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Interview with Dramaturg and Plays by Young Writers 2017 Artistic Director, Ruff Yeager

January 25, 2017

Playwrights Project will produce its 32nd annual festival of Plays by Young Writers, sponsored by the Sheila and Jeffrey Lipinsky Family Fund, at The Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in the Conrad Prebys Theatre Center at The Old Globe on January 19 – January 29, 2017. The festival will feature winning scripts from its California Young Playwrights Contest for ages 18 and under.

Contest winners were selected from 365 plays submitted by students from across the state. Four scripts will receive full professional productions, and two scripts will receive staged readings in this highly regarded festival of new voices.

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Ruff (Dramaturg, Pros and Cons) with Katie Taylor, playwright of Pros and Cons. 

Ruff Yeager teaches and directs at Southwestern  College and has an extensive list of directing credits, including but not limited to: She-Rantulas from Outer Space – in 3-D! (Diversionary and Off Broadway); Arrow to the Heart, The Tutor, The Waves (Vox Nova Theatre Co.); Bronze (Patte Award, Outstanding Direction, San Diego Theatre Critics Circle Award, Best New Play); (Sledgehammer Theatre); Fronteras Hechas del Dinero, Quarter Cup, Hallowed, Trevor, Prom Night, Stage Directions, A Man of His Word (Playwrights Project). Ruff is serving as the Artistic Director to the festival this year, in addition to mentoring Katie Taylor as a dramaturg for her play, Pros and Cons. 

Tell us briefly about another theatre project (or projects) you’re working on outside of Plays by Young Writers.

A new theatre company, The Roustabouts, of which I am a founding member, is preparing for its inaugural season. Our first show Margin of Error begins rehearsals in March and opens in April. I am producing and acting in the show, so my days have been filled with preparation. I am also directing a new production of Godspell this spring at Southwestern College where I am a professor in the department of Theatre Arts.

How does your work in the festival differ from your other work?

This year I have the pleasure of coordinating the artistic vision for the entire festival. This administrative work is primarily about working with the very talented artists we hire, providing them with the tools to create the highest quality productions possible.

How do you define your role(s) in the Plays by Young Writers production process?

As dramaturg, I am an advocate for and a mentor to the playwright. As artistic director of the festival, I am charged with the task of insuring that the highest artistic standards are maintained.

What is your favorite part about being involved with Plays by Young Writers?

Having the opportunity to see the young playwrights grow during the rewrite and rehearsal process; and to see the looks on their faces, to experience their joy on opening night: this is what keeps me coming back to this wonderful company.

Any specific story, moment, or insight you’d like to share about the writer or play you are currently working on?

Every moment in the process of creating a work of art is one to remember and relish. I’ve had a chance to watch as each play has grown with its playwright and as each director, actor, and dramaturg has taken their respective turns in shaping these plays. I enjoy being in the rehearsal room when all the creative artists are present. There is no substitute to experiencing the thrill as they craft and create in real time, polishing these gems into precious diamonds.

What do you hope the young playwrights will learn from this experience?

I hope they learn that writing is rewriting. I hope they learn that collaboration is key. I hope they learn about their unique voice. I hope they learn that discipline is their friend. I hope they learn that each act of creation has the potential to change the world.

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Ruff with Playwrights Project Executive Director, Cecelia Kouma

Pros and Cons can be seen during Program B of Plays by Young Writers, on Friday Jan. 27th at 7:30 PM and Saturday Jan. 28th at 2:00 PM. You may purchase tickets for Fri. Jan. 27 at 7:30 PM here, and for Sat. Jan. 28th at 2 PM here. 

For more information, please contact Playwrights Project at (858) 384-2970 or write@playwrightsproject.org. Visit http://www.playwrightsproject.org/productions/pbyw/. 

*Photos courtesy of Geri Goodale of Reminisce Photography.

