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Interview with Savannah Spatafora, writer of “Idiot, I’m Great” for Plays by Young Writers 2018

January 19, 2018

Playwrights Project will produce its 33rd annual festival of Plays by Young Writers at The Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in the Conrad Prebys Theatre Center at The Old Globe on January 20 – January 27, 2018. The festival will feature winning scripts from its California Young Playwrights Contest for ages 18 and under.

Contest winners were selected from 432 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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Savannah is from New York City and is now a senior at John Burroughs High School in Burbank, California where she has lived for the last 7 years. She was a semi-finalist at the Blank Theater’s Young Playwright’s Festival and won the Young Arts Foundation Competition in the Writing/Plays or Scripts category. She would like to thank her cat, Momo, for always sleeping on her computer keyboard while she was trying to write this play. She plans to continue writing forever and keep being awesome.

Idiot, I’m Great

By Savannah Spatafora

Age 16, Burbank

Directed by George Yé

How did you first get involved with writing?

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember but really got serious about it around six years ago. I started at an acting studio and began to realize that meaningful scenes for young people are few and far between, so I decided to write some of my own.  Later, our studio started a writing lab so I slowly began to write monologues and then eventually scenes and plays.

How did you come up with the idea for your script?

I came up with this idea because I think we all, as a society, have expectations of how things should be, whether that’s relationships or even just life in general. So in this play I was really trying to explore what happens when you realize that not everything can be so controlled and precise.

What themes are involved in your piece?

I think the main thing really is the sort of perception of how someone imagined their life would turn out and also just the kind of confrontation young teens have with their own sense of meaning and purpose. Also boys are weird.

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Savannah laughs while discussing her play with director George Ye (left) and Scenic and Properties Designer Mike Buckley (right).

What is the message you hope the audience takes away with them?

Just that you really can’t make someone the way you want them to be. You have to just be okay with who they are. Also there’s nothing wrong with strong girls who know what they want.

Do you plan to continue writing?

I absolutely do. I’ll be going to college next year and I hope to study playwriting or film/television writing. It’s pretty safe to say at this point that writing is “my thing” so I think I’m going to stick with it.

What are your career goals and/or aspirations?  

I would love to be able to write for TV and Film while also writing and producing plays on the side and possibly directing too. I also would love to start a sanctuary for cows, but that’s unrelated.

What advice would you give to a peer as they embark on writing their first play?

So many people wonder how to start a play and my advice is pretty simple (and I may or may not have plagiarized it from Nike): Just do it. There’s no easy way to start a play. Just start writing and make it happen.

Are you currently working to develop any other plays?

I actually just finished the first draft of another play Brace Yourself and am starting work on a short film adaptation of another scene I wrote.

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Backstage, Savannah and actor Ramon Villa explore subtleties of Idiot, I’m Great‘s William.

 Our contest evaluators have described your writing as “original and provocative,” and your unique voice materializes strongly through your characters’ dialogue. How would you describe your journey of “finding your voice” as a playwright? If you have found inspiration in other writers or artists, how has that influenced your process?

Honestly, I’m still developing my voice as a writer and I really think it is an ever-evolving process because so many things affect how I write and it changes from day to day. I do acknowledge that I have a unique voice, though. I think a lot of that came out of me not caring about what anyone thinks except myself. Also, one of my biggest writing goals in general is to write plays where characters talk like “real people” so anyone watching the show can say, “Hey they actually talk like my friends and I do in real life”.

Idiot, I’m Great can be seen during Program B of Plays by Young Writers, on Saturday Jan. 20th at 7:30 PM, on Friday Jan. 26th at 7:30 PM, and on Saturday Jan. 27th at 2:00 PM. You may purchase tickets for Jan. 20th at 7:30 PM here, tickets for Jan. 26th at 7:30 PM here, tickets for Jan. 27th 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.

 

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Interview with Tan’yeasia Brewster, writer of Some-Body for Program A of Play by Young Writers 2018

January 16, 2018

Playwrights Project will produce its 33rd annual festival of Plays by Young Writers at The Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in the Conrad Prebys Theatre Center at The Old Globe on January 20 – January 27, 2018. The festival will feature winning scripts from its California Young Playwrights Contest for ages 18 and under.

