Lily Sterlieb ’24 Wins National Gold Medal in Scholastic Art & Writing Awards

Lily Sternlieb ’24 has won a Scholastic Gold Medal, awarded to “the most outstanding works in the nation,” for her dramatic script, “We Write The Words We Cannot Say.” You can read the winning piece below. Congratulations, Lily!

Character Breakdown

PEER 1: 20, any ethnicity.

PEER 2: 20, any ethnicity.

MARGARET: 20, young woman and any ethnicity. Margaret is a very shy, hesitant girl who does not speak up for herself. She wrote the play about Julia which is truly an extension of the qualities Margaret wishes she didn’t have.

TEACHER: 60, man and any ethnicity.The teacher is in a tough position because in order to keep a very generous donor he must allow the donor’s son to take credit for Margaret’s work. He addresses the dilemma very awkwardly, therefore his dialogue almost sounds comical.

TYLER: 20, young man and any ethnicity. Tyler is a somewhat condescending and arrogant boy in Margaret’s class. He tells his father that he wrote Margaret’s play, and because his dad is an important donor, Tyler is allowed to take credit for Margaret’s work.

DANIEL: 25, young white man. Daniel is confident, pushy and patronizing. He comes from an upper class family and dresses well. Daniel is about to elope with Julia and is pushing her into marriage. He speaks with pretension.

JULIA: 20, young woman and any ethnicity. Julia is similar to Margaret in personality: shy, quiet and reserved. Julia is eloping with Daniel mostly because she feels trapped by her cold parents and wants to be liberated.

FUTURE JULIA: older version of Julia. Acts as the voice expressing Julia’s hidden thoughts and as a future perspective on current Julia’s choices.

RABBI: Older white man. The Rabbi is a very insightful compassionate person, however he marries Daniel and Julia even though he can sense Julia’s uneasiness and problems in their relationship.


SCENE 1

Margaret has written and directed her first play for a college course. Tonight is the first showing of her play to an audience. Margaret is sitting in the front row waiting for the lights to dim and her production to begin.

PEER 1

Good Luck!

MARGARET 

(nervously excited)

Thanks.

PEER 2

I’m sure you’ll do great.

Margaret nods. Her teacher anxiously slides into the seat next to her and even though the lights are fading out, Margaret can see his face set in a frown.

TEACHER

I have something to tell you.

MARGARET

What?

TEACHER

There’s this man sitting three rows behind us in the black coat and the red sweater. You see him?

Margaret turns around in her seat and nods.

TEACHER

And you know Tyler, right?

MARGARET

The one in our class? Yeah, I know Tyler.

TEACHER

Well that man back there is Tyler’s dad.

MARGARET

(confused)

But why did he come? Tyler isn’t in the play.

TEACHER

(uneasy)

Well, no he isn’t in the play, but… he wrote it.

MARGARET

(laughs nervously)

No he didn’t… I wrote it.

TEACHER

(flustered)

Of course and you will get full credit grade wise, but… you see… Tyler’s father has been… very generous to the program and we hope that he will continue to be.

Margaret’s heart begins to race as the truth stubbornly fights its way into her reality. 

MARGARET

What does that have to do with my play?

TEACHER

(sighing)

Tyler told his father that your play, the one that you wrote, was his.

MARGARET

Oh… but you told his dad right? Margaret notices her teacher’s expression become grimmer and grimmer. That… it was my play… right?

TEACHER

I’m sorry Margaret. As I said before Tyler’s dad has given much to the program and we just couldn’t… we just couldn’t tell him. I’m so sorry. 

Margaret’s teacher quickly gets out of his seat just as Margaret begins to articulate one of the many questions that are spinning around her head: How could this have happened? Why is he telling me now? As Margaret thinks, the theater darkens completely and the play that is hers but isn’t begins… 

SCENE 2 (on the stage)

Julia and her fiance, Daniel, are in a Temple talking to a Rabbi, preparing to elope. Julia and her parents have a difficult, detached relationship which has driven her to elope so young.

