By Janice Llanes Fabry
Rye Neck High School senior and newly minted playwright Kristina Dignelli has won second place in the Ernie DiMattia Emerging Young Artist Scholarship Awards. Not only will she receive a small scholarship and be honored at a gala event at the Palace Theatre next month, but her play, “Nervous”, will be performed by professional New York actors at the Palace on June 4.
Dignelli admitted she was incredulous when she got the good news, as works were submitted by students throughout Westchester and Fairfield counties and judged by a panel of seven.
“It was very unexpected, but so rewarding,” she said. “It is incredible to have people with such experience perform my work.”
Her storybook career began in January, when Rye Neck Theater Director Scott Harris gave students in his Advanced Acting class a special assignment. They were to write a 15-minute, one-act play for the Emerging Artist competition, part of an arts education program at the Palace. With only one month to complete it, students worked hard to craft their material and held in-class readings.
Dignelli’s piece about the relationship between two high school students leading up to their first date struck a chord. As part of her award, renowned Broadway and film director/producer/choreographer Luis Salgado of “In the Heights” and “On Your Feet” fame will be directing “Nervous.” She is over the moon to be working with him the day of the stage reading.
While she was smitten with theater and performing from a young age, Dignelli said that it was watching Rye Neck High musicals that made her realize what she wanted to pursue.
In her freshman year, she enrolled in school theater classes and was part of the ensemble in the musical and has participated in every musical and fall production since. This year, she had prominent acting roles in “Noises Off” and “Damn Yankees”.
“I always wanted to be a part of the show and Rye Neck gave me the opportunity. As far as acting, the idea of being someone else is really interesting to me,” remarked Dignelli, who also takes acting classes in New York City’s HB Studio. She will be majoring in acting and psychology at the University of Rhode Island in the fall.
“Kristina exemplifies the finest of our Rye Neck Theater Program,” said Harris. “Three years ago, one of our actors in ‘Twelve Angry Men’ could not perform and with only a few hours’ notice, Kristina went on and saved the show.”
Apparently, acting has also informed Dignelli’s writing. This week, in the first Rye Neck Student-Written Works Festival, she and her acting classmates directed their own short plays and cast fellow students in the roles they created.
Currently president of the Thespian Club, Dignelli helped Harris establish a program that brings their passion for theater to Rye Neck’s elementary school students. The cast of “Damn Yankees” held assemblies at Daniel Warren and F.E. Bellows, then held Q and A’s afterwards. The high school students also gave the younger kids backstage tours at the Performing Arts Center.
Having come full circle, Dignelli suspects some of the young students will be as powerfully impacted as she was.