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Highlands Senior's New Play to Debut at Cincinnati Fringe

Breaking-up. Making grades. Coming out. Rebelling against strict parents. Bitching about school. Navigating through life.

It’s what teenagers do – and talk about – every day. All of it is part of Escape Routes by Highlands High School senior Ben Eglian.

The short play is being produced in FringeNext, which annually showcases four high school plays at School of Creative and Performing Arts as part of Cincinnati Fringe (May 27-June 6). Students write, produce, direct, design and perform the shows. Eglian co-directs with Kaiya Linkugel – whose play was a FringeNext winner in 2014.

The Highlands High troupe call themselves Teenage Talk Productions, a collective of high school students with a mission of truth and honesty. It’s a big undertaking, with a cast of 11. This is the third year in a row that Highlands has earned a FringeNext slot.

Eglian’s play is about unlikely friends Clark, sheltered honor roll student (“He doesn’t know the difference between a cigarette and a joint”) who’s torn about what path to take in college, and street-wise slacker Johnny, who’s striking out at everything. They’re forced to work together on a philosophy class project and that, says the playwright, is when things get “metaphorical.”

The play’s title, Eglian muses, is about choices. “To get to what you want, do you break down a wall, or do what’s accepted, taking a longer route through doors?”

As Johnny introduces Clark to his friends, “Clark in particular starts to discover life-changing new ideas about himself, and who he's truly meant to be in the world,” Eglian says.

Eglian is new to writing and directing theater – songwriting has been his art form. He’s part of punk/pop/alternative band Break & Run. It opens for the Framing Hanley Reunion Tour on June 10 at Thompson House. “It’s the biggest thing to ever happen to us.”

Having Escape Routes produced in FringeNext is also a big thing. While Eglian started planning the idea a year ago (impressed and inspired by Linkugel’s play last year) he knew the chances of his script being chosen were slim. “I was very, very surprised – it was the greatest feeling ever.”

The toughest part of writing a 70-minute play, Eglian says, was the emotional challenge. “Sad stuff happens. It’s not tragic, but it’s painful. Real. Getting it right was difficult. Making it original, with every word the way I wanted it.”

Also tough is balancing producing Escape Routes with school work. The play opens the night before final exams begin. While Clark doesn’t know what path to take, art or commerce, Eglian has it solved. He’ll be at Northern Kentucky University in the fall, majoring in music (with a generous music scholarship) and an emphasis in music entrepreneurship and a minor in theater.

Escape Routes, 8:15 p.m. May 28; 4:40 and 9:15 p.m. May 30. School for Creative and Performing Arts, 108 W, Central Pkwy., Downtown Cincinnati. Tickets $15. 513-300-5669 and here.

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts

Photo: Payton Epperson (left) as Clark and Harrison Swayne as Johnny (provided)

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