Some seventeen-year-olds draw inspiration from teen idols. Laura Hogikyan, a freshman at Harvard University and accomplished playwright, looks elsewhere.
“When I think about who inspires me, it really does come down to family, friends and teachers,” Hogikyan said. “Big-name figures are just too far away to really be inspirational.”
Hogikyan’s play, The Marionette Effect, recently won her the 2010 Playwright Discovery Award, an honor awarded by VSA, the international organization for arts and disability. Hogikyan’s original dramatic work tells the story of a young woman whose musical career is derailed after she experiences a stroke at the age of 15.
Although the play is not autobiographical, Hogikyan says that some of her protagonist’s challenges mirror her own. “I had an experience with a hand injury myself,” Hogikyan said. “Since I was a pianist, I drew on that to write the script. If all the world’s a stage, this play kind of turns that concept on its head: the stage is inside the protagonist’s mind.”
Liz Miller, director of performing arts for VSA, believes the Playwright Discovery Award—now entering its twenty-seventh year—stands as an important investment in young talent with social messages. “It’s an opportunity for middle and high school students to write a play that incorporates the topic of disability,” Miller said. “The program is really a way to get students thinking creatively about the idea of disability.”
Each fall, the VSA issues a call for scripts and mails publicity posters to thousands of schools across the country. The competition also accepts scripts from groups of students, provided that the students meet a set age criteria. This year, Hogikyan’s play emerged as one to be remembered.
“I thought Laura’s script was fantastic,” Miller said. “It was a really mature piece, a really thoughtful piece, and the production tried to capture the poetry she incorporated into her work. There were a lot of imagery and metaphors written right into the script. It was a really lovely realization of all of those ideas.”
For her part, Hogikyan is quick to praise the experience she shared as a VSA honoree. “I can only say good things about VSA,” Hogikyan said. “The production was so much better than I’d imagined it on my own. The imagination of so many different people went into this, and the opportunity to meet people who are professionally involved in theater was really amazing. I got to be around people who are doing what they love to do.”
Each year, the VSA’s program culminates with a fullystaged production of the winning script at the Kennedy Center’s Family Theater. Designers, directors and actors are all hired for the production and undergo three weeks of rehearsal before the performance commences.
Miller says collaboration is key to the success of the enterprise. “What’s really neat about the Playwright Discovery Program is that it does provide a winning playwright an opportunity to revisit their script with the director,” Miller said. “This year we hired Janet Allard, a previous recipient of the Playwright Discovery Award, to work with Laura. Laura said that mentorship was one of the best aspects of the whole process: she got to revisit her script and improve it and think about it some more. When you’re in school, there isn’t much time for that revision process.”
Hogikyan found herself inspired by the experience, and more eager than ever to continue life as an artist. “It really makes you think about the power of the arts,” Hogikyan said. “This was a lot of work for everyone, getting the whole thing put together, and everyone went above and beyond. It was really, really amazing.”
Hogikyan is not entirely unfamiliar with the glow of accolades. She’s an accomplished playwright, producer, poet and teacher, and has won numerous national awards. Last summer she participated in a poetry program at Iowa University’s acclaimed Writer’s Workshop.
Since the age of five, Hogikyan has also developed her skills as a pianist. Under the guidance of some of the top instructors in the nation, she’s studied at the Chautauqua Institution in New York, The Eastman School of Music, and at a number of other celebrated programs. Somehow she still finds time to teach piano to others, despite a daunting Harvard courseload.
“Harvard is pretty supportive of students taking what they want to take,” Hogikyan said. “They tell you to never take a class if you don’t want to take it. Right now I’m in a seminar on Senecan tragedy, an intensive ancient Greek class, advanced playwriting, and a seminar on morality with Alan Dershowitz. You can kind of make your schedule what you want it to be. I love my classes here.”
And homesickness? Hogikyan doesn’t seem to have any interest in it. “We’re big kids now,” Hogikyan said. “We’re okay. There are so many opportunities here. So much you’re thinking about all the time, so much work and other things. There’s not a lot of time for anything else.”
by Stan Hoskins