The cast of "Almanac of Broken Dreams" rehearses. Credit: ViA ZOE TOMPKINS

While a fourth-grader at Bethesda’s Burning Tree Elementary School, Zoe Tompkins performed as a singing flower in the school’s production of Alice in Wonderland. Since that first performance, Tompkins, who graduates Friday from Walt Whitman High School, has performed in nearly 11 plays and many other one-act performances. However, on Thursday night, in what was the last performance of her high school theater career, Tompkins was not the main focus on stage.  

But the play, Almanac of Broken Days, still depended on her.

The future Franklin and Marshall College student was backstage, directing actors and organizing props to make sure the play that she began writing nearly 18 months ago in her high school creative writing class was performed just as she imagined it would be.  

Almanac of Broken Days, performed at the Potomac United Methodist Church, tells the story of a group of teenagers facing different mental illnesses and substance abuse issues and how the support of friends eventually helps them overcome their struggles.

“This is the story of how friends become family and how you can grow as a person with your friends and how you can overcome mental health issues as a group,” Tompkins said. “You’re not alone in your pain and suffering.”

The play was inspired by her personal experiences with mental illness and the experiences of her friends and peers at different Montgomery County high schools.

“Mental health and drug addiction is a major concern for me,” Tompkins said. “I don’t see enough effort from our community to help each other when it comes to mental health and drug addiction problems. We need to scream it out loud that you are never alone.”

Since her debut as a singing flower nearly eight years ago, Tompkins’ passion and excitement surrounding theater has only grown.

“I fell in love with acting after that,” Tompkins said. “I always liked singing and being the center of attention so since then I have been in 11 full plays and countless one-acts.”

She can’t remember the exact number of Broadway performances she has seen, but she is able to confidently say that she has 30 Broadway show playbills hung on her bedroom wall in her Bethesda home and she knows she is missing some.

Tompkins, who has two sisters and a brother, said she has often turned to acting and participating in theater productions as a creative outlet from her sometimes hectic home life.

“It’s been cathartic,” Tompkins said about her experiences with theater.  “Going to a theater and acting gives me this outlet to reroute all of the emotions that I have at home into something more productive and creative and less destructive than screaming at my siblings.”

The decision to begin writing the play in January 2017 would propel the then-high school junior into months of writing and rewriting scripts for the play and eventually four-hour rehearsals in her basement every Saturday. The process culminates with Thursday’s performance of a fully-produced play, supported by nine student actors and three tech crew members, on a rented stage in front of an audience—a reality she is still trying to wrap her head around.

“Would it be cliché to say that this is the greatest thing I’ve ever done in my life?” Tompkins said.

For Tompkins, production of Almanac of Broken Days marks the end of a project that spanned a large part of her final two years of high school and is the perfect culmination of her Bethesda theater career.

“This feels like the culmination of all of the years of writing and directing and acting,” Tompkins said. “It’s all coming together as one thing, which is super cool.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the name of Zoe Tompkins’ play.