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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.


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 Visit 

*Photo courtesy of Geri Goodale of Reminisce Photography.

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