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Interview with Erika Beth Phillips, director of the Staged Readings of Plays by Young Writers 2017

January 20, 2017

Playwrights Project will produce its 32nd annual festival of Plays by Young Writers, sponsored by the Sheila and Jeffrey Lipinsky Family Fund, at The Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in the Conrad Prebys Theatre Center at The Old Globe on January 19 – January 29, 2017. The festival will feature winning scripts from its California Young Playwrights Contest for ages 18 and under.

Contest winners were selected from 365 plays submitted by students from across the state. Four scripts will receive full professional productions, and two scripts will receive staged readings in this highly regarded festival of new voices.

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From left to right: Playwrights Project Executive Director Cecelia Kouma, Turtle on a Rock writer Abby McDonald, Education Programs Manager and Staged Reading Director Erika Beth Phillips, and Plays by Young Writers Artistic Director Ruff Yeager.

Erika Beth Phillips is an actress, director, and playwright from New York City.  Erika serves as the Education Programs Manager for Playwrights Project, coordinating residency programs in K-12 schools.  As a Teaching Artist, she works with students throughout San Diego for Playwrights Project, La Jolla Playhouse and The Old Globe. This year, Erika is directing both staged readings for Plays by Young Writers. In this interview, we speak primarily about her experiences behind the scenes of Turtle on a Rock in Program A. 

You have been involved with other productions of Plays by Young Writers in the past, can you tell us about how you first became involved and the different roles you have served over the years?

When Cecelia Kouma asked me to direct the staged readings for Plays by Young Writers 2013, I had already been involved with Playwrights Project for several years as a Teaching Artist in school programs and a playwright with the Telling Stories program (dramatizing stories told by former foster youth).  I loved the process and had great fun with the pieces, which were Help! There’s a Stranger Living Upstairs by Gilare Zada and The Trial of Wolf vs. Pig, by Mathew Maceda, whose play, The Dumping Ground, is being fully produced this year.  That year, I was also the dramaturg for the pieces, so I had a lot of contact with the writers.  Two years later, I happily directed the readings again, which were Best Friend Mistakes and One Magical Day, and I’ve also directed several staged readings for community performances as well.  There are several different ways to approach a staged reading.  My goal is to get to the heart of the play, have a sense of “place” and add just enough staging so that the audience can forget the actors have scripts in their hands and get involved with the story. 

Do you work in theatre outside of this festival and if so, how does your work in Plays by Young Writers differ from your other work? 

Yes, most of my work is either as a professional actor – usually working with other seasoned actors and directors – or as a teacher/director working with students who are very inexperienced with theatre and introducing it to them.  What I find with Plays by Young Writers is I often get to work with actors with various backgrounds – some with solid experience, and some in college or just at the start of their careers.  There’s not much time for rehearsal, so the actors need to work really fast and trust their instincts.  Any redirection needs to be very clear.  There’s not much time to massage things into place!

What are some of the highlights of working with young writers? 

What I love about working with the younger winners is that often they find themselves in the position of having won before they’ve even really considered themselves a writer.  They’ve often written the play as a school project and submitted it to the contest because a teacher suggested it.  When you see a love for writing AND a growing self-esteem from working with professionals bloom simultaneously, it’s really something special. 

An interesting aspect of Turtle on A Rock is the songs written by the playwright. Can you speak a little on that?

Abby had the melodies of all the songs in her head, and she and her mom sung them into a recorder for me.  I shared the recording with the cast, and for the most part, they’ve stayed intact.  I just added a little back-up humming at the end to get a sense of coming together.  They are quirky melodies that make the story of the play all the more endearing.

Can you share with us any details about your vision for one of the plays you are directing this year?  

Turtle On a Rock is a sweet play with strong characters.  The playwright clearly articulated that she wrote this piece as a contrast to the solemn and highly dramatic pieces being written around her in class.  So, it’s important to keep it upbeat and bright.  While the central character is a turtle, his problem isn’t particularly “turtle-y”.  It’s not like he’s slow or has a shell problem!  He wants to know where he fits in this world, in his community, why he was put on this earth.  So, it was important to me that while we have fun with the different animal characters, that we play them as humans, we costume them as humans, and flavor the characterizations and costuming with the nature of those animals rather than be run by them.  No tails! 

