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Interview with Katie Taylor, writer of Pros and Cons for Plays by Young Writers 2017

December 28, 2016

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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Pros and Cons

By Katie Taylor

Ages 18, Woodlake

Directed by Phil Johnson

Katie is a student at the College of the Sequoias. Her winning play, Pros and Cons is a clever farce about formerly incarcerated friends who reunite for a fresh start as they reenter society. Despite their altruistic efforts, old habits die hard and whacky escapades ensue. In the playwright’s words, “the road to comedy is paved with good intentions.”

How did you first get involved with writing?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I first developed a love of storytelling from my family; my parents and siblings read to me, constantly, until I learned how to read for myself. After that, of course, my favorite authors helped me along. It began with Carolyn Keene, Madeline L’Engle, etc., and in later years has turned to Austen, King, Tolkien, Pratchett, you name it. I’ve always wanted to be able to do the same things that my favorite authors do, and make people think in the way that their books have made me think.

Your play is a farcical comedy about the serious subject of incarceration. How do comedic conventions help artists such as yourself delve into such complicated subject matter?

Comedy is my first answer to any question. In this particular instance, I drew a lot of inspiration from Donald E. Westlake’s hilarious fictional crime books. The characters, though seemingly unlikable criminals, are made lovable to the audience through Westlake’s writing style. I wanted to do something similar in this play. I wanted my audience to be able to look at a very real subject, one that is perhaps not pleasant, or very talked about, and be thinking about it without realizing that they are thinking about it. I think that good art always leaves the audience with more questions than they came in with, and less answers. And if you can get them to laugh while thinking, so much the better.

 

How did you come up with the idea for your script?
Lots and lots of brainstorming in different directions with different friends. I think that the initial breakthrough came one day when joking around with a good friend of mine; he was once falsely accused for a rather serious crime. Somehow, we came to the question: what if he started thinking that he had actually committed the crime, even though he hadn’t? What if, because of people inadvertently playing tricks on him, he became convinced that he was guilty? And that was very much the direction of the original script, although it changed so much in the process that that original idea is no longer in play. But bouncing that one idea off of three different friends is what solidified the base for the script which is now being produced.

 

What themes are involved in your piece?
I’d say the biggest themes are centered around important questions: why do we love people? Why do we trust people? Do you define a person by their actions, their words, or something else entirely?

 

What is the message you hope the audience takes away with them?
Again, I’d much rather my audience take away questions than answers. I want them to take away a laugh, and I want the questions that I bring up to stay with them after they leave the theater.

 

Do you plan to continue writing?
Absolutely. I’ll never stop writing.

What are your career goals and/or aspirations?
Right now, I’m looking to graduate with a B.A. in English, and work as an editor for a publishing house. It’s always been a distant goal of mine to teach English at a community college, as my English teachers have always been my personal heroes, but that is nowhere in the near future.

What advice would you give to a peer as they embark on writing their first play?
In addition to English classes, and reading, and however else you better your writing, take some acting classes. Or, if you can’t do that, talk to actors about how they go about their roles, and talk to directors about how they approach a script. Nothing has helped me more with character development and motivation than the acting training I’ve had. Also, the more you work hands-on with plays, the more comfortable you become with how they work, how they flow, what they require. Onstage or backstage, I believe that experience in the theatre is invaluable to a playwright.

Are you currently working to develop any other plays?
Definitely! I’ve learned so much during this editing process with my Dramaturg, Ruff Yeager, and I’m anxious to apply it elsewhere. My first editing project is the play I submitted last year, How To Strike a Match. (Katie’s play How To Strike a Match was a semi-finalist in the 2015 California Young Playwrights Contest.) Then, I’d like also to clean up the full version of Pros and Cons, which was cut shorter for the festival, but has much editing to be done in its entirety. After these are done, I’m excited to start writing a play that’s been on the back burner for about six months, which is centered around a high school clique.

 

Pros and Cons can be seen during Program B of Plays by Young Writers, on Friday Jan. 27th at 7:30 PM and Saturday Jan. 28th at 2:00 PM. You may purchase tickets for Fri. Jan. 27 at 7:30 PM here, and for Sat. Jan. 28th at 2 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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Interview with Matthew Maceda, writer of The Dumping Ground for Plays by Young Writers

December 21, 2016

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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Photo by Geri Goodale

