Prep School, the Play

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Two alums join forces on a new drama set at an
independent school

Three years ago, Jack Spagnola ’10 and Henry Lombino ’14 were both forging careers in the New York City theater world—Spagnola as a playwright, Lombino as a producer and choreographer—but the two had never met, much less worked together. Then, in December 2019, in a scene that critics might pan as a bit too perfect, they both happened to attend a Williston alumni party at the New York Yacht Club. Introduced by Middle School Admissions Director Allison Marsland, the two quickly made up for lost time.

Spagnola and Lombino, it turns out, had a mutual friend, Ryan Dobrin, a director and producer, who like them had worked with the New York theater incubator group Ars Nova. A few days later, all three met for dinner and bonded over their common experience attending independent schools (Dobrin had attended Friends Academy on Long Island). Over poke bowls, an idea for a theater project began to take shape. “We were all really interested in exploring a story about privilege,” Spagnola recalls. “What does that mean, and what does that look like, and how does it show up? What does it look like to go to a private school at a certain time, in 2012.”

The resonance of that year—when social media was just becoming a societal force, Barack Obama was in the White House, and young people talked openly of hope and change—along with the formative experience of boarding school, became the focus for Small Fragments of Becoming, a new play written by Spagnola, produced by Lombino, and directed by Dobrin. Described as “a period piece” that “explores the specifics of the beginning of the decade as well as the elements of socio economic disparity, sexual identity, racial identity, otherness, and self-discovery embedded in the prep school experience,” the play has been workshopped at the University of Michigan and New York University, and the trio is now developing a staged production for the off-Broadway theater The Tank, slated to premiere in March 2023.

All three bring considerable credentials to the project. Spagnola, a kindergarten teacher by day, is the author of Little League (a semifinalist in the Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference), Lou (an unexpected search for friendship),
and Memorial Gazebo, as well as a number of shorter works. Lombino, the Events and Dance Center Operations Manager for the Mark Morris Dance Group, has worked on numerous theatrical productions and held operational and development roles at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, American Ballet Theatre, Lincoln Center, Yale Repertory Theatre, and Dance/USA. Dobrin’s resume includes both producing and directing credits for Broadway shows and other regional productions.

What gives Small Fragments of Becoming a personal significance, say Spagnola and Lombino, is how it reflects their own years at Williston, and the lasting impact of that time in their lives. “Williston gave to us the freedom to be free thinkers and to love learning and to really lean into what made you tick as a person,” Spagnola recalls. “Nothing can beat being 16, up at night, talking to people in the dorm, and trying to figure out the world together.”

Indeed, as the friends reflected on that time, what stood out were not just the big moments preserved in family photographs. “Those are amazing,” says Spagnola, “But looking back, I don’t immediately think of graduation. I might think about being in my friend’s dorm room the night before graduation. These little moments, that felt kind of small because they were before the big moment, are really profound.”

In the play, these “small fragments of becoming” are experienced by four friends—three juniors and a ninth grader—whose stories unfold in various conversations and settings. “Jack has a really amazing way of finding interesting ways in which characters bounce off each other,” notes Lombino, “those self-discovery moments that are just two characters talking, on their way to class or at
a lunch table, that stick with you all those years later.”

For Spagnola and Lombino, self-discovery at Williston was also catalyzed by the school’s theater programs. A boarding student from Larchmont, New York, Spagnola took a playwriting class with former Williston Theater Director Emily Ditkovski his senior year that gave new focus to his longtime interest in creative writing. “It was such an amazing opening,” he says. “Not many kids get to take a playwriting class in high school.” Lombino was a day student from Ashfield who discovered the tech theater program as a seventh grader and stayed with it all through Upper School, supplementing it with acting and dance programs. “All those skills that I learned working late nights in that theater, I still use to this day,” he says.

Will the Williston community someday see Small Fragments of Becoming presented in the theater that helped inspire it? That would certainly please its author and producer. “It’d be so great to have that connection,” says Lombino, “and keep Williston part of the process.”