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Interview with Scenic & Prop Designer Mike Buckley

February 20, 2018

Playwrights Project produced 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 featured 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 received full professional productions, and two scripts received staged readings in this highly regarded festival of new voices.

Mike Buckley teaches Theatrical Design and Scriptwriting at Southwestern College. He designs at San Diego Repertory Theatre, San Diego Musical Theatre, and Lamb’s Players Theatre. Mike has designed more than 200 productions! His designs have won four Patté Awards and two San Diego Theatre Critics Circle Awards. Mike is the scenic and prop designer for all four productions in the Plays by Young Writers Festival.

 

What’s your vision for this year’s plays, and what themes connect the various plays?

My vision for this year’s plays is to serve the writers. As a writer myself, I want to always make sure that the visuals serve the scripts and not draw attention to themselves.

The theme that I think connects each of the scripts is “growing up”, which is understandable considering that each of the playwrights are in the process of growing up and becoming young adults. In Some-Body the characters are learning about death and discovering how mortality affects their individual journeys. In Fire Hazard the characters are learning about how their preconceptions of people who are different need to be probed and challenged. In Idiot, I’m Great the characters are navigating the treacherous waters of romance and the awkward teenage phase of life. In Sina and the Eel the characters are discovering their inner strengths and the tough choices that accompany leadership. It all boils down to the wonderful, but often painful process of becoming an adult.

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Actors tearing apart Mike’s prop books in Idiot, I’m Great

How was it beneficial to design both the sets and the props for the festival? How was this experience different from a more traditional experience where there are separate designers for each area?

Designing both the sets and the props for this production was a plus because there was such a crossover between the two. Are the stools that get moved around the stage set pieces or props? They’re both, really, and so it made sense for me to design both. Even as I reconcile my receipts, it’s difficult to divide them into two budget categories. I’ve designed both for many professional productions, so it was nothing new to me, but it is always easier when I can design just the set and delegate a problematic item to the prop designer!

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Sina and the Eel uses flags made of Chinese silk to symbolize the ocean and sky

The Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre is a theater in the round with audience members on all four sides of the stage. What challenges does this present for you as a scenic designer?

I cut my teeth as a young professional designer in the old Lambs Players arena theatre in National City (which was recently razed – sniff!), so I’m quite comfortable designing in the round, but it is a tricky skill to master. In the round, you can’t block anyone’s view of the stage, or even make them THINK that they can’t see everything. So designing in the round requires that you make a visual statement both above and below the set. Your floor has to be really interesting and it’s always a good idea to have overhead elements (although it drives Lighting Designers crazy!). The floor for this production was challenging, in that it needed to be so versatile. It needed to suggest tropical sand for Sina and the Eel, dirt or concrete for Some-Body, utilitarian high school linoleum for Fire Hazard, and multiple locales for Idiot, I’m Great. I chose a neutral texture with a caramel base color and fuchsia and turquoise spattering to react to color changes in the lighting. If I were designing for just one of these scripts, I would’ve made completely different choices, but this floor needed to be a jack of all trades to serve them all.

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Mike shares his design for the stage floor at a production meeting

What do you hope the young playwrights will learn from this opportunity to see their play produced?

As I tell my scriptwriting students, there’s simply NOTHING like the rush you get when something that was just an idea in your head actually materializes onstage! It’s such a thrill and I sort of envy each of these playwrights as they get to experience it for the first time! If nothing else, I hope it instills in each of them the confidence of knowing that they each have a powerful personal story that only they can tell and that the world is waiting to hear. I also hope that it plants a seed in the young audience members’ minds that maybe they could try their hand at telling THEIR stories.

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Sina and the Eel by Kiegan Lee features an amazing coconut tree of Mike’s design

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Mike shares details about his designs to (from left) playwright Savannah Spatafora, Festival Artistic Director Ruff Yeager, and Program B Director George Ye.

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Mike’s multi-purpose scenic design in Some-Body by Tan’yeasia Brewster

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Interview with Costume Designer Jordyn Smiley

February 20, 2018

Playwrights Project produced 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 featured 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 received full professional productions, and two scripts received staged readings in this highly regarded festival of new voices.

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Jordyn Smiley teaches Costuming and Makeup at Mesa College and Mira Costa College. She has built costumes for The Old Globe, McCarter Theatre, Two River Theatre, and Disney Imagineering. This is her second year designing costumers for the Plays by Young Writers Festival.

What was your vision for the plays this year?

Since each of the plays are so different, it’s hard to come up with a singular vision for all of them.  My main goal as the costume designer was to help the audience understand the characters, their struggles and conflicts, and hopefully see them as someone they can relate to.  I stay true to the playwright’s original vision while adding levels of depth to the story through the characters’ appearances.  For example, in Fire Hazard, it was very important to me that the two characters look like realistic high schoolers, but be vastly visually different.  I wanted to show the disparity between them, and how they’ve been treated by society, their peers and their family has effected their attitude, which gets reflected in their costumes.  What someone looks like when they are trying to show that they have it all together, versus someone who has been burned by the system so many times that he is over trying to impress.

