Categories: arts

Teenage Playwright Explores Depression, Heads to D.C.’s Kennedy Center

by Jeremy Morrison

The play that landed local writer Dana Langston at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. this week is weighty material. The plot revolves around a veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and a teenager suffering from depression and anxiety.

“Basically, they both die and are stuck in limbo together,” Langston explains, “and they have to figure out how to get out of it — it’s all about inner demons and stuff.”

Langston attends West Florida High School of Advanced Technology in Pensacola and plans to enroll in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago after graduation. Her play “Silent Thank Yous” was recently among seven winners of the VSA Playwright Discovery Competition, which focuses on exploring the issue of disabilities through the art scriptwriting.

As a winning playwright, Langston is spending a weekend in Washington D.C., where she has been invited to participate in pre-professional activities during the annual Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.

Langston explained prior to leaving for D.C., that she stumbled upon the VSA contest while researching scholarship opportunities. She had an applicable play already on the shelve, and decided to enter.

“I know it sounds kind of weird,” she says, “a 17-year-old having a full blown play just sitting around.”

Originally, Langston’s play was to be written in novel-form, but then it evolved into a play. It wouldn’t have been the writer’s first book. She’s written seven already.

“It lets me get out a lot of my thoughts, helps me organize,” says Langston, who herself deals with depression and anxiety issues.

The author’s love of writing was sparked at an early age. A friend requested she write a fictional biography — “he said, ‘write this whole story about how I take over the world’” — and the task agreed with her.

Langston has been writing dutifully since.

“I’ll be sitting in bed trying to go to sleep and an idea for a book will pop into my head and I’ll have to write it down,” she laughs.

In addition to writing, Langston is also founder of the group Defective Dynamic. The organization offers encouragement — advice and support — to those dealing with a mental illness.

Langston said she strives through the organization to let people know they’re knot alone in their struggle: “To know that we love you, that we care about you.”

Comforting others dealing with depression or other issues is also the kind of the point of “Silent Thank Yous” too. Langston is hoping that the work can be helpful to those experiencing issues of their own..

“I hope it’ll let them see they’re not alone,” the writer says, “they’re strong enough to get through whatever issues they have even if they don’t believe it.”

Langston will be participating at the Kennedy Center festival during the weekend of April 20-22.  To learn more about the VSA Playwright Discovery Competition, click here.

The complete listing of winning playwrights, plays, as well as bios follows:

Cicely Henderson (A Change of Heart) is a sophomore in the San Francisco School of the Arts Theatre Department. During her two years there, she has developed a love of both Shakespeare and playwriting. She especially enjoys playwriting because it allows her to express and discover new perspectives. Henderson is currently in recovery for an eating disorder. She is honored to be participating in the 2017 VSA Playwright Discovery Competition.
Anna Hiestand (The Forgotten) is a high school senior from Blue Springs, Missouri. Hiestand, who has post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety, has a deep passion for writing, fueled by her desire to bring comfort and healing to others. She cites her disability experience as providing the empathy, emotional insight, and sensitivity necessary to make her a better writer. She believes we can accomplish things not only in spite of our disabilities, but because of them.
Dana Langston (Silent Thank Yous), age 17, hails from Pensacola, Florida. She is a senior at West Florida High School of Advanced Technology. She has severe depression and anxiety, which inspires much of her work. She is a published author, as well as the founder of Defective Dynamic, an organization that helps those with mental illness. She will be attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago after high school.
Lissette Lendeborg (What Now?) is a junior in the creative writing program at Miami Arts Charter School. Her work has been published in Orange Island Review, Poetry Matters, and di-verse-city Youth Anthology. Lendeborg has major depressive disorder, which she cites as the biggest obstacle she faces in producing work. She spends agonizing nights hovering over taunting blank pages, but rejoices when she takes part in the production of art.
Angeles Parada (What Now?) is an 11th grade student at Miami Arts Charter School. Parada has migraine headaches; she aims to create art that helps others understand the disability experience.  She has been published by Poetry Matters and received two Silver Keys from the prestigious Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.
Jacob Radford (The Pain of Scoliosis) is a 19-year-old senior at Seneca High School in Louisville, Kentucky. He enjoys listening to music on his headphones and playing basketball with his friends. His bowling team recently finished 4th in the state. Radford, who has multiple disabilities, says his favorite assignment in his academic career has been writing this play; it is one of his most accomplished pieces.
Elle Shaheen (Dimples and Diabetes) is a 12th grade student at Portsmouth High School in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Elle, who has type one diabetes, uses her talents and passion for the performing arts to be an effective advocate for people with diabetes. The story of her life became the New York Times bestseller Elle and Coach. Elle has served as Co-Chair of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Children’s Congress, campaigned for the restoration of stem cell research, and founded a production company to produce and perform The Diary of Anne Frank along with new works while raising money for diabetes research.

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