What caught your attention most when you first read the script?

Turtle on a Rock is a deceptively sweet and simple piece.  It’s actually quite deep in how it taps into a universal longing to know oneself and be a part of a loving community.

Turtle on a Rock can be seen during Program A of Plays by Young Writers, on Saturday Jan. 28th at 7:30 PM and Sunday Jan. 29th at 2:00 PM. You may purchase tickets for Jan. 28 at 7:30 PM here, and Jan. 29 at 2:00 PM here.

For more information, please contact Playwrights Project at (858) 384-2970 or write@playwrightsproject.org. Visit http://www.playwrightsproject.org/productions/pbyw/. 

*Photo courtesy of Geri Goodale of Reminisce Photography.

Interview with Cassandra Hsiao, winner of California Young Playwrights Contest 2016

January 18, 2017

Playwrights Project will produce its 32nd annual festival of Plays by Young Writers, sponsored by the Sheila and Jeffrey Lipinsky Family Fund, at The Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in the Conrad Prebys Theatre Center at The Old Globe on January 19 – January 29, 2017. The festival will feature winning scripts from its California Young Playwrights Contest for ages 18 and under.

Contest winners were selected from 365 plays submitted by students from across the state. Four scripts will receive full professional productions, and two scripts will receive staged readings in this highly regarded festival of new voices.

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Supermarket of Lost

By Cassandra Hsiao

Age 16, Walnut

Directed by George Yé

Cassandra Hsiao is a junior in the Creative Writing conservatory at the Orange County School of the Arts. She is an editor of her school’s award-winning art and literary magazine, Inkblot, and has been nationally recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards as well as the National Student Poets Program. Cassandra conducts print and on-camera interviews as a teen reporter and Movie Editor for Crixit.com, Fanlala.com and BYOU Magazine. She is also a journalist for the Los Angeles Times’ High School Insider. Her winning play, Supermarket of Lost, was originally produced in June 2016 by The Blank Theatre’s Young Playwrights Festival in Los Angeles, CA.

How did you first get involved with writing?
I started writing in elementary school, thanks to teachers who saw my work, believed in me and told me that I could become a storyteller. I have always been an avid reader and I immersed myself in various fictional worlds. I started creating my own worlds to live in–characters to befriend, love, trust, and adventure with. Now I study Creative Writing at my high school, the Orange County School of the Arts where I dabble in all genres.

Specifically for playwriting, in freshman year I was placed in a 10-minute playwriting class by chance. I was introduced to a whole new format and fell in love immediately thanks to my dramaturg Tira Palmquist. Since then I’ve explored many different types of plays, from two-handers to avant-garde.

I understand that your play Supermarket of Lost has won numerous other awards, congratulations! How have these accomplishments shaped the play as it is today and what have you enjoyed about the revisions you’re working on for this production?Thank you so much! This play has grown so much since its initial student-directed, student-acted production at my high school. That said, every production holds a special place in my heart. It is an indescribable joy and privilege for me to see my words come to life through different actors and interpretations. There’s nothing more gratifying than watching my characters leap off the page.

This production’s revisions have been a wonderful challenge for me to tackle. I have more time and space to develop my characters and lengthen the play to where it needs to be. I truly enjoy diving into what I’ve written and simply let the characters speak for themselves.

How did you come up with the idea for your script?
In school, I was given a prompt “Lost and Found.” Immediately I started to wonder where all the lost items go, and before I knew it, the Supermarket of Lost was born. From there it was a matter of refining the rules of this cosmic warehouse and fleshing out the characters.

What themes are involved in your piece?
I love writing that has a magical quality about it–the Supermarket of Lost certainly is a magical place, to say the least. I love exploring a place where I could create the rules and where the possibilities were endless.

On a deeper level, Supermarket of Lost deals with themes of memory, loss, grief, and what it means to exuberantly live despite the time constraints the world has placed on us. It’s about friendship and strangers all at once. Supermarket of Lost brings up questions of what it means to lose something and to let go of something.