When designing Sina and the Eel, however, I wanted to keep the fantasy / folklore feeling, and not have the costumes be too grounded in reality.  I pulled elements from different Polynesian cultures, used a mix of colors and prints, and found an elements of each character to focus on.  For example, at the end we find out that Sina may become the Goddess of the Moon because of her beauty, so there are certain hints to that in her costume, and her dress is fitted with a flowy skirt to emphasize her innocence.  Kahia on the other hand is a stronger, more warrior-like woman, who is ready to fight for her people.  I chose to put her in a sarong with a fitted halter tank to show that she has deep tribal roots, and manages to dress in clothes that would be easy for her to move in.

What are some images that come to mind when you’re conceptualizing the costumes for this year’s plays?

I guess for Sina and the Eel, it was Maori tattoos, bark cloth dress, and Hula Ki’i puppets.  For Some-Body, I have this one picture I found in the very beginning of the process that really struck me.  It’s a shot of three kids on bikes, 2 boys and a girl.  They are standing next to each other on their bikes and they have their arms around each other’s shoulders.  To me, that image portrayed such strong friendship and a carefree innocence of youth, that I wanted to transfer to my costumes for those characters.  By using bring colors and graphic prints, I think I was able to do this successfully.  The kids in the play encounter something very serious, but it’s how they let their imagination transform the possibilities of a situation that reminds us that they are only kids.

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Cast of Some-Body in Jordyn’s costume designs

 

What questions did you ask the characters as you started to visualize them?

I always start with the basics, like how old are they, what is their personality, what do they like / dislike, where are they from, what season is it, where does the play take place, etc.  Then I move onto more detailed questions, like what is important to them, what do they want, how do they feel about life, do they have a lot of friends, how much time did they spend putting together their outfit?  What do they want others to know (or not know) about them?  Is there anything about the character that gets revealed later on during the play that I can hint at?  Is there another hidden layer to this person that I can show?

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

I hope the young playwrights learn about what it means to bring a play to life, and what a rewarding experience it can be to collaborate with a team of actors, directors, designers, stage managers and crew!  There is so much that goes into the process, and if you open yourself up to the creative experience, and explore possibilities, the result can be amazing!  Mostly I hope that the playwrights are happy with how we’ve presented their work, and enjoyed their experience so much that they are inspired to continue writing plays!

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Director George Ye, Fire Hazard Playwright Cassandra, and Costume Designer Jordyn Smiley

 

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Jordyn sharing her vision to Playwright Savannah Spatafora at a production meeting

 

Interview with Aisling Archdeacon, winner of California Young Playwrights Contest 2017

January 27, 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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Alone on the Playground

By Aisling Archdeacon

Age 11, Carlsbad

Directed by Ruff Yeager

Aisling wrote her play in fifth grade at St. Patrick Catholic School in a Playwrights Project residency. Now a year older, she continues to love and pursue writing, especially fantasy. For Aisling, reading and writing stories is a way to express herself, a way to escape and to go to places where anything is possible. Winning a staged reading from Playwrights Project is her first experience with theater! In her spare time, she’s either curled up in an armchair reading a book or playing soccer with her friends.

How did you first get involved in writing?

Writing is a subject at my school for grades three and up, so I have been doing it for a while and really enjoy it. We usually do a unit, in which there is maybe ten lessons, and then at the end of that unit we do a workshop, in which we each write, revise, and edit a piece (such as an autobiographical incident, a friendly letter, a descriptive essay, etc.). I got involved in playwriting through the drama program at my school, in which we wrote a couple short scripts as activities in the years before fifth grade, when we did the Playwright’s Project residency.

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

I remember it happened the day of our second class with Mr. Steve, the Playwright’s Project mentor, and I was talking with my friends about ideas for our play, which we were supposed to have decided on by the that class. I knew I wanted it to be fiction, and about friendship, but I had yet to decide the characters. I didn’t want them to be humans, though. A friend suggested they should be things that go together, like Cookies and Milk, and Ketchup and Mustard. I liked that idea, but I wanted there to be three of them, so Rock, Paper, and Scissors were born!

What themes are involved in your piece?

My major one was friendship, of course, but some others were acceptance, kindness, perseverance, and growth. I wanted, by the end of the play, to show the characters grow and change for the better. I wanted to show them (especially Paper) growing to be more kind and accepting to one another, because I believe those changes are essential in making and becoming friends.

What is the message you hope the audience will take away with them?

I want to show them, most of all, that true friendships are always worth the challenges that come with them, and true friends accept each other for who they are, but also help each other become their best selves.

Do you plan to continue writing?

Yes! I love to write and writing is one of my favorite subjects. I enjoy crafting a piece and I love that I can write about the things I like and am interested in. I feel amazing when I find the perfect words to express something.

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

I often change my mind, but right now I think I’d like to be some sort of doctor- maybe a surgeon. In fourth grade I had an amazing science teacher who really inspired me to learn about the human body through many great experiments and examples. I think being a doctor is a great profession- you can help so many people every day and so many people place their loved ones’ lives in doctors hands which, though it would intimidating, would also would be very humbling.

