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A play grows in Queens: Hillcrest High senior creates winning comedy-drama

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After watching a production of her recently published play, “Likkle Bowy, Big Mon,” Queens’ newest playwright, Amanda Morris, turned her attention to her next big project: picking up her diploma at Jamaica’s Hillcrest High School’s graduation ceremony.

While still a student at Hillcrest, Morris, 18, received first place in this year’s LeAp — Learning through an Expanded Arts Program — Onstage play writing contest, which earned her the chance to see the show produced at Baruch College and to have the manuscript published by Samuel French Publishers.

“I love to write,” Morris said. “English is my strongest subject. I’ve always written little stories and last year I wrote a play [for LeAp] and it was the runner-up. So, I said this year is going to be different.”

She admits getting started on this newest play proved troublesome.

“I didn’t know what to write about,” she said.

Born in Jamaica, Morris and her family moved to New York when she was 13. So, she figured it made sense to set the story on that Caribbean island. Although she had no story line mapped out, Morris decided her best option was simply to sit down and get to work. Morris opted to follow that old adage and wrote what she knew.

“I started writing in my own dialect,” Morris said. “I came up with the ending first. Then I worked on the middle part and had to work out how to do this so every scene leads to the next and then to the ending.”

Her winning-submission focuses on a troubled boy, Anthony, whose parents have run out of ideas on how to discipline him. So, they pack him off to his great-aunt in Jamaica where she straightens him out the old-fashioned way. For Morris, the play’s theme centers on the continuum of life, where people growing up are influenced by the older generation. Eventually those young individuals become the older members of the clan and pass on the knowledge they’ve acquired to the next group.

Although the situation is imagined, Morris based all her characters on actual family members both here in Queens and down in Jamaica.

“The aunt is based on my real great-aunt, who raised everybody in the family,” Morris said.

Ariel Fung Chung, 18, one of Morris’s classmates at Hillcrest High, took on the role of the disciplinary aunt. Fung Chung’s father is from Jamaica, so she had the advantage of real-life experience to shape the character.

“My favorite part is when I have to discipline Anthony,” Fung Chung said. “Elders can teach you so much.”

Fung Chung tends to gravitate toward musicals with Hillcrest’s theater arts program, but was eager to dive into her first straight play.

Hillcrest senior Omar Gill usually tries out for every play he can. He landed the part of Anthony, the troublemaker, who gets shipped off to Jamaica for a little old-school discipline. Although Gill, 17, and his family are from Trinidad, he saw a lot of similarities in his own life to this Jamaican story.

“This really relates to me,” Gill said. “It’s a really good play. What I really like about it is this is what the real world is like. And it’s funny. My mom was reading it and laughing out loud the whole time.”

The humor may have come easily for Morris, but she struggled a bit with the meat of the story.

“The hardest part was trying to be juicy and interesting,” Morris said. “I guess it kind of worked out.”

With a published manuscript on her resumé, Morris is now making plans for her education after her high school graduation.

“College is a must,” she said. “I’ll probably go to Queensborough Community College first, then probably transfer to Hunter.”

She also has more stories to write.

Morris envisions a series of plays based on these characters, à la August Wilson. For example, she sees one play focusing on the great-aunt character as a little girl.

“I got a whole bunch of stuff in my mind,” Morris said.

No matter what she creates down the road, Morris knows she’s accomplished plenty already.

“I can always say I’m a published playwright,” Morris said. “No one can ever take that away from me.”

Reach news editor Kevin Zimmerman by email at kzimmerman@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4541.

Updated 10:15 am, July 1, 2013
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