What is the message you hope the audience takes away with them?
I  hope audience members can experience the magic, hope and melancholy of the Supermarket along with my characters Austin, Violet, and Hailee. I hope audiences will come away moved and empowered to live to the fullest.

Do you plan to continue writing?
Absolutely! I have no plans to stop writing!

What are your career goals and/or aspirations?
In Hamilton, Aaron Burr calls Alexander Hamilton “non-stop” in his writing prowess and prolificness. I aspire to be a “non-stop” storyteller to tell the stories that need to be told, whether it is through journalism, TV, film, theater, or the written word.

What advice would you give to a peer as they embark on writing their first play?
Go for it. Give it your all. Pay attention to everyday dialogue. Take a notebook with you and people-watch/listen wherever you go. Don’t worry about formatting–that comes later. Ask yourself, what is the heart of this play? What is the conflict? Conflict drives a story, and before you know it, you’ll have your very first play in your hands.

Are you currently working to develop any other plays?
Yes! I am constantly writing/thinking about my ideas for one-act plays as well as full-length plays. I am often inspired by articles and feature stories I come across with an emotional heartbeat.

Supermarket of  Lost can be seen during Program A of Plays by Young Writers, on Saturday Jan. 28th at 7:30 PM and Sunday Jan. 29th at 2:00 PM. You may purchase tickets for Jan. 28 at 7:30 PM here, and Jan. 29 at 2:00 PM here.

For more information, please contact Playwrights Project at (858) 384-2970 or write@playwrightsproject.org. Visit http://www.playwrightsproject.org/productions/pbyw/. 

*Photo courtesy of Geri Goodale of Reminisce Photography.

Interview with Wendy Maples, director of The Dumping Ground in Plays by Young Writers 2017

January 16, 2017

Playwrights Project will produce its 32nd annual festival of Plays by Young Writers, sponsored by the Sheila and Jeffrey Lipinsky Family Fund, at The Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in the Conrad Prebys Theatre Center at The Old Globe on January 19 – January 29, 2017. The festival will feature winning scripts from its California Young Playwrights Contest for ages 18 and under.

Contest winners were selected from 365 plays submitted by students from across the state. Four scripts will receive full professional productions, and two scripts will receive staged readings in this highly regarded festival of new voices.

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Wendy Maples, Director of The Dumping Ground for Program B of Plays by Young Writers 

Wendy Maples is the Founder/Artistic Director of Step UP Theatre and a 2009 participant at the Directors Lab West in Pasadena, California.  Additionally, she has directed for InnerMission Productions and the Theatre Arts School of San Diego.  Wendy is a founding teacher at High Tech Middle School Chula Vista.

 

Do you work in theatre outside of this festival and if so, how does your work in Plays by Young Writers differ from your other work?

I work in theatre, specifically youth theatre, ALL day every day.  I worked with high school students in Step UP Theatre for almost 10 years creating original plays for young audiences.  I teach seminar classes to young conservatory students who are looking to push themselves as actors.  And I teach theatre in a middle school classroom, teaching industry standard practices to 11 year olds, which is challenging and exciting and a different beast every day.  Working in Plays by Young Writers is so fantastic because in a way, I’m putting my money where my mouth is.  Showing 11 year olds that their words are important and can be put on such a professional platform is really eye opening for them.  And a beautiful reminder to me each day of how important this work is.

 

What are some of the highlights of working with young writers?

When young people tell stories on a page, they’re honest.  Even if they’re writing a fictitious story, in my experience, their words come from a place of honest understanding- I can almost sense a young writer saying “I know how this feels and here’s a situation where I can change it or heal it or make it better for this character than it was for me.”

 

What caught your attention most when you first read the script?

When I read this script, I felt very strongly that I knew these people.  I was these people.  We’ve all worn these hats at some stage in our lives- the friend whole tells it to you straight, the supportive teacher, the voice of wisdom, the person who’s dared to be vulnerable.  And that will be what makes our audience relate and really care about these characters.

