A prodigy whose work is always evolving has a pair of one-act plays being produced this week at Studio@620.
Samuel French showcases This One Night in the Warehouse and Writer's Block at the Studio@620, whose mission is to foster emerging playwrights in the Tampa Bay region.
The 18-year-old, who will graduate as valedictorian from Gibbs High School on June 10, expressed excitement about the opportunity of having his plays at an intimate theater where he is most comfortable. He has appeared in two plays there, including January's Long Day's Journey Into Night.
"It's the theater I like to perform for and most definitely to write for," said French, the son of St. Petersburg Times alum and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tom French. "In Studio@620, the actors are right in the audience's face and that's more exciting."
The presentation of Writer's Block, a dark comedy French wrote four summers ago, and the more recently penned drama, This One Night in the Warehouse, stem from an ongoing relationship with Studio@620 co-founder and artistic director Bob Devin Jones.
Jones will be directing French's work for the first time.
They first met when Jones judged a play competition through Pinellas County schools two years ago. Jones came away impressed and then saw One Night performed at the Gorilla Theatre as part of the Young Dramatists' Project last June.
"The things it covers is how much of a choice do we have in leading our own life, is there fate or do we make our own decisions," French said. "I was eager to try something new and more challenging artistically."
Jones was blown away by the depth and maturity of its themes.
"The arguments in the play are well parsed and well thought out," he said. "The play would be a very good effort from a more seasoned playwright. There's a great deal of sophistication there that belies he was 17 when he wrote the play," said Jones.
Bringing the play to the stage allows French to work out edits in his mind. French said he gets more out of watching his work live in 10 minutes than in a year of mulling changes on paper.
"You can write plays all you want and have everyone read them, but plays aren't meant to be read, they're meant to be performed." French said. "I can't describe how much I learn from just sitting and watching my plays. It gives me great room for growth as a playwright."
That assessment was shared by actor Chris Jackson. Jackson performed a role in One Night at the Gorilla and is playing another in the Studio@620 production. He also is currently directing a play at the Young Dramatists' Project.
"This is a workshop for them," Jackson said. "It's very important they take part in it and learn the process. There's not a lot of opportunities for young playwrights to get their work heard."
As French prepares to study drama at Carnegie Mellon University, Jones reflected on what he'll take from these performances at Studio@620.
"It's good for a playwright to hear it from an actor giving it breath and decision," he said. "He's certainly one of the best."