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Volume 26, Number 7 — July 2019

Arts for Youth Spotlight: Avery Bouton

Bouton wins Barter Theatre Young Playwrights Festival

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | December 31, 2014

Avery Bouton, the winner of Barter Theatre's Young Playwrights Festival, says he's been writing for a while. "I can't remember any exact dates, but I started writing short, short stories when I was about 10 or 11. Looking back, they were pretty bad; I keep them locked away somewhere where they can't be found. Still, I've kept at it over the years, and I think I've improved a little bit."

His writing teacher at Tennessee High School, Scott Jenkinson, thinks Avery has improved more than a "little bit."

"Avery is an intelligent and thoughtful young man who is willing to question and discuss, engage and debate with his classmates and teachers. His writing shows great maturity, and I look forward to seeing what he creates in the future. Avery's play was very well thought out, very well written and very complete. His work incorporated a complex theme, self-identity, in an approachable and understandable way that conveyed his thoughts effectively to his audience." Jenkinson says.

Avery's YPF winning play, "Lament and Confession," was loosely based on the death of Prince Alexi Romanov during the Russian Revolution. "I changed several key aspects of the history, so I wouldn't call it an actual historical play, but I certainly intended for others to get the allusions," he says. "When I was writing the play, it went through several revisions, but they all seemed to fall apart for me towards the middle. When I wrote the final version, I sat down at my computer for about an hour or two with only the vague idea of the plot, and I more or less let the story develop as it was written."

History, politics and social issues are Avery's favorite topics, because they lend themselves the most to drama, and playwriting is the literary approach that interests him the most.

"I've always been interested in how it's one of the purest forms of writing, which also makes it the most interpretable and artistic. Playwriting really allows me to focus on the essence of story, character and dialogue, and it's very liberating compared to writing prose. I enjoy prose, and I write in both formats as much as I'm able to. As for poetry, I love reading it and enjoy writing it, but it always comes out sounding clunky and pretentious, so I shy away," he says.

He says he's influenced by virtually everything he's ever read. "Narrowing it down, I'd have to say that writers like Dickens, Joyce, Whitman, Byron and, of course, Shakespeare, have been the writers from whom I get most of my influence."

This year was Avery's second time entering the YPF. Last year, he earned an honorable mention. Of this year's win he says, "It was really incredible to have won. When they told me that I was in the top three, I expected to only get third or second place, and I knew that I would be just as happy with either of those. But when I actually won, it was just amazing. It felt like validation after years of writing just for myself, validation because someone had actually looked at the play I wrote and said, "This is great.' It just really meant a lot."

Jenkinson says that "validation" is one of the reasons he encourages his students to enter the competition. "The YPF is an authentic assessment of student work. Every play is read and evaluated by a theatre professional, limiting bias and adding credibility to the comments and critiques. This forum for student-created writing is very limited in our area, and YPF allows my students to see their work from a new vantage point. Among several teachers, myself included, at our school, YPF is the highlight of our year. As Katy Brown, the director of YPF, has noted, the performance day is a "pep rally for writing and theatre.' This energy and passion keeps teachers teaching and students engaged."

Avery's prize included some valuable tips from an hour-long mentoring session with Barter Theatre's Rick McVey.

"It was amazing," Avery says. "I worked with Rick McVey, and he really taught me a lot. He gave me some professional tips about stage directions and gave me new insights on how to show a character's personality with small actions, something that I was overlooking. I also learned that overwriting a particular character takes away from the actor's ability to bring that person to life on stage."

Avery says he is still figuring out what to do after college. "I'm certain that I'll always be a writer, and I'd love to be a professional and successful one; but I also know that I'll have to work very hard for that to happen, and that I'll also have to have a little bit of luck."

When he isn't in school or writing, Avery likes to read and go on walks. His sport of choice is tennis. "Outside of writing, I was proud to be on the Tennessee High tennis team that won the state championship last summer. Running out onto the courts and celebrating with my teammates after the last point was played will always be one of my favorite memories. Go Vikes!"

Avery is the 17-year-old son of Shane and Deena Bouton of Bristol, Tenn. He is a senior at Tennessee High School.

Participants in Barter Theatre's Young Playwrights Competition.