 

Can you share with us any details about your vision for the play?

To me, The Dumping Ground is about recovering from rejection and all of the feelings that are tied up in that.  Every character in this play needs a moment to sit and recover and find acceptance.  Without giving too much away, those are the terrifically human themes in the beautiful script that Matthew has written.

The play takes place in Washington, D.C., a city that I love and spend lots of summers and conferences exploring!  Our story has a variety of locations around the city from Metro Stations, to classrooms, to front porches, so like the multicolored metro lines, we move our play all over the stage!  So the imagery, sights, sounds, smells, of D.C. have been in my head throughout this whole process.

The Dumping Ground can be seen during Program B of Plays by Young Writers, on Friday Jan. 27th at 7:30 PM and Saturday Jan. 28th at 2:00 PM. You may purchase tickets for Fri. Jan. 27 at 7:30 PM here, and for Sat. Jan. 28th at 2 PM here. 

For more information, please contact Playwrights Project at (858) 384-2970 or write@playwrightsproject.org. Visit http://www.playwrightsproject.org/productions/pbyw/. 

Interview with Eliana Dunn, playwright of Hackathon for Plays by Young Writers 2017

January 11, 2017

Playwrights Project will produce its 32nd annual festival of Plays by Young Writers, sponsored by the Sheila and Jeffrey Lipinsky Family Fund, at The Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in the Conrad Prebys Theatre Center at The Old Globe on January 19 – January 29, 2017. The festival will feature winning scripts from its California Young Playwrights Contest for ages 18 and under.

Contest winners were selected from 365 plays submitted by students from across the state. Four scripts will receive full professional productions, and two scripts will receive staged readings in this highly regarded festival of new voices.

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Hackathon

By Eliana Dunn

Age 16, Pacifica

Directed by George Yé

Eliana, who graduated early from Oceana High School, is a student at the City College of San Fransisco. Eliana wrote her winning play in a summer writing program called California State Summer School for the Arts under the instruction of mentor Zay Amsbury. Her play, Hackathon examines issues of gentrification and bias in the tech industry, as teenagers from different walks of life compete to create an app that will change the world.

How did you first get involved with writing?
I’ve always loved to write and tell stories, but I really started to get serious about writing when I applied to CSSSA, the California State Summer School for the Arts. I attended CSSSA for creative writing, and it was a really amazing experience. My teachers at CSSSA taught me the basics of playwriting and screenwriting, and encouraged me to submit my work to competitions.

Eliana, you live in the diverse Bay Area; what insights into the tech industry have you gained by living so close to Silicon Valley?
The Bay Area is such a special place, and I feel really lucky that I was born here. Because I have grown up so close to Silicon Valley, I’ve gotten to see a lot of the good that the tech industry has done for this region. However, I have also seen the Bay Area transform in many negative ways due to the presence of tech companies, both directly and indirectly. There is a large cultural and socio-economic divide between people within the tech industry, and locals who have lived here since before the tech boom. Gentrification, homelessness, and diversity within the tech industry are all huge issues that activists within our community grapple with how to fix.

How did you come up with the idea for your script?
I actually came up with the idea for the play when I attended a hackathon! I had an internship at a place where the hackathon was being held, and so I was tasked with helping out. The hackathon, like many STEM programs, was touted as being this transformative program that would provide people from all kinds of different backgrounds with the same opportunities for success. Unfortunately, what I witnessed was very different. I saw people segregated by race and high school, and the teams who were noticeably more affluent had a distinct advantage. This angered me, and I wanted to write a play that talked about inequality within the education system, gentrification, and the racism and sexism that are rampant in the tech industry.

What themes are involved in your piece?
One key subject in my play is the American education system, particularly the drastic differences between public and private schools in the Bay Area. I remember visiting my friend’s private school for the first time after attending public school my whole life, and it was almost a culture shock. I thought that the high school I was attending at the time was pretty good because we didn’t have any gang violence. But when it rained the teachers would have to put trash cans around the classrooms to catch water from the leaky roof, and seeing this wealthy private school where every kid got their own Macbook really opened my eyes.

