GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Jamie Harris doesn’t do drama himself. In fact, as an aspiring screen writer and filmmaker, he said he prefers a good action-adventure movie to a drama any day.
But the 17-year-old senior student at Glenwood Springs High School discovered a flare for the dramatic when he was given an assignment by his creative writing teacher, Bryan Koster, to write a short play.
Not only were Harris and his classmates tasked with writing plays, their works were to be entered in the Aspen Theater Masters’ annual Aspiring Playwrights Competition, which is open to high school students from Aspen to Glenwood Springs.
“I had little or no experience as a playwright until this class assignment,” said Harris, who is hoping to study film and art at the University of Colorado at Boulder next fall.
“So, I thought about the biggest conflict I could think of that a person could face,” he said.
The result, a play titled “The Death of Decisions,” was selected as one of two high school student plays to be performed by a local cast of actors as part of the Theater Masters Take Ten 2014 this coming Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings in Aspen.
The festival will include 10 plays, each about 10 minutes long. In addition to the two high school student playwright selections (including one by Aspen High’s Talitha Jones), eight plays written by college students as part of the 2014 National MFA Playwrights Competition will also be performed.
Harris’s play is about a man who has a wife and two children, but is often torn between family obligations and his high-pressure job working as a geologist for the federal government.
When a co-worker shares information that scientists discovered evidence that the Earth is about to implode, but that there’s a 17 percent chance of preventing it with the man’s help, he faces a tough decision.
“His wife wants him to stay home and be with his family,” Harris said. “So, he either leaves knowing there’s a good chance he’ll never see his family again, or he stays with them and it’s almost guaranteed that the world will end.”
This is the second straight year that students from Glenwood Springs High have been selected in the valley’s Aspiring Playwrights Competition, said Koster, who began teaching the upper-level writing class last year.
Last year, former Glenwood students Isaac Carlson and Quenton Henry, who have since graduated, and Olivia Hayes, who is a senior this year, had their play “May the Best Man Win” selected to be performed in the festival.
About 20 different plays, written either by individual students or groups of students, were submitted to the competition this year, Koster said.
“I really was impressed when I first read it,” he said of Harris’s play. “He’s done some other work that is very high quality, and he just has a fine sense of story-telling.”
The play “focuses on the core values of family — loyalty, duty, a sense of responsibility,” Koster said.
“It’s a really good story about how to make a difficult choice when all of that is pulling you in different directions, and it’s something all audience members can relate to,” he said.
Harris said he applies the same thought process to his writing as he does to his artwork.
“I do sculpting now, mostly clay, and I really like to try out different things,” Harris said. One of his current art projects involves putting a glass mosaic over a steer skull.
“A lot of times I get an idea in my head and the only way to get it out is to write it,” he said. “It’s the same with my art, where I picture it in my head and then I have to work with my hands to get it out.”
Harris had a chance to catch one of the rehearsals earlier this week, and said he was moved hearing the words he had written being performed by real actors.
“The actors they chose to do my play managed to make it pretty identical to what I had imagined,” Harris said.
Naomi McDougall Jones is the festival producer and a Roaring Fork Valley native who now lives and acts in New York. She is also one of more than 20 actors from various theater groups in the valley who were selected through auditions to act out the plays.
“This is our 12th year of doing the high school competition, and the eighth year we have done it in conjunction with the National MSA competition,” McDougall Jones explained.
She said the high school division is a great opportunity for aspiring writers to learn about the potential of writing plays or screen plays for films as a career possibility.
McDougall Jones’ younger sister, Talitha, is the other high school playwright competition winner. Her play, “Who’s paying?,” is a comedy about an online date gone awry, she said.
Besides the high school playwright selections, college students from seven different colleges and universities will have their winning plays performed. Schools represented include Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, Northwestern, NYU, University of Iowa, Yale and the University of Texas at Austin.
In addition to the Take Ten performances, the public is also invited to attend a free panel discussion at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Aspen Institute. The panel will include Broadway actor and writer Robert LuPone and Andrew Leynse, director of Primary Stages in New York City.