Interview with Cassandra Hsiao of Plays by Young Writers’ “Fire Hazard”

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.


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.

Production photo from “Supermarket of Lost” by Cassandra Hsiao
Director George Yé, Cassandra, and Costume Designer Jordyn Smiley
Cast of “Supermarket of Lost” and Cassandra at Opening Night, 2017
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 Visit 

*Photo courtesy of Geri Goodale of Reminisce Photography.

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