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Young Playwrights Team Up With Pros At City Theatre Fest

Ryan Loew
90.5 WESA

While many kids spent the summer swimming, playing video games or going to camp, six area kids spent theirs working with theater professionals to produce plays they’d written.

City Theatre’s Young Playwright’s contest takes six works from middle and high school students in Western Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia. The contest is in its 15th year, and this year’s selections were whittled down from more than 300 submissions.

“There is so much talent out there,” said Kristen Link, director of education and accessibility at City Theatre. “I think adults, usually, a lot of times, with the students that we’re working with, middle and high schoolers, don’t give them enough credit for how sophisticated they actually are. We are constantly amazed at the variety of plays that come in, the subject matter covered, the sophistication with which they write the dialogue.”

Like this excerpt from "The Batboy," a play by Sharpsville Middle School 8th grader Joseph Bornes:

“Life is not about maybes or what-ifs, living is about doing and getting things done! Beside which, you are young and have lots of time to learn about the do's and don’ts of magic time travel…”

“My play is about a 13-year-old boy who gets a magic bat from his grandfather that can take him back to any baseball game in time,” Bornes said.  

He and the other contest winners were each paired with a theater professional who deals with development of plays, among other things called a dramaturge. They worked through the summer on revisions to the works and that part of the process helped get the plays ready for full production. North Hills High School ninth grader Michelle Do said working with her dramaturge was a big help.

“She had some suggestions and ideas and thoughts on the play that I couldn’t have possibly thought of myself, and she really helped me to grow as a write and make my play better and my writing better,” said Do.  

Do’s play is called Cologne it’s a love story between characters Christian and Sophia.

“Christian, he goes off to war and Sophia gets into a car accident while he’s away and she forgets who he is, so he comes back on compassionate leave and tries to help her remember,” Do said.

Developing story, characters and overall writing skills is a big part of the young playwrights contest.

“In regards to theater, there are a lot of programs out there that maybe deal with acting and many facets of theater, but they’re not so focused on playwriting,” said Link, “and really that’s where it all begins — with the story — so to put that creative control in the hands of students is really important, they’re the ones guiding this whole process.”

And that process, according to the students, has helped them grow as writers. Plus, as CAPA ninth grader Weston Custer put it, “It’s been really fun to hear people say things that I wrote … but it’s also been sort of weird seeing something I made actually happen.”

Custer’s play is called "Attack of the Psycho Geese from Outer Space!"

“It’s kind of, not quite parody, but maybe a lampoon of '50s TV, so these two kids have to defend themselves from a psycho goose … that is from outer space,” Custer said.

Three other plays are also part of the festival — "Dream House," "The Cellar" and "Conflict" are all from the high school winners. As the premiere date has neared, each student has experienced different feelings from excitement to terror.

The Young Playwrights Festival runs through Oct. 10 at City Theatre with public performances Saturday and Sunday. Weekday performances are open only to student groups.