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

I would tell them to work the play out in their head first, so that they can have a picture for the location and expressions on the characters’ faces. I find that always helps me out when I’m writing something, especially when I don’t have an idea of what to write about. It makes the actual writing of the piece go a lot quicker. If you already have a painting in your mind of what you want it to look like it shows through in your piece, and the reader or audience sees that picture too.

Are you currently working to develop any other plays?

Not a play, but my friend and I are always on the lookout for writing competitions, which we do together, helping each other out with the revisions and editing of our pieces. Right now we are writing stories for the Bluefire $1000 for 1000 Words Contest, in which your piece has to be exactly 1000 words.

Can you tell us more about your time in the residency, who was your teacher, and overall what was the most important thing you learned about writing a play?

My teacher, Mr. Steve, was a very funny teacher and a ton of fun to be around! Writing my play came so much easier thanks to his helpful and supportive tips. He came in once a week, every Wednesday afternoon, to teach us. I remember he would usually start off with a little lesson and then we’d all get out our computers to work on our plays. He taught us proper formatting, how to make our plays engage and entertain a reader, and how to make sure that your play’s conflict wasn’t solved too easily, making the play boring. This last tip in particular stuck with me. I was at the point where I was writing the climax of my play, but I was having trouble coming up with a strong ending to make my characters’ happily ever after come true. He gave me the idea of a double problem- first having a main conflict, having the solution go wrong, and then having the characters fix that problem. I’d say that was the most helpful and supportive tip he gave, along with letting yourself and your interests shine through in your play.

What has been a memorable moment from your revision process, whether it be in the classroom or working with your dramaturg Aleta Barthell?

The most memorable part of the revision process for me was probably going over my script with Mrs. Barthell, my dramaturg, after reading it aloud with a couple of actors. She had a lot of great ideas and points to make, and when I made the revisions later I really felt as though the play was more polished and went far more smoothly.

Alone on the Playground can be seen during Program A of Plays by Young Writers, on Saturday Jan. 27th at 7:30 PM. 

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 Kiegan Lee, winner of California Young Playwrights Contest 2017

January 27, 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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Kiegan is a Freshman at the University of Southern California where she is pursuing a BFA degree in Sound Design with a minor in Cinematic Arts. She is a member of the  Spirit of Troy Drumline and travels the country performing for the Trojan Football team. Her hobbies include movie scores, water polo, astronomy, drumming, her pet axolotls, and the occasional written word or two.

Sina and the Eel

By Kiegan Lee

Age 16, Aptos

Directed by Ruff Yeager

How did you first get involved with writing?

This play was the first thing I’ve ever really written other than school essays. Then I just never stopped writing after that.

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

I was heavily inspired by the production of The River Bride by Marisela Treviño Orta at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It’s based on Brazilian folklore about a man who can transform into a dolphin. I thought the blend of oral legend and modern themes/issues worked beautifully, and my imitation of the same effect is evident in Sina and the Eel. I started looking for folk stories that would lend themselves to an open interpretation that could form a story and the Samoan tale Mata o Le Alelo was exactly what I was looking for.

What themes are involved in your piece?

The most important theme is that you can’t wait for other people to save you– sometimes you have to step up and be your own hero.

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

I want everyone in the audience,especially the young women, to take away that they can be the heroes in their own story.

 

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Behind the scenes of tech rehearsal for Sina and the Eel

 Do you plan to continue writing?

I’m always writing, but whether or not I write another play depends on whether or not an idea jumps out at me. Recently I’ve been writing short stories and poetry.

 What are your career goals and/or aspirations?

I’m studying to be a sound designer at the University of Southern California (fight on!).My penultimate goal is to become a renowned cinematic sound designer and win an Oscar. Then I’d like to establish a scholarship foundation that encourages young women to get more involved in the technical sides of theatre and cinema. I’d love to go to law school at some point too… but for now it’s all sound effects and scores all day!

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

Read Stephen King’s On Writing. Get friends involved (as many as you trust). It’s okay to take criticism personally— get mad about it and return to your work with twice the fervor. Scrap your first drafts if you have to!

 Are you currently working to develop any other plays?

I just finished a short one act play called The Golden Hour and I’m working on a genuine full-length play called Eight-Ball Theory of Destiny. The latter might end up being a novel though- we’ll see where it goes.

I understand your play was originally written to be performed by peers from your drama class. How did that shape your original draft?

Many of the original characters in the first draft were based on people who would prospectively be cast in the first production at my high school. That definitely made me write tentatively and place words more carefully. You won’t find any of that same reservation in the revised version for the Playwrights Project. 

How would you compare the process of revising the play for your drama class to revising your play for the festival?

I barely revised my play at all for my drama class. After I scrapped the first prototype draft and started from scratch, I started working with my good friend Sydney Bowdoin, who edited the play as I wrote. Other than the few lines added and changed during the rehearsal process by the actors, the draft edited by Sydney is the one that went up on stage at Aptos High. For the Playwrights Project I had to cut entire scenes and characters to reach an appropriate length. Sydney Bowdoin’s editing was instrumental to the production of the original script. If it weren’t for her there would be no Sina and the Eel.

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Kiegan at auditions for Plays by Young Writers

Sina and the Eel 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 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.

 

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.