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NHS students two of four playwrights to be featured in NAC festival at Engeman

People by: Joanne Kountourakis, May 22, 2022

Ella Piscatello, one of two Northport High School students selected to participate in the Northport Art Coalition’s inaugural Young Playwrights Festival at the John W. Engeman Theater this Tuesday, May 25. Photo courtesy of Ella Piscatello.

A member of Northport High School’s Thespian Honor Society and the Northport Powdered Wigs, junior Ella Piscatello is usually the one on stage. This Tuesday, however, Ella will stand alongside classmate and graduating senior Harrison LeBow offstage as two of four Long Island high school students selected to participate in the Northport Art Coalition’s inaugural Young Playwrights Festival at the John W. Engeman Theater.

“From the perspective of someone who is frequently the one auditioning for a production, it was exhilarating to have the chance to sit behind the table and take a lead in the casting and directing process,” said Ella.

Students from the town of Huntington’s ten high schools were invited by the Northport Arts Coalition (NAC) to submit original one-act plays for consideration in the festival; each submission was adjudicated by five literary, theatrical and educational professionals. Every play submitted received critiques and advice from the judges and four were chosen to be presented at the Engeman Theater.

In addition to Ella and Harrison, the students whose plays were selected to receive a professional staging are Giovanna Ciampa from Cold Spring Harbor High School and Adelina Slansky from Harborfields High School.

Each of the four chosen playwrights was paired with a professional director who worked with the students on revisions. The students were invited to participate in the full production process from auditions to rehearsals to tech, just as the author of an original play would be in a professional setting. Owners of the Engeman Theater, Richard Dolce and Kevin O’Neill, donated the theater stage for the event and its studio for two nights of rehearsals. This Tuesday, staged readings of all four plays will be performed for the community, free of charge, thanks to the NAC’s commitment to make the arts more accessible to more people.

Editor of Northport High School’s student-run newspaper, The Port Press, and co-drum captain of the Tiger Marching Band, Harrison LeBow is also an occasional contributor to the Northport Journal. He will be attending Brandies University in September, where he will study English education. Harrison has never – “ever” – participated in theater before but said his inclusion in the rehearsal space and directing process has given him a masterclass in the field.

“I wrote my play, ‘This American Sublime,’ in two weeks, staying up late each night to translate some eccentricities I had in me into words,” he said. “It is a remarkable experience that so many in our community are dedicated to interpreting those words into drama.”

Harrison worked with director Jes Almeida on his play, which hones in on a conversation between two men. “I have given actors notes and comments so as to guide them closer to my original intention; I do feel as though this truly is my play, which is a wonderful, wonderful feeling,” said Harrison.

Ella, who is used to immersing herself in theater through performance and playwriting, found inspiration for her NAC festival entry in an issue both timely and universal: technology. “Noticing the cell phone's power as a force of disconnection, I decided to center my original one-act play, ‘Moment,’ around the impact of technology on friendships,” she said. “I hope that, through my writing, the audience is encouraged to feel reflective about their own life.”

Director Bruce Rebold facilitated an environment where Ella was part of the process of putting her play onto the stage, she said. “I am looking forward to the Young Playwrights Festival this Tuesday,” she added, “and I am excited to see the plays of other high school students.”

The festival is part of NAC's new goals, one of which is to engage more young people in the arts, both as participants and as audiences. “The arts can and should be more than just a special performance attended a few times a year,” said NAC Executive Director Amy Connor. “They're a vital part of life and we hope that by involving people at an early age we can help them integrate the arts into their everyday lives.”

The Young Playwrights Festival is made possible with funds from the Statewide Community Regrant Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature, and is administered by The Huntington Arts Council, Inc. Public funding is provided by Suffolk County. For more information on the Northport Arts Coalition, visit

All four festival plays will be presented on the Engeman stage this Tuesday, May 24, at 7pm. Get your free tickets by visiting the Engeman Theater Box Office in person or calling 631-261-2900.

Ella Piscatello and Harrison LeBow, pictured here in Northport High School, authored plays selected for staged readings as part of NAC’s Young Playwrights Festival at Engeman Theater. Photo courtesy of the NENUFSD.