RABBI

So how old are you both?

DANIEL

Julia is 20 and I am 25. 

RABBI

And do you have any relatives or friends who will be attending the ceremony?

DANIEL

None.

RABBI

(curious)

Are you sure that you would not want a full wedding? I’m sure Julia, that your parents would be very disappointed to hear that their only daughter eloped.

DANIEL

Well we decided… 

Daniel is stopped abruptly by the Rabbi.

RABBI

(pointedly)

Julia, how do you feel about your parents not attending the marriage?

Future Julia emerges on the stage, acting as a messenger of present Julia’s pressing thoughts as she struggles to answer the Rabbi’s question. 

FUTURE JULIA

I paused then and thought. I thought of how my parents had been cold, how they lacked a warmth that was supposed to be natural for a mother or father. Marrying Daniel meant freedom. Marriage made me not a daughter but a wife, not a girl but a woman. Yet still something tugged at me, this memory, so distinct, so present, it had consumed my mind for many days leading up to the elopement. It was an image of my mother, who so rarely showed emotions, bursting with pride, talking to a young me about my future wedding.

Future Julia walks off the stage and the conversation between the Rabbi, Julia and Daniel continues.

RABBI

Julia? Julia?

Julia is roused from her thoughts by the Rabbi’s pressing gaze and insistent question. 

JULIA

I…um…um… 

DANIEL

(confident)

Julia and her parents will be very satisfied. We’re sure of it.

RABBI

I’m not ready quite yet…

DANIEL

(annoyed)

Well we are. Right Julia?

JULIA

I…

DANIEL

(intensely)

Julia?

Julia nodded curtly and let out a soft, shallow breath.

DANIEL

(addressing the rabbi)

See?

RABBI

(sighing)

Yes I see very clearly.

The Rabbi marries Daniel and Julia that same day. The scene cuts to future Julia again, addressing the audience about the mistake she made when she was younger.

FUTURE JULIA

There was never a third option in my eyes. My family was distant and cold. For a young girl it felt like natural love never existed, and that the relationship between my parents and I was a nuisance to them. An annoyance that my mother and father were obligated to deal with. It was horrible for me, an isolation so deep, I felt completely and utterly alone. Daniel was a partner, someone by my side no matter the circumstance. He was the man who was supposed to rescue me, with his money, kindness and maturity. I was wrong. All wrong. I sensed it then, but was too afraid, too hesitant, terribly fearful of the alternative. I had been chained since I was a girl, and while Daniel had unlocked my shackles, in truth our marriage only placed me in another prison. 

SCENE 3:

Margaret is watching her play from the audience, thinking about her Teacher, Tyler and herself. Suddenly Margaret is interrupted by the ruckus Tyler is unknowingly making trying to reach the seat next to her.

[Not to be read] (note: all dialogue unless said otherwise is spoken in a whisper)

TYLER

Hey.

MARGARET

(cautiously)

Hi.

There’s a pause of awkwardness between the two students.

TYLER

Well… um… I guess thanks.

MARGARET

Thanks?

Tyler smiled crookedly.

TYLER

You know, for taking one for the team.

Margaret paused.

MARGARET

Oh.

TYLER

Yeah, I actually kind of like the play too. Although to be honest that Julia girl is a little pathetic.

MARGARET

You think so?

TYLER

Definitely. Who did you base it on?

Margaret thought.

MARGARET

I don’t know, maybe on myself. I suppose I pulled Julia from the part of myself that never stood up or spoke out… and harboured the frustration and sadness that comes with being unheard.

Tyler snorted.

TYLER

(laughing)

Well, you should really work on that.

Margaret began to laugh as well.

MARGARET

You know what? I think I will.

Margaret’s play ends and the audience applauds. The teacher runs up on to the stage…

TEACHER

Will the writer and director of this play please stand up?

Margaret quickly rises up out of her seat before Tyler. The spotlight illuminates Margaret and, beaming with pride, she is celebrated as the true writer and creator of her play. 

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