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Volume 24, Number 10 — November 2017

Arts for Youth Spotlight: Jenny Dolinger and Olivia Ellis

Olivia Ellis (left) and Jenny Dolinger (right)
Olivia Ellis (left) and Jenny Dolinger (right)

Friends win Barter Theatre's Young Playwright's Festival

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | January 01, 2014

When Jenny Dolinger and Olivia Ellis teamed up to write a play and enter Barter Theatre's Young Playwright's Festival, they did not expect to win, but win they did.

"Winning this Festival is something that I will never forget," Jenny says. "I never expected to advance to the top three, let alone win. It was also very rewarding because my friend Olivia and I worked very hard writing it."

Olivia was equally surprised. "Winning was incredible. Jenny and I were genuinely shocked when we learned we won. Watching our play being performed was so amazing as well. The actors did an amazing job, and it was more hilarious than we thought it would be. This competition definitely has given us a confidence boost as writers."

Their play, "Out of Storage," deals with a popular topic — apps. "Our play is about apps on an iPhone who are afraid they are going to get deleted when their owner doesn't have enough storage to update to iOS7," Olivia says. "Before we even wrote the play, Jenny and I knew that we wanted it to be funny." In the play, the apps come to life and argue about who is going to be deleted.

"Olivia came up with the idea to write about apps after looking on her phone," Jenny says. "From there we both contributed. We sat down and wrote together to be able to share ideas and decide what to write."

Olivia says that "one of the easy characters to choose a personality for was Facebook. Obviously it's the app that has been there the longest, so we wanted it to be wise, but a bit of a know-it-all as well. Another character's personality that was easy to pinpoint was Tumblr. Tumblr is full of hipster blogs, so naturally, we wanted this character to talk like a teenager and be very easygoing. In the beginning we wanted the sassy, sarcastic character to be Twitter, but Twitter ended up being the annoying character who gets on everyone's nerves. We found that Snapchat worked better as a protagonist, and we even added in a joke about him being "snappy.' Jenny and I added Candy Crush because that app is extremely popular right now. Basically we tried to make the characters' personalities fit what type of app they are. They don't have control over where they move, so we wanted them to have control over how they act."

They say collaborating on the play was easy. "Jenny and I are very good friends, so we were not worried about working together," Olivia says. "When I suggested that the play should be about apps, we talked and wrote down all our ideas. We got together one weekend and sat down at a computer to write it. We had a blast coming up with the characters, and we didn't put any pressure on ourselves, so the process was very easygoing."

What they did get nervous about was the mentoring session with a Barter Theatre professional that was part of their award. "The mentoring session with Chelsea Marcantel-Polaski was very interesting," Olivia says. "She was extremely nice and gave us great tips on how to improve our play, such as making a clear protagonist and developing each character's personality a bit more. Jenny and I were slightly nervous before meeting with her, but the entire session was very casual. It was a great experience."

Neither young woman had a great deal of experience in playwriting prior to this. Olivia had entered the festival once but didn't place. Their winning play was Jenny's first foray into the genre.

"I did not know what to expect or where to start," Jenny says, "but the play writing process came easily and it was so much fun to write. I enjoy writing plays because you can only develop the characters through what they say. It was a bit more of a challenge than writing a story and simply telling the readers about the character. You have to write the play constantly thinking about the audience. The play has to keep their attention when it is performed. When we were writing this play, we were constantly wondering if the audience would understand the play or think certain parts were funny."

Olivia says she is inspired by her mother who writes their church's Christmas play every year. Olivia and Jenny both write for the Tennessee High School yearbook. Jenny has been writing since elementary school.

Jenny is the daughter of Steve and Angela Dolinger of Bristol, Tenn., and is a senior at Tennessee High School. When she isn't in class, she likes to sing, play the guitar and write songs. "In the future, I want to learn more about play writing and write more plays on different subjects," she says. "I am still unsure of what career I would like to go into, but I would definitely consider play writing."

Olivia is the daughter of Phil and Gwen Ellis of Bristol, Tenn. She is also a senior at Tennessee High. She hopes to enter the graphic design or film and television field. "I love to draw and do anything creative," she says. "Art has always been the most important hobby in my life. I also play guitar, sing in my church choir, edit and direct videos, play tennis and dance."