Chase Andre
Chase Andre (Photo by Donna J. Mortensen)

When Chase Andre was 14 and a middle-school student at Jemicy School in Owings Mills, he wrote a play called "The Happy Song" that, naturally, had a happy ending.

Chase wrote the play after his English class, normally taught by Dave LaSalle, participated in a two-week seminar in February with Center Stage Outreach visiting artist Susan Stroupe.

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Stroupe taught the class "what it takes to write a play," said Chase, now 15 and a freshman at Friends School in Baltimore.

Then came the seminar's culminating assignment. Class members were asked to write plays, individually or as a group. The topic: outsiders.

At Jemicy, a school that educates college-bound students who have dyslexia or other language-based learning disabilities, the topic was especially meaningful.

Chase wrote a play about a kingdom in which everyone expresses themselves in song.

In Chase's story, a character named Happy — who cannot sing — is put in a dungeon by the land's ruler, King Canary.

In the dungeon, Happy meets a fellow prisoner who shows him some water and tells him to drink it. Happy does and discovers he can sing.

At the allegorical play's end, the king's evil deed is exposed and Happy is happy.

Chase's play was reviewed by Center Stage but did not place in Center Stage's Young Playwright's Competition. But unknown to Chase, or his parents, Dr. Diane Fertsch and Stephen Andre, Chase's play had been entered in the VSA (formerly Very Special Arts) Playwright Discovery Competition that is part of the Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability Program at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing arts.

In August, Chase and his parents got an email informing them that Chase had won the junior division of the VSA competition.

According to a Jemicy School news release, this year's VSA winners were chosen from more than 400 entrants nationwide. Chase will receive a Kennedy Center certificate of achievement and Jemicy School will receive $500 for programs for students with disabilities.

The award was "a great surprise," Stephen Andre said. A "happy" surprise, as Chase might say.

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