Contest winners were selected from 432 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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Tan’yeasia with Artistic Director Ruff Yeager and Executive Director Cecelia Kouma

Tan’yeasia is a senior at Nuview Bridge Early College High School in Nuevo, California. Not a stranger to theatre, she’s performed in community theatre shows and is one of the leaders of her high school’s thespian troupe, 8117. After many years on the stage she is excited to be in the audience to watch her first play escape the page and come to life. Tan’yeasia plans on pursuing writing as a career and aspires to be a professional screenwriter.

Some-Body

By Tan’yeasia Brewster

Age 17, Moreno Valley

Directed by Ruff Yeager

How did you first get involved with writing?

Writing has been a part of my life for a very long time. As a child I loved to read books, and eventually I decided that I wanted to write my own. It wasn’t until 5th grade when my teacher read a short story I wrote and pulled me aside to tell me how much she enjoyed it, that I realized this was something that I truly wanted to do. I’ve been writing stories ever since.

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Tan’yeasia listens to Artistic Director Ruff Yeager and her dramaturg Tina Brown discuss elements of her script

How did you come up with the idea for your script?

I’m not really sure how Some-Body became a script. It was an incredibly slow process. As much as I would’ve appreciated to have just woke up one day with the idea in my mind, that’s not how it happened. The characters came first. Initially, Andrea wasn’t Andrea but a young girl named Drea. I floated her around many drafts with many different plots until she stuck to Some-Body.  I knew that I wanted a young character with ambition, naivety, and all the qualities some people wish they still had when they grew up. Around this time I also came up with Theo, but wasn’t entirely sure who he would be as I still didn’t have a plot. I just knew I wanted a story with a child that dealt with growth in some way. Within that, the idea of a body came into play. I wanted to have three children find a body and instead of telling the police, they play detective and come up with their own ideas about who this body could be.

What themes are involved in your piece? Your play focuses on three children who are processing their understanding of death, what fascinates you about this exploration?  

The theme for the story came right after I decided what characters I wanted to have. I wanted to write something that deals with a parallel between ambition and no ambition, young and old, alive and dead. When you’re young, you have your entire life ahead of you. You have ideas for a future, of who you want to be and what you want to do. Everyone is someone. Yet to Andrea, Marcus, and Theo this body is both no one and everyone all at once. It is Some-Body, but they’re just not sure who exactly. The body allows the children to think about all their sadness and wants. This body allows Andrea to grieve her Grandma’s death,  Theo to think about a father he never got to meet, and Marcus to realize how much he wishes his father was much more involved. I think it’s interesting to be someone at the very start of their life, coming to terms with someone who is at their end.

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A photo from rehearsal for Some-Body

What is the message you hope the audience takes away with them?

Children’s emotions are valid. At some point in my life I have been Andrea, Theo and Marcus. I have been a child who has dealt with grief and sadness, but because I was a child my grief wasn’t validated. No matter the age, we all have pain, wants, and sadness. I hope this play makes the audience feel something. I hope it invokes some sort of emotion within them.

Do you plan to continue writing? What are your career goals and/or aspirations?  

I’m currently a senior in high school and it’s college acceptances/rejections season. I’ve decided to major in Screenwriting and am  hoping to get into film school. Regardless, I plan on writing screenplays and hope to find some success in creating stories for film.

What advice would you give to a peer as they embark on writing their first play?

Just do it. The hardest part of writing isn’t even writing. It is when you get too caught up in your own self-doubt that it becomes hard. It takes a long time to ignore the insecurities and the self-doubt and just write the story you’d want to hear/read/watch. In writing, Some-Body I wasted a lot of time deleting, rewriting, and completely scrapping ideas because I felt like they weren’t good enough. It was only when I allowed an idea to truly develop that I found some success in it. My advice is to let yourself go in the process.Focus on your story instead of the, “What if this isn’t good enough.” Because you’ll never know until you actually write it.

Are you currently working to develop any other plays?

I’m hoping to have my second play completed by January. It’s going to be another 30 minute one act, titled Placebo. I’m in the earlier stages of this play, so I’m not entirely sure what it’ll be about. So far it’s about a character who doesn’t know how to truly process emotions.

You use an intriguing theatrical devises in you play, how would you describe the style of your play? What inspired this style? Please share with us some pieces of your play’s development process.

