Masterman High School senior Ahmed Naji is a self-proclaimed fitness fanatic. Most evenings, after his schoolwork is completed, he’s off to the gym to blow off steam. So when his drama teacher gave him a playwriting assignment, he knew exactly what he would write about.
“I discovered something about creative writing, and maybe about any homework in general: It’s really good to write about something you love. You can inspire yourself, and that feeds on itself,” says Naji.
His dramatic monologue, “Gainz,” is one of 18 selected out of hundreds to be performed in the Young Voices Monologue Festival, presented by InterAct Theatre Company and Philadelphia Young Playwrights.
Naji’s narrative presents a young man examining his growing body in the mirror, while contemplating the trauma that led him to seek release in the weight room.
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But, unlike many writing awards, Philadelphia Young Playwrights doesn’t just put out a call for submissions. Each year the non-profit sends dozens of theater professionals to classrooms across the region to lead workshops and perform winning scripts from years past.
“Theater is such an applied form of writing. You have to see it in order to believe it,” explains Jay Gilman, the director of “Gainz,” and a staff member at PYP. “So it’s so important for students to see these works and say, ‘Oh! My peers have written these monologues before me. I can actually do this.”
Nanji has no plans to study theater in college. Far from it: He’s currently eying pre-med and computer engineering programs. But that’s fine as far as PYP is concerned and, actually, core to the program’s philosophy.
“The experience of collaborating with adults and articulating your vision is a big part of what we provide,” says Gilman. “Ahmed has been an active member of a team, as we try to figure out how to articulate his vision. He’s learning about leadership. So often we think of leadership as, ‘This is what I want; this is how I get it.’ But theater is a powerful way to learn how to work together. That skill is more important now than ever.”
Young Voices Monologue Festival
2030 Sansom St.