Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 17, 2013
People are used to seeing Savannah Deal on stage.
She starred as Eliza Doolittle in “Pygmalion” and performed a lead role in “Beauty and the Beast,” both Carson High School productions.
Those roles and her involvement in the school’s Drama Club compelled her to explore a different side of theatre – writing.
“The officer board for the Drama Club actually picks our fall plays, so we read dozens and dozens of them over the summer,” she said. “I’d say reading plays has been the best teacher for how to write plays.”
But acting has provided some insight of its own.
“I’ve learned, at least in a small way, what works and what doesn’t and just how tedious stage directions can be,” Deal said.
Deal completed her first full-length play last December, just days before the deadline for the North Carolina Theatre Arts Educators’ annual young playwrights contest.
“I wrote in my down time between our fall and winter plays,” she said. “A couple of weeks before the deadline I was just writing like crazy several hours a night until I finally came up with an idea a few days before it was due.”
Deal said the play, titled “Hairapy Sessions,” was influenced by the “Saturday Night Live” parody “Bronx Beat.”
“It’s an Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph skit and I just think it’s hilarious,” she said. “I love the characters and the banter.”
“Hairapy Sessions” was born when Deal and friend McKenzie Eury started to create their own accents and replicate the back and forth bickering of the characters.
“I realized these needed to be real characters and I needed to write this,” she said.
Deal consulted with Carson theater teacher Alex Reynolds, who helped her revise the play several times before she had something she was proud of.
“Then I sent it off and hoped for the best,” she said.
The play ended up placing third in the competition, which led to a staged reading by students at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Carson students took a first trip to see the performance and walked away in awe.
“Everybody was so nice and supportive,” she said. “They said ‘We have to do this at school.’”
Deal initially fought that notion “tooth and nail.”
“I thought we needed to do something that was actually good,” she said. “The officer board read it over the summer and they picked it.
“I thought if they were confident that mine was the best for us after reading 30 plays then I should allow it.”
Reynolds said the play had appeal because it’s a comedy that features a predominately female cast.
“It’s very hard to find a show that features girls in lead roles as anything other than the damsel in distress or the abused wife – you know the drama roles that subjugate women so often,” he said. “This show is about women leading strong, independent lives.”
“Hairapy Sessions” is set to open at 7 p.m. Friday at the school.
Deal plays the lead, a decision Reynolds said he didn’t expect to make.
“I wasn’t going to cast her at all but she was perfect for one of her parts,” he said. “We have talked at such length about what it would be like to watch your own work be put on stage.
“It’s been fun to watch her have to separate the two parts of her identify.”
Reynolds said Deal has had to let the play go and watched the actors bring it to life.
“Once it’s on the page, it’s not mine anymore,” she said. “When I act in it, I make new discoveries that are completely unrelated to how I wrote it because I actually am the character instead of writing for the character.”
When rehearsals began, Deal’s peers starting asking her how characters should respond to different situations.
“I told them ‘This is your character now,’” she said. “It’s actually been really fun to see it all come together.”
Deal describes the play as “straight up funny.”
“This play proves that women can be funny on stage,” she said. “But there are definitely some serious issues, we touch on domestic violence.”
The show demonstrates the journey of relationships, Deal said.
“You have the old widow looking for love again, you have the couple about to be newly wed and then you have couples who should maybe not be together,” she said. “It takes a look at relationships and how women cope with them.”
Bristol Glass, a student teacher who is directing the play at Carson, said “Hairapy Sessions” is reminiscent of a sitcom.
“It is a witty, sort of raucous comedy,” she said.
Students at Weaver Academy in Greensboro and Orange High School in Hillsborough will also perform “Hairapy Sessions” this fall.
“It’s going to get three full runs,” Reynolds said. “We should be able to get her published before it’s all said and done.
“I’ve had some students write some short stuff for class projects, but never a full-length piece that we performed.”
Although it sounds cliché, Deal said “Hairapy Sessions” wrote itself.
“I never understood when authors would say that before,” she said. “But these characters could respond to each other and the only problem I had was keeping up with them.”
Earlier this year, Deal’s “The Headline Today” was selected for Old Courthouse Theatre’s inaugural 10 minute play festival.
The play takes place in a 1940s Hollywood movie studio that is being forced to close after its last picture flopped.
“She’s written a lot of little stuff, but when you actually sit down and spend hours of your life crafting a whole piece it starts to change your connection to something,” Reynolds said.
Deal said she’s enjoyed writing for as long as she can remember.
“I think I entered my first writing contest in third grade,” she said. “My poem got published in an anthology.”
Although she enjoys writing, Deal admits most of her work is done with a goal in mind.
“I have to have a carrot dangling in front of me,” she said.
Reynolds said Deal’s best quality as a writer is the fact that she is so critical of her own work.
“It is awesome to watch her fret through and want to tweak things constantly,” he said. “The perfectionist in her will take her a long way because she wants something to be done right.”
That “pursuit of perfection” is rare among students, Reynolds said.
“Her parents have drilled into her the idea of doing something right,” he said.
Deal said her parents have been her No. 1 cheerleaders as she moved from acting to writing.
“They have always encouraged and helped me,” she said. “My dad is sort of my main content man and my mom is my go-to for grammar, so when I let them proofread they combine forces.”
Reynolds said Deal’s family has also encouraged her to go beyond her comfort zone.
“They have been those people who have said ‘Yeah, you can do that,’” he said. “And she’s that kind who believes it, so she just does.”
Deal said Reynolds deserves credit for his role in her success.
“(He) is absolutely the reason for not only my small success in ‘Hairapy Sessions,’ but for so many others,” she said.
Deal is currently taking Advanced Placement classes while participating in theatre and co-anchoring the WRSS student news team, which includes a student from each of the county’s traditional high schools and airs on local access channel Access16.
She spends part of her free time away from school on the water with her father.
The two are members of the Lake Norman Sailing Club.
“I love to sail,” she said. “We’re actually first place in a race series right now.”
When Deal first started high school she was in marching band and on the swim team, but she’s since narrowed her interests.
“Theatre is my priority,’ she said. “I’d like to go to school for it.’
Deal has her sights set on a specific college, but her superstitions keep her from mentioning it.
“I’ve applied and I’m actually going up for an audition Dec. 1,” she said. “I’m looking at a college that has a theatre studies major where you can have a concentration in things like playwriting, drama and acting.
“The more in-depth you can be in any field, the more occupational opportunities there are.”
Deal said she feels like her combined love and aptitude for writing make becoming a playwright a good career option.
Reynolds said he can see Deal becoming either a playwright or actress unless something else “trips her trigger.”
“She is that student who has the capacity to do whatever she wants in her world and be successful at it,” he said. “She’s one of those people who has the rare blend of talent and drive to be really good at whatever she cares about.
“I’m really glad as a freshman she walked in and decided she cares so much about theatre because she’s added so much to our program.”