Queen’s Grant Senior Savannah Von Kaenel has been selected as one of only three high school winners in the NC Young Playwright’s Festival.
The NC Young Playwright’s Festival is part of the NC Young Playwright’s program dedicated to increasing playwriting in K-12 classrooms across the state of North Carolina. North Carolina Theater Arts Educators members can submit up to five entries from their school. All the plays submitted to the NC Young Playwright’s Festival are read and judged by theater professionals who choose a single elementary school winner, a single middle school winner and one honorable mention, and three high school winners and two honorable mentions.
Von Kaenel’s winning play focuses on three middle school students, one of whom has lost her cat. When the cat’s owner discovers fur and blood in her driveway, she assumes the cat has died, and the friends embark on solving the mystery of the murder. Although it sounds somewhat morbid in nature, Von Kaenel calls the play a comedy and assures the audience it ends happily. Von Kaenel, who calls her own sense of humor “strange” and “random”, believes the play’s comedic elements as well as her accurate portrayal of its middle school protagonists is what attracted the judges to her play. “I think I portrayed their childlike innocence well, and the way kids act,” said Von Kaenel. “I never actually went to public middle school. I was homeschooled. But I remember what it was like to be that age.”
Von Kaenel’s play will be performed along with the other winning plays in April at UNC Greensboro. On April 22, the winning playwrights will have the opportunity to see their work rehearsed and performed by skilled actors on the Triad Stage. An average playwright and director might be nervous putting her work in the hands of strangers, but Von Kaenel hopes to learn a lot from the experience. “I’m excited to see that,” said Von Kaenel, “because I feel like a more experienced director and some more experienced actors might bring something new to it that I hadn’t thought of.” Von Kaenel’s play will also be performed at Queen’s Grant’s Spring Arts Showcase in May.
“It’s so wonderful to have been recognized as a school at the state level, knowing that we’re competing with much bigger and more established schools,” says Queen’s Grant Drama Teacher Elizabeth Mills. “And for Savannah, it is an amazing confirmation of the work she’s been doing while she’s been a Queen’s Grant student. She’s a great student and a great writer – she writes other plays for fun outside of class – and she has always been willing to try new things and get better at acting.”
Von Kaenel’s winning play is by no means her first foray into playwriting or the practice of drama. Von Kaenel has taken drama classes since she enrolled at Queen’s Grant as a freshman. Originally, Von Kaenel, who had performed in musicals with Mint Hill’s Spotlight Performing Arts Center since the eighth grade, thought she would be a film or stage actress. But what Von Kaenal describes fondly about theater is the essence of the experience itself: “I think the family feeling I got from working in theater as what made me want to be an actress on stage. The feeling of closeness you get with the cast. And then the excitement of performing and then seeing them next spring or fall – it’s very welcoming; it gives you a good feeling. It’s like you’re coming home.”
Von Kaenel began playwriting in her Theater 2 class sophomore year. The play she wrote that year focused on the relationship between sisters searching for their biological parents, and Von Kaenel’s drama teacher encouraged her to produce and direct it for the school’s spring arts showcase. “It was not very good!” admits Von Kaenel. “It was so cheesy! I was very into dramatics – everything needs to be so dramatic and emotional! And that leads to some over-the-top cheesy moments.” Ever humble, Von Kaenel adds, “I’ve grown enough to see my mistakes in my writing.” Von Kaenel’s junior year, she directed another play about friends who take a shortcut through the woods on their way home from school and encounter a witch who sends them to an alternate dimension.
Though she originally thought she would be an actress, Von Kaenel gets a great deal of satisfaction from the process of writing and directing. “Whenever I finish something, it’s this great feeling of accomplishment,” said Von Kaenel. “I made something, and it’s going to stay here, and other people can read it. And I think that’s really cool. It’s something you can’t get from performing on stage.”
Next year, Von Kaenel plans to attend CPCC. Though you might assume she has a promising career in theater awaiting her, Von Kaenel isn’t so sure. “It is one of many, many, many possibilities,” says Von Kaenel, who is interested not only in the performing arts but also veterinary science, forensic anthropology, writing, art, history, and travel. “I don’t want to focus on one thing,” says Von Kaenel. “I want to do lots of things. Because I think I have lots of potential, and I don’t want to waste any of it.”