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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.

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