Sitting nervously in the audience of the Millennium Stage at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. this past Sunday, Bennett Sherr ’17 watched a team of professional actors perform his original play, “Mutant Boy,” for the first time ever. “Mutant Boy” is based on Sherr’s diagnosis with Multiple Hereditary Exostoses (MHE).
In March, Sherr submitted “Mutant Boy” to the Very Special Awards (VSA) Playwright Discovery Program Competition, which, according to www.kennedy-center.org, invites writers in grades 6-12 to “explore the disability experience through the art of scriptwriting for stage or screen.” Sherr was chosen as one of eight winners in July. Following his win, Sherr revised his script throughout August with professional playwright Gregg Mozgala.
“[Working with Mozgala, I learned about] different ideas of where this play could have gone…. In the original script, there are two Bennett characters. One, aged 7, and a teenage narrator. [Mozgala and I] ended up cutting this idea for the stage reading and instead decided on having the lead jump in and out of time, so he is a narrator looking back on the specific moment as well as playing the character in the examination room,” wrote Sherr in an email to The Phillipian.
By writing “Mutant Boy,” Sherr hoped to share his personal experience to help other disabled children to accept their disabilities. Throughout elementary and middle school, Sherr wore a metal brace on his arm to guide bone growth.
“When I applied to boarding schools in eighth grade, part of me was looking for a fresh start. I was the bumpy bone kid, the kid with a metal robo-arm. I thought I needed to reinvent myself where no one knew that side of me, that history. Now I realize that was the wrong way to think… you simply don’t reinvent the disabled part of you to hide it. You embrace it and grow with it,” said Sherr.
Sherr began work on “Mutant Boy” during the winter of his Junior year when he took THDA-210: Acting 1. For this class, he wrote a monologue about his MHE diagnosis. He had written a personal essay on the same topic for an eighth grade English class. He combined these two pieces and edited them to create “Mutant Boy” for the competition.
“I just wanted to see where [the play] would go. My hope was to get a script out of the process of writing to submit [to the VMA Playwright Discovery Program Competition] that I could also put up in Drama Labs… I am thankful for the opportunity to work in D.C. with the professional team of playwrights, actors and directors. The experience has brought my script to a whole new level,” said Sherr.
Sherr found his passion and talent for playwriting while taking THDA-210. “I have received a lot of positive feedback and encouragement on my writing from teachers… I remember turning something into [Allen Grimm, Instructor in Theatre] that I thought was a good, finished work and [he] wrote something on it like, ‘No, you are a better writer than that,’ followed by constructive criticism. I liked that he saw potential, held me accountable and challenged me,” said Sherr.
Sherr was initially drawn to theater when he participated in an anti-bullying play in eighth grade. Once he came to Andover, he dove into Andover’s theater offerings by participating in several Drama Labs and a THDA-920 production.
“[My favorite thing about theater is] just the enjoyment I get from being able to put on a whole new persona and a whole new different personality and essentially throw myself into a life that I wouldn’t normally live on a day to day basis,” said Sherr.
Sherr plans on continuing to write plays and submitting pieces to various competitions. He also hopes to direct “Mutant Boy” at Andover during the Disability Rights, Education, Activism and Mentoring (DREAM) club’s “No Shame in the Name” week.