LONGVIEW, Wash. (AP) — Jeremy Snyder, 13, prefers biology to writing, but theater is his hobby. So when the Mount Solo Middle School seventh-grader learned of a playwriting contest through Oregon Children's Theatre, he plunged right in and penned his first play, "Bird of L.A."
In mid-February, Jeremy learned that "Bird of L.A." is one of six finalists out of more than 65 entries. At 7 p.m. May 30, all six plays will be presented in a free staged reading at OCT's Black Box Theatre in Portland.
"I wrote it completely on my own, with no idea what I'm doing," Jeremy, a Longview resident, said this week. "It was actually kind of fun messing around with the characters."
The Portland-based theater created The Bully Project, its first playwriting competition, and challenged fifth- through eighth-grade students in Oregon and Washington to write a 10-minute anti-bullying play.
Jeremy's personal experience with bullying is limited — "Not like this (his play). I have been called names and stuff" — but he's familiar with the problem in school. However, it was his passion for natural science that lit the creative spark. He made his characters seagulls.
"I wasn't going to do humans," he said. "That was too easy."
"How he got the idea for the play is by observing nature and seeing one seagull bully another seagull out of a fish," said his mother, Heather Snyder, a copywriter and graphic designer at Fibre Federal Credit Union. His father, Rod Snyder, is vice president of sales and service at Red Canoe Credit Union.
The play's main character, Hermit, is a mild-mannered gull whose fish meals are repeatedly stolen by Barney, a bully who styles himself "the Bird of L.A." When Hermit realizes Barney doesn't even know how to fish, he teaches him and solves both their problems. The other characters are Barney's wife, Coral, and Hermit's friend Sandy.
Jeremy began writing in late December and turned in "Bird of L.A." less than a month later.
His mother said Jeremy "has always shown a penchant for writing," even though it's not his favorite subject.
"I'm a writer, too, but I don't necessarily like writing either," his mother said. "I like it after I've written it. It's something he likes to finish, but not necessarily likes to process. He's more of a science guy. He wants to be a wildlife biologist and be active in community theater as a hobby."
All plays from The Bully Project will be available free of charge on OCT's website for teachers to use in their classrooms as they choose.
"It's a great example of how OCT uses theater as an educational tool," said Sharon Martell of OCT.
Plays would also be available for public performance with proper credit, Martell said.
Reaching the finals earned Jeremy a personal coaching session on March 15 with Oregon playwright Matt Zrebski, who gave him pointers for revision. Jeremy's final draft is due April 15. On Wednesday he finished his second draft, which gives his characters more depth.
"I'm trying to rearrange things," Jeremy said. "For example, Hermit. When I made him he was all pathetic and wimpy. My coach is telling me I should make him at least stand up for himself a little bit."
The theater will announce the top three plays on April 30. If Jeremy's play is one of the top three, he'll win a cash prize of $25, $50 or $100. Jeremy said the money would be nice, but it means more to him that his play will be produced.
"The temptation of turning it into a production is what brought me in," said Jeremy, who has appeared in numerous plays with Rising Star Productions and the Longview Stageworks musical "Peter Pan." Last year he also participated in Children's After School Theatre.
"I don't even care if it wins now," he said. "I was one of the top six finalists. That's my reward."
The Bully Project is OCT's precursor to a national initiative known as Dramatic Change: An Anti-Bullying Initiative conceived by OCT Artistic Director Stan Foote and Michael Bobbitt of Adventure Theater, Baltimore. Dramatic Change will launch a similar national contest next year. It is also a joint project of Theatre for Young Audiences USA and the American Alliance for Theatre and Education.