Another theme that definitely ties in with education within the play is race and racism. San Francisco especially has seen a lot of white flight out of it’s public schools. The correlation between a lack of diversity in schools and wealth has led to a lot of racial tension within SF public schools in the past few years. The final theme within the piece, which also relates to race and racism, is gentrification. Gentrification is changing neighborhoods all around the city, and in many cases forcing people of color out of their homes. This is a huge issue here in the Bay Area, and no discussion about socio-economic privilege and the education system can be had without gentrification being touched on.

What is the message you hope the audience takes away with them?
I hope that audiences will consider that helping kids pursue careers in S.T.E.M. is great, but come to understand that there is systemic racism and discrimination within the tech industry that needs to be addressed before it can be a welcoming place for everyone. Additionally, I would like the audience to rethink the “fix all” solutions that I see springing up so often when it comes to education. While it would be great if the achievement gap could be closed by encouraging every kid to be an engineer, that simply isn’t realistic.

Do you plan to continue writing?
Yes, I love to write and would like to continue! Playwrights Project has really encouraged me to see writing as a tool for self expression. It has been not only empowering, but just plain amazing to see something I wrote transformed into a full scale production. This experience and the wonderful mentorship that I have received throughout has motivated me to continue trying to create stories and art that draw attention to the issues that I witness within my community.

What are your career goals and/or aspirations?
My dream is to be a screenwriter, and to write for television. Above all I want to create content that will make people feel happy, represented, and important.

What advice would you give to a peer as they embark on writing their first play?
If a friend told me they were writing a play, I would say, “Ahhhh! Send me it when you finish, and I can give you feedback!” because I believe that getting suggestions from a trusted friend or teacher can be really helpful. I would also advise them to consider how they can tell the story they want to tell using as few props, sets, and characters as possible. When I was writing a play for the first time, I remember that it was easy to forget that what you create does not have to be photo-realistic. Instead, you have to trust that the audience will understand and hopefully be impacted by the experience of watching real people embody fictional characters.

Are you currently working to develop any other plays?
Currently I’ve just been working on revising Hackathon for the stage. I hope to write more scripts in the future though, whether they are for stage or screen!

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Eliana with Program B actors (From left to right: Kelly Nichole, Michelle Marie Trester, Director George Ye, playwright Eliana Dunn, Roberto Castillo and Brandon Kelley).

Hackathon can be seen during Program A of Plays by Young Writers, on Saturday Jan. 28th at 7:30 PM and Sunday Jan. 29th at 2:00 PM. You may purchase tickets for Jan. 28 at 7:30 PM here, and Jan. 29 at 2:00 PM here.

For more information, please contact Playwrights Project at (858) 384-2970 or write@playwrightsproject.org. Visit http://www.playwrightsproject.org/productions/pbyw/. 

*Photo courtesy of Geri Goodale of Reminisce Photography.

Photos from behind the scenes of Plays by Young Writers

January 10, 2017

Playwrights Project will produce its 32nd annual festival of Plays by Young Writers, sponsored by the Sheila and Jeffrey Lipinsky Family Fund, at The Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in the Conrad Prebys Theatre Center at The Old Globe on January 19 – January 29, 2017. The festival will feature winning scripts from its California Young Playwrights Contest for ages 18 and under.
Contest winners were selected from 385 plays submitted by students from across the state. Four scripts will receive full professional productions, and two scripts will receive staged readings in this highly regarded festival of new voices.

