“Many drama kids want to be the person on the stage, yet that has never been my dream. I want to be the person who writes their characters into existence.”
This past spring, Wylie High School theater students had the opportunity to visit New York City. Most wide-eyed and enamored with the idea of acting under the lights of Broadway. All, but one that is. I had the opportunity to visit with sophomore Annabelle Gertiser about how the theater trip to New York City is only a steppingstone to her dream of becoming a playwright and living there.
KJ: How were you able to take this trip to New York City?
AG: From the moment it was announced, I made a conscious decision to put every penny I could earn towards this trip. I saved and earned money. I also applied for a $1000 scholarship. The scholarship was highly competitive, so I put everything I had into writing the perfect essay within their guidelines. Several months later, when I was told I got it, it was a turning point in the journey. My family has always been travelers, and when I jumped at this opportunity, they all mobilized around me to make this possible.
KJ: What made you become interested in being a playwright?
AG: I started off as a poet and songwriter, then I gained interest in essay and novel writing. After that came the plays. To me, some concepts are not fit for novels. The idea that Hamilton, Wicked, or any iconic Broadway show could just be a book is absurd to me. Once I learned to write the characters, I realized that some characters have a different life. For the lack of a better word, style. Some fit for the page and some for the stage or screen for that matter. After I realized that, I started purposely creating the characters with the style for the stage. When I have the basis for the characters, the plot ideas simply flow out.
I can never pinpoint the exact day, or even year I gained interest in play writing, but the thing that kickstarted all of it was my absolute love of music. When I first realized I could create music and then make it a storyline was an amazing concept that most definitely changed the way I look at both music and storylines. Every different kind of writing is unique to itself, and I am blessed with a proficiency in a wide variety of talents in the field.
KJ: This was your first trip to New York City and a huge dream come true for you. Describe what it was like to finally be there.
AG: Breathtaking. It was beautiful to me, from the towering buildings and amazing architecture to the parks we stopped to have lunch in. Cities give me energy, like someone plugged me into a battery and never unplugs me until I leave. I feed off the feeling of being anonymous in a crowd, the feeling that I am part of a system so much greater than myself and that I can still affect that same system in my own way. I get a rush from seeing the Dallas skyline. Now imagine the pure electricity New York had running through my veins. There’s the history, the new, and despite being called the concrete jungle, you can find greenery in more places than you’d expect.
We got to go to the old theaters that were absolutely stunning. Just walking through the city was a favorite of mine. We walked 5-10 miles every day and my feet never hurt a single bit. It was almost like my body simply did not have enough power to take in everything going on around me and still register my own internal happenings. It’s an odd feeling once you realize what’s happening, but it was quite convenient at the time.
KJ: What was it like seeing your first Broadway musical – Aladdin?
AG: The word exhilarated doesn’t do it justice. My whole body was alive with anticipation. It was also really fun to see how they had changed the musical to be fit for the stage instead of the screen.
KJ: You had the opportunity to work with a Broadway actor who plays the Phantom of the Opera. What are 3 things you learned from him?
AG: First, don’t try to be ordinary. Stand out and be you. He was talking about auditions, but it also applies to me via my writing. Second, if the spotlights on you, pay attention to your breathing. People hold their breath when processing new information, so it’s important to make sure you’re breathing. Third, don’t try to do everything by yourself. Your team is there to help, even for smaller things. If you try to do everything by yourself, eventually you’ll simply collapse from exhaustion.
KJ: In 8th Grade during Mrs. Trumble’s class, you wrote a letter to the incredible playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the Broadway musical sensation, Hamilton. What did you write to him about? How did you feel when you received a note back from him?
AG: I wrote to him asking if he had any advice for a writing career. It was amazing when I received his response. Paraphrasing, he said that writing was not for the faint of heart. You must want it, and you must work for it. I’ve tried to apply that to all my projects, and it was also a huge motivator to get me to New York City.
I’ve wanted to go there since I first saw the Rockefeller Center in a movie. I was three at the time. When I was about 6, I read more books and saw more movies all set in New York City. This trip has been a lifelong goal. My next goal is this: to live there.
By Kristen Johnson