Teen playwright scores a hit with big stage production

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Patrick McChesney, drama teacher at Marcos de Niza High School, said Briana;s talent is "amazing."
Patrick McChesney, drama teacher at Marcos de Niza High School, said he’s sure his talented student, Briana Fleming, will go far.

By M.V. Moorhead

Briana Fleming never planned to be a playwright. But not only has her first attempt at writing a play already been  produced—twice—it’s scheduled to be published later this year. Not a bad way to start.

“I wrote it in my junior year,” says the 17-year-old senior at Marcos de Niza of her one-act debut comedy Wingman. It was one of four student-created plays presented as part of the Advanced Acting and Directing Class taught by Marcos de Niza’s director of theatre, Patrick McChesney. Students wrote, produced and directed their own plays, after which they even submitted them to theatrical publishing companies for consideration.

“I owe a lot to Mr. McChesney,” says Fleming. “He edited a lot of it.”

McChesney is at least equally effusive in his enthusiasm for his student.

“She’s amazing,” he says. “She’s got the belting singing voice of Ethel Merman, and she has moments where she’s softer, and she has great comic timing. She’s just going to go far, I know she is.”

As for her play, McChesney says, “I wish it would have been longer. I usually try to limit [the student plays] to 15 to 20 minutes, but this one was just really, really smart.”

Though Briana is the daughter of Marcos de Niza Athletic Director Brian Fleming—as he notes, her name is his, plus an “a”—she wasn’t originally a student at the school.

“She actually went to Corona,” recalls McChesney, “and she would come to see our shows.”

Briana Fleming soon caught the bug, not just for theater but for Marcos de Niza theater. She transferred to the school her junior year, and quickly became a star of the department.

In November she’s slated to play the Sally Field role in Steel Magnolias; she’s also been cast as the Godmother in next year’s production of Cinderella.

But Wingman found new life beyond Marcos de Niza this summer, when its author attended Stagedoor Manor, a theater camp in the Catskills of New York.

“It’s a place you go to fine tune your skills in acting and drama,” says Brian Fleming. As part of the camp’s “Dramafest,” five student one-acts were produced, and one of these, sure enough, was his daughter’s Wingman.

“It was really fun seeing it come to fruition [at Marcos de Niza],” says Briana.

“But seeing it produced at Stagedoor was just insane. Three hundred of the most talented people I know, and they’re watching my show. It was a weird feeling.”

No less weird, perhaps, is the fact that it soon will be seen in print. The play is to be published, as part of a collection of the Dramafest plays, this coming December.

The plot of Wingman, according to its author, concerns two students who are madly in love, though they haven’t ever talked to each other.

“They’ve just seen each other across campus, or across the classroom,” explains Briana. Their respective “wingmen“ (go-between agents in dating) help them to arrange a first date that goes painfully wrong.

“It’s loosely based on a situation that happened to me,” admits Briana. “I actually ended up dating the wingman of somebody who was being my wingman for somebody else.”

At least, I think that’s what she said.

“It’s confusing,” she assures me. “But it makes sense.”

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