Superheroes are all the rage in movies and TV and now drama club students at Stillwater Junior High School are getting into the act with a student-written, student-directed, and student-performed play about an unexpected teenage superhero.
“My Life as a Superhero” chronicles how teenager Jill Jamison is unexpectedly proclaimed a superhero and has her life thrown into chaos, uncharted territory, and danger. Jill has nowhere to turn for help, except a web site for the Superhero Guild.
The play was written by former SJHS theater student, Holly Newton, and her father, Dale. Holly came up with the idea in ninth grade after seeing a superhero movie that was too violent for her.
“For fun one night we started brainstorming what we thought the movie should have been about,” said Holly. “In our heads, we created characters, a storyline, and scenes. Then, when I woke up the next morning, my dad had written down the ideas we discussed the previous night and suggested we write a superhero play together. So that’s what we did.”
“Since she was active in the drama club, I suggested that we could write a play that told the story we wanted to see,” said Dale. “Together we developed the superhero and supervillain characters, wrote scenes and then read and revised each other’s work.”
The superheros they created include Captain Gaseous, Weenie Man, and Spud Girl. The villains: Big Cheese, Techno Girl, and Riff & Raff. They say the process was a fun and unique way for a father and teenage daughter to connect and collaborate.
“My dad is a talented writer, and I’ve been editing his work for years, but this was my first experience writing with him,” Holly said. “I learned about his writing process as we worked together. It was an exciting experience to see our ideas come to life on the page.”
Unfortunately, the process took more than a year to complete and by then Holly was in high school. At the time, there wasn’t interest in doing the play. About a year ago, they ran into SJHS theater director Drew Smith and “My Life as a Superhero” came up in conversation. He asked them to send him the script again for a possible Spring play this year.
Smith calls the script, intelligent.
“It would be easy to dismiss it as a kid show,” Smith said. “But it has superheroes, sibling concerns, action, and comedy all combined with a thoughtful and earnest spirit.”
“My Life as a Superhero” is full of humor, adventure, teenage self-obsession, and other fun. The play also explores themes of valuing family, standing up to wrongdoing, relying on friends, recognizing your personal worth, and being a force for good in the world.
Dale believes the title character, Jill, is very relatable to teens and pre-teens.
“Holly had a big role in developing the characters, and as a teenage girl, she had a lot of insight into Jill’s character,” said Dale. “I think there’s some of her in Jill, but Jill’s worries, challenges, and strengths are present in many young women struggling to find who they will be in the world.”
Although the set is limited to light & sound changes, Smith says the heart of this superhero comedy comes out in the characters.
“Both the superheroes and villains are larger than life but also possessed of a genuine core,” said Smith. “The humor in the show ranges from the visual to timing-based jokes and the students have done a great job with it.”
This is the second time SJHS has produced a student-written play. Last year, the theater group performed “Revenge of the Choir” written by student Adam Sutcliffe.
“After our production of “Revenge of the Choir” it became clear that we needed an outlet for student-written shows in Stillwater,” said Smith. “The success of having a student both write and co-direct made it evident that writing and directing are necessary experiences to offer our students.”
Holly graduated from Stillwater Area High School in 2014 and is now a sophomore studying Aerospace Engineering at the University of Minnesota. She’s currently working out of state for the year participating in two internships, including one at NASA. Although she is no longer involved with theater, Holly says the skills she learned are still being used today.
“Being involved in Stillwater theater has taught me valuable communication and presentation skills that have really helped me in life,” said Holly. “Theater has helped turn me from a shy, quiet mouse to a confident young woman.”
“My Life as a Superhero,” premiers at SJHS on February 25, 26 and 27 at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $5 for students/seniors and $8 for adults. They are available at the door or you can reserve them in advance by calling 651-351-6905.