"The Girl Who Dared To Ask"
A spring pageant for use in a worship service.
Written by Dan Harper in spring, 2002, for the "New Peace Experiments" program at First Parish in Lexington, Massachusetts.
Performed by members of the First Parish Sunday school in Sunday morning worship service, May 19, 2002 (children in grade 3-7 performed in the play).
(See acknowledgments in Notes at end.)
Samantha Smith -- a girl of about 10 or 11.
Mrs. Peabody -- the secretary at Samantha's school.
Yuri Andropov -- the leader of the Soviet Union.
A Soviet Official.
The following characters can double: Narrator/ Soviet Official -- Mrs. Peabody/ Andropov. Most of these can double as Classmates/ Reporters.
In the original performance, Samantha was played by two actresses, Younger Samantha through Scene 2, and Older Samantha through the rest of the play. Also in the original production, the Narrator announced all the scenes.
November, 1982, through the summer of 1983.
Samantha Smith's house and school in Maine; the Soviet Union.
The basic set doesn't change during the play. There is a table with two or three chairs stage left -- this will be the school office and the Smith's kitchen table. There is a rural-route-type mailbox to the left of the table and chairs, and a phone on the table. Stage right, there are three or four chairs in a half-circle -- this will be the Smith's living room and the schoolroom. The center of the stage is open. Movement between the scenes should be without interruption.
The Smiths' house, a typical middle class house in the United States. Around the kitchen table. Samantha sits at the table reading a newspaper, her Mom is standing doing kitchen chores.
NARRATOR: Back in 1982, a ten-year old girl named Samantha Smith lived in Maine. She was a pretty ordinary kid. She had a dog, a Chesapeake retriever named Kim. She liked softball, swimming, and reading, and sometimes she went to a Unitarian Universalist Sunday school. And sometimes Samantha asked hard questions....
SAMANTHA (looking up from newspaper): Mom, why would people ever want to start a war?
MOM: (beat) That's a really big question, Samantha.
(Sitting down at table across from Samantha)
Maybe if you can tell me what got you thinking about that question, I can answer it better.
SAMANTHA: Well, you know Russia?
MOM: You mean the Soviet Union?
SAMANTHA: Yeah. Well, the Soviet Union doesn't like the United States, and we don't like the Soviet Union. I worry about what would happen if we ever get into a war with them. They have nuclear missiles and we have nuclear missiles. If we got into a nuclear war, and fired our missiles at each other, it would be really bad, wouldn't it?
MOM: Yes, it would be really bad. It's scary to think about what might happen if we ever got into a war.
SAMANTHA: (pause) Why would anyone start a war?
MOM: I don't know. I don't think anyone wants to start a big war.
SAMANTHA: What about this man in the paper, Yuri Andropov? He's the new leader of the Soviet Union. Will he start a war?
MOM: (pause) I don't know. I hope not.
SAMANTHA: Mom, I think you should write to Mr. Andropov and tell him not to start a war.
MOM: I suppose I.... (beat) But, Samantha, it's your idea. You should write a letter to Mr. Andropov.
(Samantha begins to write. Mom moves stage left and sits in one of the chairs.)
Next day, in the living room of the Smith's house. Enter Dad. He sits next to Mom, they are sitting and relaxing. Samantha finishes writing, gets up from the table, and comes to join them.
SAMANTHA: Hey, Dad, Mom, I finished that letter to Yuri Andropov! Do you want to hear it?
DAD and MOM (together): Yes -- sure!
SAMANTHA (reads her letter aloud):
Dear Mr. Andropov,
My name is Samantha Smith. I am ten years old. Congratulations on your new job. I have been worrying about Russia and the United States getting into a nuclear war. Are you going to vote to have a war or not? If you aren't please tell me how you are going to help to not have a war. This question you do not have to answer, but I would like to know why you want to conquer the world or at least our country. God made the world for us to live together in peace and not to fight.
Sincerely, Samantha Smith
(Samantha looks at Mom and Dad for their reactions)
DAD (smiles): That's a good letter, Samantha! Why don't you go get an envelope and we'll take it to the post office and mail it tomorrow?
(Exit Samantha, happily)
DAD: She'll never get a reply, of course.
MOM: But I'm glad she wrote the letter. She was getting scared thinking about nuclear war. At least she feels she's doingsomething about it.
DAD: It'll be a good lesson in current events. (pause) Too bad there isn't more we can do.
(Exit Mom and Dad)
Six months later, Samantha's school. Mrs. Peabody is at the table -- this is her desk. Samantha and Classmates sit in the half-circle of chairs as if they are in class.
MRS. PEABODY (as if over a loudspeaker): Samantha Smith, come to the principal's office. Samantha Smith, come to the office for a phone call.
CLASSMATES (ad lib):
Hey, they're calling you to the office.
Wow, a phone call in the middle of class.
I never get to get out of class for a phone call!
(Samantha, a little nervous, goes to office)
SAMANTHA: A phone call, Mrs. Peabody?