The Dumping Ground

By Matthew Maceda

Age 17, Rancho Peñasquitos

Directed by Wendy Maples

Matthew first won the contest back in 2011 with his play, From Underdog to Top Rhino (co-written with student Eric Pak) developed in a playwriting class at Mesa Verde Middle School with Playwright Project’s Founder Deborah Salzer. From Underdog to Top Rhino was produced as a staged reading during Plays by Young Writers, and Matthew’s subsequent winning works received staged readings again in both 2012 and 2013 with his plays The Trial of Wolf vs. Pig (Where the Three Little Pigs take their trials to the courtroom to accuse Wolf of foul play) and Pound  (Which features a pampered pup named Princess who forms unlikely friendships when she is thrown into “the big dog house” with some “ruff” company). Matthew received his first full production in 2014 with Coffee, Cream, & Closure, which tells the story of Felicia, a busy career woman who seeks the help of a medium to re-examine her relationship with her family. This year’s winning play  by Matthew, The Dumping Ground, depicts the story of Mark, a high school student whose promposal doesn’t end exactly as he planned. As he struggles with the aftermath, he learns valuable life lessons from supportive mentors.

Matthew- this year marks your 5th time winning the California Young Playwrights Contest… WOW! Congratulations! Can you tell us how you have grown as a playwright through the festival over the years?
Over the course of my time with Playwrights Project, I have learned that the best stories are not those that contain very dramatic or action-packed plots. With each play I have written, I have turned my focus more on creating stories that are more driven by character development. I have learned the importance of knowing my characters inside and out.

How did you first get involved with writing?
My 6th grade teacher had a Playwrights Project residency program in her class. The experience was so much fun! I co-wrote a short four-scene play with a friend. We decided to submit it into the contest, and the rest is history.

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Photo by Mel Yonzon

Above: Matthew (left) in 2011 after winning the California Young Playwrights Contest for the first time with the play From Underdog to Top Rhino, co-written with student Eric Pak (right).

How did you come up with the idea for your script?
My play is based around real life experience. Just like my main character, I too was turned down for prom. At the same time, I knew I wanted to submit a play for the contest. I was actually really grateful that I had the opportunity to change something that was initially embarrassing into a creative process that was really enjoyable, fun, and full of laughs. Don’t worry though, someone else ended up asking me to prom, and I still ended up having a great time.

What themes are involved in your piece?
The Dumping Ground is centered around losing relationships – whether it be a breakup, a divorce, or a death of a loved one – and how people handle these tough situations.

What is the message you hope the audience takes away with them?
I’m hoping that people in the audience, no matter what age, can remember that everyone has embarrassing moments in relationships. While people might not know why some [relationships] do not work out, what truly matters is cherishing the ones that are still strong.

What are your career goals and/or aspirations?
After watching the television series, Grey’s Anatomy, in order to study the screenwriting style of Shonda Rhimes, I had the revelation that I want to pursue a career in medicine, possibly as a surgeon or physical therapist.

What advice would you give to a peer as they embark on writing their first play?
Never underestimate the value of your own life story. The best plot (and the most relatable to an audience) is probably connected to your own experiences.

Are you currently working to develop any other plays?
I have so many ideas for potential scripts! In the last term of my senior year, I’ll be developing these ideas in my school’s creative writing class.

The Dumping Ground can be seen during Program B of Plays by Young Writers, on Friday Jan. 27th at 7:30 PM and Saturday Jan. 28th at 2:00 PM. You may purchase tickets for Fri. Jan. 27 at 7:30 PM here, and for Sat. Jan. 28th at 2 PM here. 

For more information, please contact Playwrights Project at (858) 384-2970 or write@playwrightsproject.org. Visit http://www.playwrightsproject.org/productions/pbyw/. 

Interview with Samantha Rafter & Minh-Son Tran, writers of A Play on Words for Plays by Young Writers 2017

December 13, 2016

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.

All submissions were evaluated blindly, and the winners were selected from 365 entries 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.

Is it better to erase your pain, or leave a permanent mark?  In A Play on Words, an unused eraser, a lined piece of math homework, a sharp pencil and a dry marker make an unexpected journey of the heart across the classroom. This thought-provoking piece will be presented as a staged reading in Program B of Plays by Young Writers. Samantha and Minh-Son wrote their play in partnership during a Playwrights Project residency lead by Teaching Artist Wendy Waddell at Black Mountain Middle School in  Ms. Gapusan’s 8th grade classroom.

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A Play on Words

By Minh-Son Tran and Samantha Rafter

Ages 13 & 14, San Diego

Directed by Erika Beth Phillips

How did you first get involved with writing?

Samantha: It’s hard to say when I first got involved in writing, because as far as I can remember I’ve always liked to write.

Minh-Son: I got involved in writing when Playwrights Project came to my school [Black Mountain Middle School]. Prior to this, I had never formally written anything.

