Villanova teen's play wins place in national competition
Jocelyn Nelson is a hard-working 14-year-old who craves normalcy. At home, she battles the daily pressures of teenage life while helping to care for her younger brother, Aaron, who has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism.
Jocelyn Nelson is a hard-working 14-year-old who craves normalcy.
At home, she battles the daily pressures of teenage life while helping to care for her younger brother, Aaron, who has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism.
Jocelyn is the protagonist in A Snapshot of My Family, a one-act play written by Elyse Pitock of Villanova for an eighth-grade Language Arts project.
Pitock, 15, is a sophomore at Radnor High School. Snapshot, as she calls her creation, won the Philadelphia Young Playwrights Competition in 2007 and this year was one of 10 plays selected from more than 800 submitted nationwide in the Young Playwrights Inc. National Playwriting Competition. To recognize her accomplishment, Snapshot will be performed in a Off-Broadway staged reading on Jan. 12.
Pitock, who wrote the play over four months, got the idea when she shadowed two autistic children at Hebrew school.
"People with Asperger's have minds that just work differently," Pitock said. "It's always fascinated me, so I decided to write about it because I figured it would make for good dialogue."
Pitock adapted dialogue from her own family, although the storyline has few links to her family life.
"Some dialogue is straight out of real life," Pitock said. "I decided the brother was going to be obsessed with Star Wars because my brothers love Star Wars, and whenever I had a question or needed an alien name, I would ask them."
She said she had her parents, Todd and Toni, to thank for her creativity.
"We have thousands of books in my house," she said. "I was raised in a house full of reading, writing and creativity, and was encouraged to write."
Todd Pitock, 45, a freelance feature writer for national magazines, was the inspiration for his daughter.
"I decided in third grade I wanted to be a writer like my dad," Elyse Pitock said, "but then as I got older and I kept writing, everyone was like, 'Oh, are you going to be a writer like your dad?' and I was like, 'No, I'm going to be a writer like myself.' "
Todd Pitock said his daughter's writing stems from her fascination with the theater.
"She always knew the music and the stories before we arrived to any Broadway show," he said.
He said he did not read Snapshot until after his daughter had won the Philadelphia competition.
"I was dazzled by it," he said. "It is really funny, but also a serious topic."
After winning the Philadelphia competition, Snapshot underwent some changes.
Elyse Pitock was invited to participate in a two-week workshop at Temple University aimed at developing the play for a professional performance.
"Elyse's play was one of the most beautifully realized plays that I've read in my eight years here at Young Playwrights," said Glenn Knapp, director of Philadelphia Young Playwrights. "It has a great dramatic structure and wonderful story."
The Philadelphia Young Playwrights sent four plays to the artistic department at the Wilma Theater, and Pitock's play was chosen for a performance there as well.
"The play-development opportunities are wonderful because they not only allow a student like Elyse to get into a professional theater to develop her play, but it is also about opening windows of possibility for these young theater artists into careers and into theaters," Knapp said.
Jodi Sabra, Pitock's eighth-grade teacher at Radnor Middle School who encouraged her to submit Snapshot, said Pitock entered her class late in the school year.
"She is a quiet little thing," Sabra said. "She doesn't draw any attention to herself, but the whole class knew her writing was something special."
Sabra started the playwriting project after getting a grant from the Radnor Educational Foundation to work with Philadelphia Young Playwrights.
"Like most kids, Elyse struggled to find the entrance into a play that was meaningful enough to sustain her for the whole year, but once she hit on this idea, it just steamrolled and it had a life of its own, like any good story or play does," she said.
Along with playwriting, Pitock takes part in theater and writes for the student paper at Radnor. She takes singing lessons, plays the piano, volunteers in a third-grade classroom at Or Shalom Religious School, and takes classes at Gratz Jewish Community High School in Brandywine Valley, all while maintaining her A average.
"I like everything related to theater," she said. "The first musical I ever saw was Beauty and the Beast, and that got me hooked."
For now, she's completing her second one-act play and plans to submit it to the Philadelphia Young Playwrights in January.
"I was really intimidated by the success of my first play and everything I wrote. I thought, 'This isn't good, no one is going to like this.' I couldn't think of anything to write," she said. "I think I was in a sophomore slump."
But she remains dedicated to the craft. "It's my goal to create a play where the focus is on the actors and everyone just ignores me, because that means it's the big time," she said.
To watch a reading from the play, go to http://go.philly.com/snapshotEndText