Buchholz High School theater plays aim to highlight a realistic teenage experience


Every other year, Buchholz High School drama students present a series of plays that are only one act. On Friday, two of the one-act plays in the school’s One-Act Festival will bring awareness about teenage topics such as sexuality and mental illness.

Two of the three plays are original student creations, which the theater arts teacher and performing arts chair Ted Lewis said has been a tradition for 16 years. In prior years, his students have written comedies, hard core dramas, musicals and other genres.

Other high schools in the area have their own student playwrights, but Lewis said Buchholz aims to allow students to incorporate all kinds of topics within their work, while still maintaining a PG-13 rating.

“We tend to put on the shows that other high schools are a little bit afraid to tackle,” Lewis said. He said they have an accepting audience that only some schools in the area have.

For their upcoming spring musical, students will perform “Head over Heels,” which Lewis said had not yet been performed by a Florida high school theater department. “Head over Heels” is about a Renaissance fairytale that will be performed to the music of The Go-Go’s. 

“We tend to stay away from mainstream and go for more unique shows,” he said.

For the One-Act Festival, “Call Me On the Line” – a play written by Veronica Brown, 15, a ninth grader – focuses on the struggles of LGBTQ youth.

“People who aren’t part of the LGBTQ community need to understand and recognize the trials and the pain that the LGBTQ community have gone through,” Brown said.

The play is about a modern-day jock named Lucas Smith who, unaware of his actions, bullies a lesbian character. One day, his sister brings home a vintage telephone, which he uses to talk to Matthew, a teenage boy from the 1980s struggling with being openly gay.

“As he’s talking to Matthew over the phone, he starts changing as a character,” said Elliott Horwitz, 17, an 11th grader and a co-director of Brown’s play. “He starts becoming a better person because Matthew is helping him to become a better person.”

Joseph Lowry (left), Eddie Butfiloski and Kaitlyn Nonog rehearse for “Call Me On the Line,” in which characters Lucas and his best friend Jason bully a lesbian side character named Ava. (Photo courtesy of Buchholz Players Troupe 1452)

Horwitz said the topic of sexuality is an important issue for teenagers to understand.

“You shouldn’t have to judge people based off their sexuality or their race or anything like that,” he said. “Everyone’s the same, and it doesn’t matter – like everyone is equal.”

Hayden Smith, 17, a junior and the act’s other co-director, said appreciating new thoughts and ideas can help people become more accepting of one another.

“Everyone’s allowed to love who they want to love,” Smith said.

Seventeen-year-old Sophia Vernon’s one act play “In Session” focuses on how teenagers grapple with mental illness in today’s society. She said she came up with the idea after noticing that students were more vocal with their mental illness encounters upon returning to in-person classes during the pandemic.

“I was learning that other people had experiences that were kind of correlating with one another,” Vernon said. “So I thought it would be cool to show more students through One-Act that nobody is really alone in their experience.”

Eleventh grader Jenny Zhang plays the character Emmy, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and who believes her illness is her best quality.

Emmy gets distracted quickly, which is a trait that Zhang, 17, connects with.

“Sometimes, I do get easily sidetracked like her,” she said.

The co-directors of “Call Me On the Line” both said they learned a lot by directing Brown’s play. Previously just an actor, Horwitz said this is his first time as director. They have taught each other different skills, with Horwitz learning more about the technical aspects of theater, and Smith discovering what goes into the creative process, Horwitz said.

While the festival’s opening act,The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon” by Don Zolidis, isn’t student-written, it features a student cast and student-run crew.

Alex Rupp, 16, an 11th grader serving as one of the two narrators in the play, said he and his fellow actors love performing this fast-paced comedy.

“It’s a very lighthearted, fun special, and it’s a kind of show that people love to watch,” Rupp said.

The One-Act Festival usually includes multiple plays, in which each of Lewis’ six classes would produce one play or musical. This year, however, the pandemic led to many student absences, and Lewis said he never had enough people in class to audition for the plays.

For almost all of January, he was missing 50% of students in four of his classes. However, he had stable attendance in his honors classes, so there was enough students available for at least some plays.

The cast of “Call Me On the Line” rehearses a scene this week in the Buchholz High School auditorium. “People who aren’t part of the LGBTQ community need to understand and recognize the trials and the pain that the LGBTQ community have gone through,” said Veronica Brown, a student playwright. (Photo courtesy of Buchholz Players Troupe 1452)

Alachua County Public Schools offer a variety of resources surrounding the themes in the plays, said Toni Griffin, the district’s supervisor of school counseling and student services.

Griffin said many students have utilized school counselors, mental health social workers and the county’s system of care. She also said the county abides by the State Board of Education rule in which each public school must provide students in grades 6-12 at least five hours of mental health instruction every year.

Each month, Alachua County schools focus on a different topic on mental and emotional health, Griffin said. Last month, students learned about dating violence. This month, they are learning about the perils of human trafficking. In May, they will learn how to reduce the stigma of mental health disorders and discover ways to support friends and others.

As for the theater acts, Griffin said the district supports students expressing themselves in any way that is healthy.

“It doesn’t matter who, what, when, where, what kind of student you are, we are going to support you and whatever you’re trying to do to be successful,” she said.

Tickets for Friday’s performance can be bought online or at the door for $8.

About Gabriela Rodriguez

Gabriela is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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