The first scene that I wrote is the scene where Marcus, Theo, Andrea and the body begin to act out their own idea about who this body could be. This scene truly uses the suspension of disbelief, where we all know this isn’t actually happening but we pretend that it is regardless. The body isn’t really moving, but for a couple minutes it gets to. This scene kind of sums up what Some-Body is. It’s the  idea that everyone has a story– we may not know what it is exactly but we do know it’s something. I think we often make up stories for other people. In my normal life if I see a stranger driving in their car or walking on the sidewalk I like to imagine where they’re going, who they are, and what their goals are. I like that my characters are able to do the same thing.

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Tan’yeasia at a production meeting, talking about her vision for her play with Artistic Director Ruff Yeager (left) and Scenic and Properties Designer Mike Buckley (center)

Some-Body can be seen during Program A of Plays by Young Writers, on Saturday Jan. 20th at 7:30 PM and Saturday Jan. 27th at 7:30 PM. You may purchase tickets for Jan. 20th at 7:30 PM here and tickets for Jan. 27th at 7:30 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 of Plays by Young Writers’ “Fire Hazard”

January 12, 2018

Playwrights Project will produce its 33rd annual festival of Plays by Young Writers at The Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in the Conrad Prebys Theatre Center at The Old Globe on January 20 – January 27, 2018. The festival will feature winning scripts from its California Young Playwrights Contest for ages 18 and under.

Contest winners were selected from 432 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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Fire Hazard

By Cassandra Hsiao

Age 17, Walnut

Directed by George Yé

Cassandra is a first-year at Yale University, majoring in Theater Studies and Humanities to further her passion of storytelling. She is so excited to be a part of Plays by Young Writers Festival for a second time. Her play, Supermarket of Lost, was chosen as a California Young Playwrights Contest winner and produced during Plays by Young Writers last year, and won numerous other national playwriting competitions held by Writopia Labs, The Blank Theatre, Princeton University, and YouthPLAYS.

 

How did you first get involved with writing?

I started writing stories when I was in 2nd grade. My elementary school teacher saw something in me and encouraged me to pursue it further. In addition to writing poetry, I wrote “novels” throughout elementary and middle school, stories that were an amalgamation of my favorite books and characters. In freshman year of high school, I was introduced to the wonderful world of playwriting–before that I had no idea you could make a career out of telling stories that literally come to life. Thanks to my wonderful dramaturg, Tira Palmquist, I began to find my voice as a young playwright.

How did you come up with the idea for your script?

Fire Hazard was inspired by a prompt my school gave: The Waiting Room. I wanted to write a play that took place in the waiting room of a principal’s office, involving who I believed to be two very different students accused of drastically different crimes. From there it took on a life of its own as I began to unlock the backgrounds and lives of these two teenagers.

What themes are involved in your piece?

I wanted to explore the ideas of race, class, and privilege; how those themes manifest in the day-to-day lives of students, and how they affect interaction between students. I also wanted to explore identity, and how privilege can allow identity to be manipulated to one’s own advantage. It was also important to me to show that even though these two characters may seem very different, they ultimately have things in common that allow them to connect with each other.

What is the message you hope the audience takes away with them?

I hope the audience leaves the theater thinking about the future of these characters, and perhaps what they themselves would do if they were in these characters’ position.

Do you plan to continue writing?

100%! It’s my life’s mission to tell stories that bring hope and healing.

What are your career goals and/or aspirations 

I know I will be a storyteller of some sort, and I am excited to explore all mediums, whether it is in journalism, film, theater, or literature.

What advice would you give to a peer as they embark on writing their first play?

My inspiration often comes from reading the news–truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Also, you start to notice certain elements in news repeat themselves, highlighting some aspect of human nature. As you’re writing the play, people-watch and people-listen! This will make the play believable and compelling.

Are you currently working to develop any other plays?

I am working on two one acts and one long play!

The relationship between education and privilege is a topic explored in your play. Has your opinion on this topic shifted throughout your years of education (especially now as a college student) and if so, how has it changed over time? What is the value in creating an open dialogue among students about privilege?

There is much more discussion of privilege in college, simply because of the diversity of the student body. However, growing up in a liberal arts high school I was also privy to many of these discussions, which I think opened my eyes as a playwright into being more aware of what kind of characters I was writing, and whose stories I was telling. Being in college has only furthered my desire to include more diversity in my plays and use theater as a vehicle to further examine our society. I believe change truly does start with discussion, and I hope an open dialogue among students will prompt them to think about the privileges that they do have and what they will do with that privilege.