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

Minh-Son: Samantha came up with the idea by suggesting we use school supplies, from then on [we were] making it up as we went, and going with what we thought would be funny.

Samantha: It started out with one of the first assignments for our Playwrights Project residency. We only had to write one scene. My friend turned around to me and kept saying she didn’t know what to write about, so I threw random ideas at her, just to show her that you could write about anything. One of those ideas was about a piece of paper and an eraser. I didn’t really come up with much of a plot until I started working later with Minh-Son.

What themes are involved in your piece?

Samantha: Friendship, love, and regret.

Minh-Son: Betrayal, and acting on impulse.

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

Samantha: I hope they realize that you can’t erase the past; it’ll come back to haunt you.

Minh-Son: And to never trust math homework!

What was writing a play in partnership like for you? Would you say you shared the creative input equally? What do you enjoy about writing a play with another playwright?

Minh-Son: It’s been a pleasant experience, and I would say we shared the creative input equally. One great thing about writing together is bouncing ideas off of each other, and when writing a humorous play like this one, it’s a fun process with lots of jokes.

Samantha: Writing this play in partnership was really helpful. If either Minh-Son or I had written the play entirely on our own, I doubt it would have turned out this well. Having someone to bounce ideas off of and constantly having someone else’s input makes writing a play a lot easier. I would say that the creative input was and is equal between us because when we were creating the plot, we would each contribute a few of our ideas and choose the ones that worked best. The ideas that came from me and the ones that came from Minh-Son ended up being pretty equal; neither one of us had far better or worse ideas.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Samantha: I want to be a journalist.

Minh-Son: A lizard wrangler!

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

Minh-Son: Write down what you first think of, and then come back and edit it later. Your first ideas are usually the most authentic.

Samantha: My advice is not to think about it too much. It’s important to keep an open mind when writing, and also to have fun.

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Minh-Son and Samantha with their teacher, Arlene Gapusan.

A Play on Words can be seen during Program B of Plays by Young Writers, on Friday Jan. 27th at 7:30 PM and Saturday Jan. 28th at 2:00 PM. You may purchase tickets for Fri. Jan. 27 at 7:30 PM here, and for Sat. Jan. 28th at 2 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.

Insights from Dramaturg Mabelle Reynoso

January 21, 2016

Mabelle Reynoso is a teaching artist and commissioned playwright for Playwrights Project. Her relationship with Playwrights Project spans over 20 years, beginning when she won the California Young Playwrights Contest. She is delighted to make her debut as a dramaturg for Plays By Young Writers! Below are some of her thoughts and insights on the process of working with Jennifer Curiel on Fronteras Hechas del Dinero. 

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Tell us briefly about another theatre project (or projects) you’re working on outside of Plays by Young Writers.

I am currently a teaching artist at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility and I am working with the advanced playwriting class to create a collaborative script that will be produced at SDSU’s Experimental Theater in April. In addition, in February, I will begin facilitating a Border Lines/Líneas de la Frontera playwriting residency to capture the voices of the immigrant experience.

How does your work in the festival differ from your other work?

As a teaching artist for Playwrights Project, I get the chance to help students come up with ideas and get them going on their plays but I don’t often get the chance to spend a lot of time fleshing out a script, and that’s what I get to do with the festival. It’s wonderful to be able to focus on one script and to witness the evolution.

How do you define your role in the Plays by Young Writers production process?

Because the playwright is away at school (first year of college!), I attend rehearsals and am present for any questions the director or the actors may have. I provide suggestions to the playwright on how to strengthen the script and I also see myself as a bit of a cheerleader. It’s an exciting process and I can’t help but to be excited to be a part of it.

What is your favorite part about being involved with Plays by Young Writers?

I get to re-live history. I was once a Festival winner and it’s thrilling to be a part of this experience now as a dramaturg.

Any specific story or moment or insight you’d like to share about the writer or play you are currently working on?

I think Jennifer’s script tells a compelling story that embodies what I love about theater, which is to create empathy. Fronteras tells a story that we may not know firsthand, but it is a very real story that brings to the forefront the difficult choices some people have to make. This play simply draws you in and makes you ask yourself, “What would you do?”

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

I hope the playwrights truly appreciate how the words that they wrote took flight. What was born in the minds of these young writers resulted in a larger group of talent coming together to realize their visions. I think that’s pretty spectacular.

Fronteras Hechas del Dinero can be seen during Program A of Plays by Young Writers, on Saturday Jan. 30th at 7:30pm and Sunday Jan. 31st at 2pm. 

