Kelly Bancroft knew there was a story in the death of her great-aunt Bessie, who went from her home in Mineral Ridge to Cleveland in February 1910 and died the following month at age 19.
Bancroft's brother uncovered this forgotten member of their family while doing some genealogical research, and further investigation gave Bancroft a pretty good idea about the truth behind her death.
"Something happened in Cleveland that no one was being held accountable for," she said.
Bancroft, who has a master's degree in creative writing from Youngstown State University and has published her poetry and non-fiction in various journals, originally thought the story could be memoir.
"In three years, I put hundreds of pages of words down, but it just wasn't gelling, and I was very discouraged," she said.
Then she saw a notice about the Voices of the Valley New One-Act Play Festival at the Youngstown Playhouse. Bancroft never had written a play before, but the idea of trying to condense her voluminous notes into a 30-page script appealed to her.
WHAT: Voices of the Valley New One-Act Play Festival - "Arriving at Bessie"
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday
WHERE: Youngstown Playhouse, 600 Playhouse Lane, Youngstown.
HOW MUCH: $7. For reservations, call 330-788-8739.
"If you have a deadline and a framework, it forces you to make hard decisions," she said.
"Arriving at Bessie" was selected by the judges and will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Playhouse. And unlike last year, when the winning works were presented in a readers' theater format, "Bessie" will be fully staged with direction by James Canacci and a cast featuring Noelle Bowles, Hannah Gillespie, Tracy McQuillan and Joseph Pecchio.
Bancroft has been attending rehearsals and tweaking the script as issues arise, and she credited Canacci for being open to her contributions and creating a collaborative environment.
The Youngstown playwright said stories she found in the Warren Chronicle following Bessie's death provide clues about how she died, but she wants to keep that a secret for audiences to discover in the theater.
"Some of the enjoyment of the play is going to depend on that surprise," she said.
Following this weekend's performances, Bancroft isn't sure what she will do with "Arriving at Bessie." There were plenty of details she had to leave out to keep the script to a 35-to40-minute running time, but she's not sure whether expanding the play will take away some of its allure.
One thing is certain: it won't be her last play.
"It was a lot of fun," she said. "I'm going to write another one or two or three. I've tried all these different (writing) forms. I'd never tried this one, but it really suits me. I'm a visual thinker, and it allows me to see scenes and see sets."