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Production photo from “Supermarket of Lost” by Cassandra Hsiao

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Director George Yé, Cassandra, and Costume Designer Jordyn Smiley

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Cast of “Supermarket of Lost” and Cassandra at Opening Night, 2017

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Cassandra outside of The Sheryl and Harvey White Theater at The Old Globe

Fire Hazard can be seen during Program B of Plays by Young Writers, on Saturday Jan. 20th at 7:30 PM, on Friday Jan. 26th at 7:30 PM, and on Saturday Jan. 27th at 2:00 PM. You may purchase tickets for Jan. 20th at 7:30 PM here, tickets for Jan. 26th at 7:30 PM here, tickets for Jan. 27th 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 Sofia Miller, winner of California Young Playwrights Contest 2017

January 9, 2018

Playwrights Project will produce its 33rd annual festival of Plays by Young Writers at The Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in the Conrad Prebys Theatre Center at The Old Globe on January 20 – January 27, 2018. The festival will feature winning scripts from its California Young Playwrights Contest for ages 18 and under.

Contest winners were selected from 432 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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Sofia is a freshman at Westview High School and a member of the Creative Writing Club. While this was her first time writing a play, Sofia has had a passion for writing throughout her life. She will continue to develop her skills by writing both plays and novels. Sofia enjoys theatre immensely– some of her favorite musicals are In the Heights and Vanities. Her other creative outlets and interests include drawing, painting, and jewelry making. She aspires to write professionally as a future career.

A Life or Death Situation

By Sofia Miller

Age 14, San Diego

Directed by George Yé

 

How did you first get involved with writing?

I’m told that when I was in preschool, I would pick up books and make up my own stories from the pictures instead of listening to my mom read them. Storytelling and writing is something that has always been a strong presence throughout my life.

How did you come up with the idea for your script?

I don’t actually remember when the idea came to me, but I’ve always been interested in “what if” stories that personify intangible thoughts or ideas. Life and death are both fairly tangible, but I wanted to explore who they would appear as and how they would interact with each other.

What themes are involved in your piece?

My play involves the physical barriers that we often let divide us and how those divisions can heal.

What is the message you hope the audience takes away with them?

I hope the audience will take away the importance of seeing beyond differences in order to come to an understanding of one another.

Do you plan to continue writing?

I plan to continue writing for hopefully the rest of my life. I want to inspire others with my words. Writing is no longer a hobby for me. It’s something that I feel I must do, which is why I’m currently working toward completing my first novel.

What do you want to be when you grow up, and why?

I know that writing will be a part of my future regardless of what career I choose. It’s such a challenging profession to be in, but there are stories inside me that I need to share.

What advice would you give to a peer as they embark on writing their first play?

Write faster than you think you can. I was assigned to write one scene  every two days as homework, and that crunch time was the best thing for me. If you don’t give yourself a deadline, you’re never going to start. So set a goal and write.

Are you currently working to develop any other plays?

I have some ideas for my next play and would like to submit to Playwrights Project next year. For now, my main focus will be on writing my novel.

You wrote A Life or Death Situation during a Playwrights Project residency at Black Mountain Middle School. 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? What has been a memorable moment from your revision process, whether it be within the classroom or working with your dramaturg Thelma deCastro?

I am extremely thankful that Ms. Gapusan, my teacher, and Ms. Waddell brought the Playwrights Project to our classroom. It was such a wonderful opportunity for all of the students to get creative and have their voices heard. In writing my play, I learned to pay attention to conflict and strain between characters (or between a character, if there’s an internal struggle) to engage the audience. During the revision process with Thelma de Castro, I learned that in a good play even the smallest lines play a part toward conveying a larger message.

I am so grateful for this incredible learning experience and the opportunity to work with professionals to improve my writing.

A Life or Death Situation can be seen during Program B of Plays by Young Writers, on Friday Jan. 26th at 7:30 PM, and on Saturday Jan. 27th at 2:00 PM. You may purchase tickets for Jan. 26th at 7:30 PM here and tickets for Jan. 27th 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 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.

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.