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Hayden Ashworth '23 Writes Full-Length Production for Fall Play

For the first time in school history, The Steward School performed a full-length play written by one of our very own students.
Steward's theatre department has staged some of the most well-known titles in drama including "Guys and Dolls," "Chicago," and "As You Like It." But never before have we seen a full-length play written by one of Steward's very own students. "On the Subject of Acquitting a Spirit," written by sophomore Hayden Ashworth and directed by Lower School theatre and Upper School acting teacher Craig Smith, centers on recently deceased Grayson Forleau as he stands trial for his life's deeds. Hampering his defense are witnesses testifying against his character and the eagle-eyed prosecutor, Helio Mallsworth, who seeks the sternest punishment possible. Along the way evidence goes missing, secrets are uncovered, and the case is far from open-and-shut. "It sounds serious but it's actually pretty funny," Hayden said. "I'm glad the actors brought out the story's humor." We sat down with Hayden to talk about what it was like to write a full-length script and see it performed by his fellow Spartans.

When did you decide to write a full-length play?

When I joined the Theatre Club, my mom mentioned to Mr. Smith that I like creative writing, and that if he ever needed material for the club to read, he should ask me. Mr. Smith eventually asked to see some of my writing, and I sent him the first 10 pages of something I had started in late 2019 but had already put down a few months later. I didn't think it was working. Mr. Smith said he really liked what I had and that I should finish it. That got me writing again, plus my mom encouraging me to come up with new ideas and see the play through to the end.

What were some of your influences?

I think most of my guidance came from movies. I looked to the ones I really like and tried to put the key elements that united them into my own script. My favorite director is Wes Anderson because there's such a unique character to his writing and the way he brings his scripts to life. I wanted to inject a similar kind of flare into my own work to make it distinctive. 

How did it feel seeing your peers perform your script?

During rehearsals, my job was to sit back and watch. Mr. Smith has years and years of experience directing, so I didn't need to intervene. I was there to see it come alive. Occasionally people would ask me how certain names were pronounced, but otherwise I could enjoy it as a spectator. Seeing how actors interpreted the lines in different ways and getting a fresh perspective on what I wrote was really eye-opening. They also brought a lot of life to the parts I wasn't happy with at first, but that I reimagined based on their feedback.

What did the process teach you about yourself as a writer?

It forced me to be a better planner. I'd actually written half of the play when I realized it wasn't working, so I had to go back and change a lot of the material. Now I know that you can't get it 100% perfect the first time through. It's okay for the first draft to have problems or even for it to be a total failure. Looking back at all the notes and edits that piled up, I can see it as a measure of my growth as a writer.

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