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From left to right: Matthew Maceda of The Dumping Ground, Cassandra Hsiao of Supermarket of Lost, Katie Taylor of Pros and Cons, Eliana Dunn of Hackathon, Minh-Son Tran and Samantha Rafter of A Play on Words, and Absinthe McDonald of Turtle on a Rock.* 

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Plays by Young Writers Artistic Director Ruff Yeager with Playwrights Project’s Executive Director, Cecelia Kouma.*

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Five time California Young Playwrights Contest winner Matthew Maceda with his parents, Rebecca Cerince and Ulysses Maceda. This year, Matthew’s winning play The Dumping Ground will be produced as a full production in Program B.*

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After evaluating scripts blindly, the judges were astonished to find thatHackathon writer (Eliana Dunn; right) is the granddaughter of Playwrights Project founder. (Deborah Salzer; left).*

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Plays by Young Writers alumnus James Monroe engages attendees of Light’s Up! Playwrights Take the Stage, where contest winners and finalists were formally announced.*

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Special thanks to Something Good Catering for the lovely spread!*

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Playwright Cassandra Hsiao (Supermarket of Lost; Program A) speaks to the inspiration behind her play.*

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A Play on Words (Program B) writers Minh-Son Tran and Samantha Rafter with teacher, Arlene Gapusan. Minh-Son and Samantha wrote their winning play in Ms. Gapusan’s 8th grade classroom at Black Mountain Middle School during a Playwrights Project residency lead by Teaching Artist Wendy Waddell.*

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The first table read for The Dumping Ground by Matthew Maceda.

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Actor Wilfred Paloma reading with intensity at The Dumping Ground table read.

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Behind the scenes of a Plays by Young Writers production meeting. (From left to right: Program A Director George Yé, Costume Designer Jordyn Smiley, Sound Designer Chad Lee, The Dumping Ground director Wendy Maples, Lighting Designer Karin Filijan, and Scenic Designer Victoria Vitola).

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The technical crew arrives to view the venue, The Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre
in the Conrad Prebys Theatre Center at The Old Globe! (From left to right, bottom: Costume Designer Jordyn Smiley, Assistant Stage Manager Beonica Bullard, Production Stage Manager Charmaine Reed, Playwrights Project Executive Director Cecelia Kouma, The Dumping Ground director Wendy Maples, Pros and Cons director Phil Johnson; in rear: Artistic Director Ruff Yeager and Sound Designer Chad Lee).

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Actor Brandon Kelley rehearsing for staged reading Turtle on a Rock (Program A) as playwright Abby McDonald looks on.

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Scenic construction- in progress!

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Technical Director Andrew Young, Scenic Designer Victoria Vitola and Production Manager Kevin Six working hard to construct the set.

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Program A cast with Hackathon playwright. (From left to right: Kelly Nichole, Michelle Marie Trester, Director George Yé, playwright Eliana Dunn, Roberto Castillo, and Brandon Kelley).

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Program A actors show their excitement for another productive day of rehearsals! (Left to right: Brandon Kelley, Roberto Castillo, Gabrielle Korte, Olivia Wiese and Michelle Marie Trester).

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Technical rehearsals in progress.

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Scenic Designer Victoria Vitola and The Dumping Ground director Wendy Maples share an embrace.

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Hackathon actors rehearse on stage.

We hope you enjoyed this behind the scene peek at Plays by Young Writers, and will join us for an upcoming performance!

Buy Tickets Now for:
Opening Night: January 21 at 7:30PM
Program B: Jan. 27 at 7:30PM | Jan. 28 at 2:00PM
Program A: Jan. 28 at 7:30PM | Jan. 29 at 2:00PM

RSVP to the Plays by Young Writers Facebook event here. 

For more information, please contact Playwrights Project at (858) 384-2970 or write@playwrightsproject.org. Visit http://www.playwrightsproject.org/productions/pbyw/. 

*Photo courtesy of Geri Goodale of Reminisce Photography.

Interview with Abby McDonald, playwright of Turtle on a Rock for Plays by Young Writers 2017

January 4, 2017

Playwrights Project will produce its 32nd annual festival of Plays by Young Writers, sponsored by the Sheila and Jeffrey Lipinsky Family Fund, at The Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in the Conrad Prebys Theatre Center at The Old Globe on January 19 – January 29, 2017. The festival will feature winning scripts from its California Young Playwrights Contest for ages 18 and under.

