Interview with Naomi Melville, winner of California Young Playwrights Contest 2018

Playwrights Project will produce its 34th 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 10 – 12 & 22 – 26, 2019. The festival will feature winning scripts from its California Young Playwrights Contest for ages 18 and under.

Contest winners were selected from 415 plays submitted by students from across the state. Three 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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Trash! The Musical

By Naomi Melville

Age 18, Sabre Springs

Directed by Ruff Yeager

Naomi wrote her script while attending Mt. Carmel High School, where she is Vice President of the MCHS Drama Club and Co-Captain of MCHS’s Improv Team. Naomi is also a Troupe President of the International Thespian Society and has served on La Jolla Playhouse’s Teen Council. Naomi was a finalist in the 2016 California Young Playwrights Contest. Trash the Musical is the first fully-realized musical production that Playwrights Project has produced in the 34 year history of Plays by Young Writers.

How did you first get involved with writing?

I was writing plays before I knew what playwriting was. When I was a kid, my cousins and I would put on very riveting skits for our families. Most of these early plays involved sleeping, which makes sense considering how important the subject was to me at the time. It wasn’t until middle school that I wrote an actual script, which was performed at my high school’s One Acts Festival the next year, and was a finalist in the 2016 California Young Playwrights Contest.

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

It is a joke that went too far. I told a friend I was going to write a play called Trash: The Musical! (An Autobiography) and then I accidentally did it. I started out by writing some music that introduces the characters, but when I began making cuts and editing out characters and songs, I realized, “Oh no, I’m taking this seriously!”

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Naomi and her parents Tricia and Neil at Lights Up! Playwrights Take the Stage.

What themes are involved in your piece?

Trash! The Musical mainly focuses on finding power through self-acceptance, as well as breaking cycles and taking control of one’s own life.

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

You have the power to create your own destiny, so don’t give up on yourself!  You are good enough!

Do you plan to continue writing?

Yes! As I’m applying to colleges, I’m looking for schools that offer courses in playwriting. Ideally I’d  first get a BA in Theatre and go on to get and MFA in Playwriting, but who can say for sure what the future holds?

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Festival Artistic Director Ruff Yeager and Naomi at auditions for Trash! The Musical.

What are your career goals and/or aspirations?  

I want to make a career in theatre. In addition to writing, I really enjoy acting, so I’d like to do a combination of the two. I’m also interested in trying my hand at screenwriting and acting for film, so I suppose that is also an option!

Are you currently working to develop any other plays?

At any given moment I’ve got several ideas for projects occupying my mind. I’m currently working on another musical (which has yet to be titled) about love, art, and loving art.

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

Even if you think your idea is stupid, write it. I wrote a play about trash. Your idea is not stupid. In fact, I find it’s best not to take yourself too seriously as you are writing early drafts to avoid over criticizing or sounding stiff. In other words, it should be fun!

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Naomi shares her vision with designers and directors at a production meeting.

What role have musicals played in your life? Can you recall the first musical you saw, and what are some of our favorites?  

Musicals are a part of my life that have always just kind have been there in the background. I actually can’t recall the first live musical I saw, but I do remember watching a VHS of Cats countless times as kid. I had no idea what was going on.  Some of my favorite musicals today are Matilda, Dear Evan Hansen, and, just like every other theatre kid, Hamilton.

Can you describe to us your process for composing music, as well as the role your Composition Mentor Thomas Hodges plays in the process?

The process really depends on each individual song. Usually I’ll come up with chords and melody at the same time, but sometimes I’ll have an idea for a melody and then write chords around it. More often than not I have an idea of what I want the lyrics to be while I am writing the music, but there a couple songs that didn’t have lyrics until I finished the rough draft of the play.

I’m not a very experienced musician, so Thomas Hodges was able to help me a lot. First of all, I didn’t have clear ranges for the characters, so he helped determine the ranges and adjusted the keys of songs accordingly. He also helped me figure out how to use Finale, which is the program I used to create the sheet music, and he cleaned up the music.

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Naomi attends rehearsal to talk about the script with Trash! director Ruff Yeager and an actor.

You’ve written several other plays, what differences or similarities have you found between the process of writing a musical and writing plays?

Both begin with an idea, and an indeterminate amount of time spent turning it over and sort of letting it stew in my head. When I feel like I have clear enough characters and some solid plot points to base things around, I start writing. The difference with writing Trash! The Musical is that I didn’t even touch the script until I had written most of the songs. I then wrote an outline with major plot points and where the songs should go, and as I wrote the script there were moments where I realized some songs and characters didn’t really have a place in the story, and there were also places where I felt I should add numbers.

Trash! The Musical can be seen during Program A of Plays by Young Writers, on  Saturday Jan. 26th 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.

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