Eight high school students currently are being honored in the United States as semifinalists in the Thespian Playworks program for student playwrights — and Lansing High School student, Preston Thomas is one of them.

By RIMSIE MCCONIGA
rmcconiga@leavenworthtimes.com

Eight high school students currently are being honored in the United States as semifinalists in the Thespian Playworks program for student playwrights — and Lansing High School student, Preston Thomas is one of them.

The ‘Elite Eight’ hale from communities spread out across the country including, Colorado, Arizona, Kentucky, Iowa, Washington, Florida and Oregon — and of course Lansing, Kansas.
Thespian Playworks is one of four programs in a group called Next Generation Works designed to encourage and promote original writing by, and for, high school student members of the International Thespian Society (ITS). ITS, which is the honor society for middle and high school drama students, was established 88 years ago and has 2.3 million members.  The programs also include Thespian Musicalworks, Thespian Filmworks, and Thespian Criticworks.

Preston is grateful to be a part of Thespian Playworks and that the International Thespian Society encourages young playwrights by creating a space where they can submit their writing and potentially have it performed on stage. Preston’s play, “Malfunction” was chosen as one of eight in the semifinalists category.
“It was definitely a bittersweet feeling to be honored as a semifinalist,” says Preston. “I was very proud to be recognized for my writing, especially since I've never done anything on the national level before. On the other hand when you're that close to being a finalist and you don't get feedback it's hard not to think about what you should have done differently or if it was a matter of some organizational discrepancies.”
His interest in the creative process of writing plays began when, in his junior year at Lansing High School, he was cast in a student-written play for Lansing’s “Atwood Grove: A Night of One-Acts.’

He was also inspired to start writing by his theatre teacher. “I have Mr. Casey McCord to thank for everything I have learned,” says Preston. As far as the Atwood Grove one-acts, Preston was glad to be included. “I thought that it was fantastic that I had become a part of a world that my friend Meredith McKnight had created and I wanted to create a world of my own that I could watch as it is brought to life by the people I know. I wrote a one-act play that I submitted to Playworks and now I am working on a longer full-length piece.”
His favorite part of the writing process is the initial pen-to-paper connection. And Preston says from that moment on there are endless possibilities for the world in your mind. “A big challenge is removing yourself from the characters so that they sound like real people and not just the writer speaking directly through characters with different names.”

Prior experience in acting and directing are important components for writing good plays according to Preston, because he believes a successful playwright must have spatial awareness and be able to write with the stage in mind, which comes with the experience of acting and directing. “I think emotional variance is vital to a play,” he says. “It's very easy to write constantly sad just because you have the idea of a sad play, but it's during and after the humorous parts that the audience gets to digest and process the intricacies you have written for them.”

After performing in the play “Noises Off” by Michael Frayn, it has become one of Preston’s favorites. And this young Renaissance Man not only excels in writing, directing and acting, he is also a KC Storytellers Scholar, which provides a non-competitive space for students to share their stories with the goal of breaking down the barriers that divide us.
After he was nominated for KC Storytellers by his theatre teacher he was accepted after submitting his application.  

“The most rewarding part is being able to meet with people with different perspectives and experiences and to find connections between the story of someone I've never met and my own,” says Preston. “A big part of it is that all of us tell our stories. It's hard to withhold and be bashful when every person in the room including adults have bared their hearts to everyone. There were students from all over the Metro area with very different experiences from each other.”  

He also believes the storytelling events allow him to be able to relate the stories of his peers to his own, thus making it very difficult to assign labels and prejudices to others.
Preston believes that everyone has an important story and to be given the power to bring others in on that story is a special feeling that is unparalleled. “I think the craft of storytelling done right exudes relatability which translates to empathy with an audience,” he says. “I think telling stories is the only way for all of us to realize that we are more alike than any of us could imagine.”
The group will share the stories they have been workshopping at the Center for Spiritual Living where they will participate in a community celebration.

The major focus of Preston’s life right now is graduation. And when he goes on to college it will be a first. “It’s really important for me to share that I will be the first one of my family to go to college and pursue a degree as a full-time student,” he says.

As Preston enjoys his final weeks as an honored Lansing High School 2018 Thespian Playworks semifinalist, he is looking forward to continuing writing plays throughout his college days.
He hopes to supplement a career in acting with a career in writing when he graduates from college. And he plans for his sky’s the limit, can-do spirit to soar.