Contest winners were selected from 365 plays submitted by students from across the state. Four scripts will receive full professional productions, and two scripts will receive staged readings in this highly regarded festival of new voices.

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Turtle on a Rock

By Abby McDonald

Age 12, San Diego

Directed by Erika Beth Phillips

In Turtle on a Rock by Abby McDonald, an unfulfilled turtle sings of his longing to find his purpose in life. This inspirational short play will be presented as a staged reading in Program A of Plays by Young Writers. Abby wrote her play during a Playwrights Project residency lead by Teaching Artist Wendy Waddell at Creative Performing and Media Arts Middle School.

How did you first get involved with writing?
I’ve always enjoyed writing. When I was really little I had lots and lots of journals that I would draw and write stories in.

Abby, you wrote Turtle on a Rock during a Playwrights Project residency at CPMA. Can you tell us about your time in the residency, who was your teacher and overall what was the most important thing you learned about writing a play?
I was in Mr. Lindsey’s 6th grade English class when Playwrights Project came to work with us. Ms. Waddell was our teacher and I had a lot of fun. Everyone was so nice and inspiring! We learned the correct way to structure a script and also got to use our imaginations when thinking up a story. I was really excited when I asked Ms. Waddell if I could write songs to include in my play and she encouraged me to do so. The most important thing I learned is that plays can be written about all kinds of different topics and that you don’t have to stick with the same topics other people write about.

Can you recall any memorable moments from your residency that you would like to share with us?
At the end of the residency, we had actors come to perform some of the plays. I asked if they would please read mine and they did! It was so amazing to see real actors reading the lines I wrote. They were really good and it made me so happy. I especially loved the actor who played turtle (J. Tyler Jones); his singing voice was wonderful!

How did you come up with the idea for your script?
After listening to a lot of the students around me, I realized that their stories mainly included humans and kind of sad stories. I really didn’t want my story to feel sad. I was trying to think up something silly and it just came to me. What if I wrote about a turtle? What if the turtle could sing? Once that came to me I thought I might try to do something like The Muppets since they always make people laugh even when times might be tough.

What themes are involved in your piece?
I think most people struggle with knowing what to do with their lives. Everyone has something they love to do and I don’t think they realize how doing what they love to do can actually help other people. Everyone is special and needed. Loving yourself and accepting yourself is important.

What is the message you hope the audience takes away with them?
Something that may seem small to you may actually mean the world to another person. Don’t underestimate yourself.

Do you plan to continue writing?
Yes! I love to write! I think I’ll write for the rest of my life. Even though it’s not a profession I think I would go into, I still like to get ideas and thoughts onto paper because it’s fun!

What do you want to be when you grow up?
I really enjoy the theatre and acting. I’m hoping to continue with that when I’m an adult. I especially hope to become a voice actor.

What advice would you give to a peer as they embark on writing their first play?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions! It’s okay to feel confused, especially when writing a play is new to you. Playwrights Project really, really loves writing, acting and everything about the stage so they encourage you and want you to be creative. Everyone is so nice and just wants to see you to do your best! Also, don’t be afraid to step outside of the box with your writing. Even when other people may not think your idea is a good one, keep going because you are getting YOUR story out into the world.

Are you currently working to develop any other plays?
Yes! Playwrights Project is at CPMA again this year and I’m currently working on a totally different kind of play. It’s great because it’s an idea I had during school last year but I never had the chance to use it on anything until now! If I’m lucky then maybe you’ll be reading about it next year!

Turtle on a Rock can be seen during Program A of Plays by Young Writers, on Saturday Jan. 28th at 7:30 PM and Sunday Jan. 29th at 2:00 PM. You may purchase tickets for Jan. 28 at 7:30 PM here, and Jan. 29 at 2:00 PM here.

For more information, please contact Playwrights Project at (858) 384-2970 or write@playwrightsproject.org. Visit http://www.playwrightsproject.org/productions/pbyw/. 

*Photo courtesy of Geri Goodale of Reminisce Photography.