Living in My Skin is written and performed by nine students in the Arts Umbrellas Laboratory Theatre Troupe.
Living in My Skin is written and performed by nine students in the Arts Umbrellas Laboratory Theatre Troupe.

Arts Umbrella returns with Expressions Theatre Festival, its annual showcase of students from its pre-professional theatre program.

Among the offerings at this year’s festival are the satire Urinetown: The Musical, and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), a hilarious romp through Shakespeare’s 37 plays in just ninety minutes. A stage adaptation of the classic story Charlotte’s Web will also be performed.

Joining the line-up of established works is the world premiere of Living In My Skin, a student-written play about confronting teen anxiety.

A compilation of nine stories tackling a similar theme, each was written by a member of the Arts Umbrellas Laboratory Theatre Troupe. Among them is 16-year-old Maya Marino, a second-year member of the Arts Umbrella theatre program.

“I wrote a scene about two friends who get trapped inside an elevator and one of them has a panic attack,” says Marino.

The opening to Living in My Skin, the play deals with the idea of anxiety in a very real-world way. It also has shades of a classic horror story.

“The elevator is made from a sheet and becomes a visible representation of the panic attack as the walls begin to move,” explains Marino. “Hands reach out through the sheets into the elevator as the character deals with her claustrophobia. It is a very visible representation of a panic attack.”

16-year old Maya Marino is one of nine writer/performers in the original play Living In My Skin
16-year old Maya Marino is one of nine writer/performers in the original play Living In My Skin. Photo by Adam Balsberg.

Written over the course of five months, the nine students moved from writer to actor in January as they also perform in each other’s scenes.

“We never perform in our own scene,” says Marino who will perform in two written by classmates.

“The first is a monologue about a girl telling her mother she is leaving home, and the second is about a best friend admitting she is dying of cancer.”

Required to write and perform as part of the program, Marino says it is the former which holds her interest, even though she finds it the tougher of the two.

“Writing is always harder because you’re putting your own voice out there,” she says.

Despite finding writing more difficult than performing, it is something she hopes to pursue after graduating from high school next year.

“I think I am going to purse a career in writing,” she says. “Maybe writing shows, or writing in other forms.”

Having already performed previews at two Vancouver high schools, Marino is pleased with the reception Living In My Skin has already received, and hopes the play connects with audiences at the festival.

“We’ve had a lot of positive reaction,” she says. “After one performance a girl thanked us for sharing our stories as she had experienced similar issues and others have cried and opened up to us about how it affected them.”

Expressions Theatre Festival plays the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island from May 18 to 27. Visit http://artsumbrella.com for tickets and information.