MRS. PEABODY: I'm sorry to pull you out of class, but it's a reporter and it sounds important.
SAMANTHA: A reporter -- ?
(Samantha picks up phone.)
REPORTER: Hi, is this Samantha Smith?
SAMANTHA: Um, yes it is.
REPORTER: I'm a reporter and I work for United Press International, one of the biggest news agencies in the world. Last week in the biggest Soviet newspaper, Pravda, I saw a letter to Yuri Andropov from an American girl named Samantha Smith. Are you the Samantha Smith who wrote the letter?
SAMANTHA: Well, I wrote a letter, but... (beat) My letter's in a big newspaper?
REPORTER: Yes. The biggest newspaper in all the Soviet Union.
SAMANTHA: Because Mr. Andropov never wrote back to me or anything so I don't really know anything about it. Maybe when I get home, there will be a letter for me explaining it or something.
(Samantha hangs up phone)
MRS. PEABODY: What was that about?
SAMANTHA: Last fall, I wrote a letter to Yuri Andropov asking him why he would want to start a war. And I guess they published my letter in a big newspaper over there.
MRS. PEABODY: Why, that's amazing. That's quite something, to have your letter published like that.
SAMANTHA: Yes, but why didn't they tell me first? I can't wait to get home to talk this over with Mom.
(Exit Classmates. Samantha moves over the half-circle of chairs. Exit Mrs. Peabody)
The Smith's house again, in the living room.
SAMANTHA: Mom, I'm home.
MOM: Hi, honey!
SAMANTHA: Mom, I got a phone call in the middle of school, it was from a reporter, she saw my letter in a big newspaper in Russia, but I said I never got a letter from Mr. Andropov, did a letter come for me today?
MOM: No, no letters for you today. Your letter is in a newspaper?
SAMANTHA: Yes, a big newspaper called Praddah, or something.
MOM: They printed your letter in Pravda? That's exciting.
SAMANTHA: Yes, but I never got a letter from Mr. Andropov. What do you think happened, Mom?
MOM: I don't know.... Maybe you should write a letter to the Soviet ambassador to the United States and see if he could explain.
(Samantha goes into kitchen to write a letter. She seals it in an envelope. As she places it in the mailbox, the phone rings. Mom comes into the kitchen to answer phone)
MOM: Hello, Smith residence.
SOVIET OFFICIAL: Hello, I'm calling for the Soviet Embassy. Mr. Andropov will be sending you a letter soon....
(Enter Dad stage left, carrying a letter. Andropov enters, moves to front center stage. Dad hands the letter to Samantha. Samantha, her Mom, and her Dad are seen reading together excitedly, while Andropov reads the letter aloud)
I received your letter, which is like many others that have reached me recently from your country and from other countries around the world....You write that you are anxious about whether there will be a nuclear war between our two countries....Your question is the most important of those that any thinking man can pose. I will respond to you seriously and honestly.
Yes, Samantha, we in the Soviet Union are trying to do everything so that there will not be war on earth....
Soviet people know well what a terrible thing war is. 42 years ago, Nazi Germany, which strived for supremacy over the whole world, attacked our country,... killed millions of Soviet men, women and children.
In that war, which ended with our victory, we were in alliance with the United States....And today we want very much to live in peace, to trade and cooperate with all our neighbors on this earth.
Perhaps you would like to visit the Soviet Union and see for yourself. Why don't you come and visit?
Yours truly, Yuri Andropov.
(Exit Andropov. The whole Smith family is excited)
DAD: So you see, one kid can make a difference.
SAMANTHA (to Dad and Mom): It's exciting, I'm excited, aren't you?
(slowly, to herself)
Mr. Andropov invited me to come visit. I wonder what will happen if I get to go to the Soviet Union....
(Enter Reporters, while Samantha is talking. They come up in front of the stage, center stage -- the Smith's front yard. Samantha, Mom, and Dad stand center stage -- their front door)
REPORTERS: (ad lib questions)
Is it true you got a letter from Mr. Andropov?
How does it feel to receive a letter from one of the most important men in the world?
Is it true that he invited you to visit the Soviet Union?
What are you going to do?
How do you feel?
SAMANTHA: It's exciting, I don't know what to think!
(She looks over the heads of the Reporters, she becomes lost in thought)
MOM: Yes, it's true, she did receive a letter from Mr. Andropov.
DAD: Yes, it's true he invited Samantha to visit him.
MOM: We're still trying to figure out how to respond.
DAD: This is just proof that letter-writing works and people do pay attention. Kids can make a difference.
(Samantha, Mom, and Dad move to the table and chairs. Mom and Dad sit down. Exit Reporters.)
SAMANTHA: Mom, Dad, I think I really do want to go to the Soviet Union.
DAD (looks at Mom): We'll see.
(Exit Mom and Dad)
SAMANTHA (to herself): I know what that means. When Dad says, "We'll see," that means they're going to say "yes".