For more information and reservations, please contact Playwrights Project at (858) 384-2970 or write@playwrightsproject.org. Visit http://www.playwrightsproject.org/productions/pbyw/. 

 

Recollections playwriting class with Founder Deborah Salzer starts in February!

January 12, 2016

Recollections Flyer FY16

Insights from Deborah Salzer, Dramaturg and Playwrights Project founder

January 6, 2016

Deborah Salzer founded Playwrights Project in 1985 and led the organization for 22 years. She has produced over 100 new plays, written the playwriting curriculum Stage Write, and now teaches educators and youth. Trained in acting and dance, she’s a graduate of Oberlin College and the Bank Street College of Education.

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Deborah is the dramaturg for Alara Margritte Slonaker’s play The Tangible Tollbooth (Program B). Below are a few of Deborah’s thoughts on the process.

Tell us briefly about another theatre project (or projects) you’re working on outside of Plays by Young Writers.

In February I will teach a Recollections workshop for Playwrights Project.  I also work with fifth graders at Doyle Elementary School, teaching drama and dance.

How does your work in the festival differ from your other work?

The Festival is unique because I work with one writer continuously over four months. The “curriculum” is shaped by the writer’s needs.  It is unpredictable and evolves as we work. In other situations, I support writers as they create first drafts. For the Festival my support extends through the entire production process. I help her collaborate with her director and designers, especially when she encounter elements new to her, such as the staging challenges inherent in an arena space.

How do you define your role in the Plays by Young Writers production process?

My role is to mentor the writer as she moves through the revision and production process. This includes being a sounding board for her concerns; asking questions; guiding her to strengthen her script; helping her clarify her vision; and doing factual and/or historical research if needed. Because she lives out of town, I am her eyes and ears at rehearsals.

What is your favorite part about being involved with Plays by Young Writers?

I love it all and have done so for thirty-one years.

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

I hope they learn that creating good theatre is a thrilling collaborative process.

Thank you, Deborah!

The Tangible Tollbooth can be seen during Program B of Plays by Young Writers, on Friday Jan. 29th at 7:30pm and Saturday Jan. 30th at 2pm. 

For more information and reservations, please contact Playwrights Project at (858) 384-2970 or write@playwrightsproject.org. Visit http://www.playwrightsproject.org/productions/pbyw/. 

Insights from dramaturg Aleta Barthell

December 29, 2015

Aleta Barthell has been a part of Playwrights Project for over 15 years as a script evaluator, teaching artist, director and dramaturg. She is also a playwright, screenwriter and founder of the youth theater education program, Kids Act, in North County San Diego. Aleta is the dramaturg for Emily Midgley’s play, The Acquittal. Below are some insights from Aleta on the process of being involved with Plays by Young Writers.

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Aleta and playwright Emily Midgley working together in rehearsal

 

Tell us briefly about another theatre project (or projects) you’re working on outside of Plays by Young Writers.

I have been revising a script of my own called Window of Shame that is based on a New Orleans Ghost Story.  I am one of ten finalists for the Humanitas Playwriting Prize with Centre Theatre Group in Los Angeles.  I have been working with a directing/dramaturg in LA for upcoming readings of the piece in San Diego and Los Angeles.

I have also been developing a pilot for a TV series based on the life of the French queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

How does your work in the festival differ from your other work?

The Plays by Young Writers Festival is so very special because it brings so many talented artists together who bring their very best for these young writers.  There is a focus and collaboration that I do not easily find elsewhere.

How do you define your role in the Plays by Young Writers production process?

I feel that my role is to help guide the writer to make the very best play that she can.  I also provide a “home base” for the writer to ask questions or explore different ideas… a sounding board really.

What is your favorite part about being involved with Plays by Young Writers?

The first table read with actors before the Lights Up Ceremony.

Any specific story or moment or insight you’d like to share about the writer or play you are currently working on?

The playwright that I have been working with, Emily Midgley, is so smart, so observant and so dedicated that it has been an absolute joy to work with her.  We had a shared moment one night in rehearsal when I went to ask her about possibly cutting a line and she held up her script that had the same line already marked out.

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

That consistency and tenacity bring great results.

Thank you, Aleta!

The Acquittal can be seen during Program B of Plays by Young Writers, on Friday Jan. 29th 2016 at 7:30pm, and Saturday Jan. 30th at 2pm. Read our interview with playwright Emily Midgley here.

For more information and reservations, please contact Playwrights Project at (858) 384-2970 or write@playwrightsproject.org. Visit http://www.playwrightsproject.org/productions/pbyw/.