two people wake up in the middle of the night when a holographic news reporter appears at their house to tell them about the problems going on in the world, and they wait for one major mystery to be revealed.
The story addresses issues of technology, and it focuses on being conscious of the problems going on in the world and how they can worsen — or "wilt" — over time, according to Cora. The play features plenty of dark comedy, he said.
Although he has previous experience with narrative writing, writing a play posed different kinds of challenges.
"The hardest part was writing so much dialogue between the characters," Cora said. "It was not something I was used to. I’m used to descriptive writing."
He isn't the only member of his family to participate in New Voices. His sister's play was selected for production three years ago, so the theater festival has been on his mind since sixth grade.
They were the first siblings to both be selected for the festival, and neither had any prior experience with theater before they started New Voices, mother Melissa Cora said.
For his sister, Maria Cora, being selected for the festival was one of the most valuable parts of her high school experience, and it has continued to help her in college, Melissa said.
"I don’t think these kids right now realize how big of an experience this is and what it’s going to mean for them in the future," she said.
Actors Theatre education apprentice Emma Leff is the director of the "The Wilting." Everyone who read Cora's play was excited about it, she said, and she enjoys the humor and the energy of the plot.
"The moment that struck me the most is when the two characters sort of take a minute out of hyper-focusing on the news and talk to each for the first time, really," she said. "That is a thing that felt — for a lot of us in the room — really relatable in terms of the way we consume news in this year."
She said Cora's characters are well-written, and the play "jumps off the page." She said she has been working to make sure the timing is right and that the jokes punch in order to do justice to his work.
For the team, bringing "The Wilting" to life has been a joyful and thought-provoking experience, according to Leff.
"We do a lot of speculating about the future, and we think of our assumptions about the future as a way to enter the world of the play," she said. "It’s been really fun for us. One of my favorite things about plays is that you think about it a lot, and you learn so much about the world just by doing that."
Cora also remains busy in other activities as a high school student — he plays varsity tennis and junior varsity basketball, and he plays double bass in Floyd Central's symphony orchestra. But currently he has enough time to join the team for rehearsals of his play.
Starting this month, the New Voices team has typically rehearsed for two hours a day six days a week to produce the eight plays. Cora has particularly enjoyed seeing what it takes to produce a play, and he can see himself doing more playwriting or other behind-the-scenes work in the future.
He has also enjoyed building friendships with the other New Voices writers and watching their plays.
"Some of the other [plays] are hilarious, and some of them are thought-provoking," he said. "There’s a wide variety of plays, which is always interesting to see. Also, I like seeing the people who wrote them and how [their work] reflects what they’re interested in."