The Soviet Union. Enter Soviet Official, followed by Samantha, Mom, and Dad. They all move downstage center, Samantha stands on one side of Soviet Official, Mom and Dad on other side
SOVIET OFFICIAL (to Samantha; with faint Russian accent): Isn't Leningrad beautiful! I am so glad you are enjoying your stay here in Soviet Union.
MOM (to Dad): Yes, Leningrad is beautiful, and so was Moscow.
SAMANTHA (to Soviet Official): And the Soviet Youth Camp was so much fun! I was a little shy at first, but then I met lots of kids. My best friend at camp was named Natasha Kirishina. She's from Leningrad. You know, Soviet kids are just like American kids in lots of ways.
SOVIET OFFICIAL: It is good to hear that you met some nice children.
DAD (catching attention of Soviet Official): She's writing a letter home telling about her experiences....
(Mom, Dad, and Soviet Official step back)
SAMANTHA (reads her letter to the audience): The kids at the Soviet Youth Camp had lots of questions about America -- especially about clothes and music. They were all interested in how I lived and sometimes at night we talked about peace, but it didn't really seem necessary because none of them hated America, and none of them wanted war. It seemed strange even to talk about war when we all got along so well together.
(Mom and Dad shake hands with Soviet Official. Exit Soviet Official. Mom and Dad rejoin Samantha)
DAD: Well, Samantha, it's time to fly back to America.
SAMANTHA (still to the audience): I'll be happy to get home to regular things. It's nice to visit, but I'd rather live in my hometown.
(Exit Mom and Dad, leaving Samantha standing alone, looking into the distance)
SAMANTHA (to herself): Except that things didn't ever quite get back to normal.
After that visit, I even became a little bit famous. It seems like everyone knew about my letter, and my trip to visit Yuri Andropov. Later on, I got a chance to try to be an actress, and that was great. But five months after I got back, I was invited to Japan to give a speech at the Children's International Symposium.
(turns slightly, speaks as if addressing a crowd)
The leaders of the big countries in the world should exchange granddaughters once a year, so that they could understand each other better. Also, you wouldn't want to bomb a country that your granddaughter was visiting! The people in the world seem more like people in my own neighborhood. I think they are more like me than I ever realized. With more people thinking about the problems of the world, I hope that someday we will find the way to world peace.
(beat) Maybe someday, someone will show us the way.
NARRATOR: Just a couple of years after her visit to the Soviet Union, Samantha Smith died in a tragic accident, a plane crash. The whole world was saddened to hear of her death, and hundreds of people attended her memorial service. (pause) Today, the Soviet Union no longer exists, but kids still worry about war and violence. And today, people still remember Samantha Smith as the girl who dared to ask -- to ask whether someday we will find the way to world peace.
(Pause. Exit Samantha. Lights fade on empty stage)
Planning: This play was written for children in grades 3-8; the play was designed to last about twenty minutes so it could be performed in a regular worship service in place of the sermon. Most rehearsals took place on Sunday mornings, during the regular Sunday school hour. Children who didn't want to act were involved in creating sets, props, costumes, and helping with rehearsals, prompting, etc. (an alternate activity was also offered for children who did not wish to be involved at all, but no children chose this option).
Adult leaders: The director, a volunteer, was assisted by three volunteer rehearsal leaders; and volunteer rehearsal leaders were assisted by one or two adult helpers. Rehearsal leaders were in charge of a scene or scenes with largely the same characters (e.g., scenes one and two; scene three; scenes four and five; scene six). Rehearsals were made easier by splitting the role of Samantha into Younger Samantha (scenes one through three) and Older Samantha (scenes four through six); the Samanthas split their time between different rehearsal groups.
Schedule: Auditions took place one Sunday after church. Children and their families were asked to make a commitment to attend five out of six weeks (the two leads had to commit to attending every week); children committed to memorizing their lines within three weeks. Six weeks total were allowed for rehearsal. There was an extended dress rehearsal (3 full run-throughs of entire play, plus selected scenes) that took place on the Saturday morning before the play was performed in the worship service.
Integrating into the worship service: The whole point of getting children to do this play in a worship service is to help them understand that they can produce excellent theatre -- and to make them look great in front of the congregation. This play took the place of the sermon, and the rest of the service was designed by the ministers and the religious educator to support the message of the play. The original production turned out to be quite powerful, and was very well received by the congregation.
The main drawback to the original production was that some of the younger children did not project their voices particularly well (an additional two or three weeks of rehearsals would have allowed more voice coaching). A detailed plot summary printed in the order of service allowed people to follow along even if they couldn't quite hear.
Copyright and acknowledgments
The following passages are direct quotes, or slightly adapted quotes, from Samantha Smith: Samantha's letter to Andropov; Samantha's letter about the Soviet Union; Samantha talking about going home; Samantha's speech. I believe these uses are covered under the fair use section of the copyright laws for educational purposes.
This play is covered under a Creative Commons license. As long as you use it for non-commercial purposes, and credit the author, and don't drastically alter the work, you may copy it, perform it in public, and use it as you see fit. For details about the license, click here.