Young Playwrights Strike Again

by Carlyn Aquiline

Actors at the first read-thru of John Marabello's "The Nerds of the Century"

Actors at the first read-through for the Young Playwrights Festival.

In addition to heading into rehearsals this week for Jekyll and Hyde, we also started rehearsals last week for a new performance. Here’s a brief description:

Act One: A prehistoric village discovers fire and must learn to control the unchecked forces of both nature and human nature.

Act Two: A dark secret reveals a crack in the picturesque façade of an ideal marriage, propelling the seemingly perfect household toward a tragic end.

Act Three: Two teenage girls are woven in a web of mystery and intrigue related to the government’s work on top secret spy satellites.

Are you wondering how the playwright can possibly cover all that in a single play? Well, it’s actually three plays, presented in a single performance set—the descriptions above are of the high school division plays in this year’s Young Playwrights Festival, taking place September 29-October 4. (Click here for full schedule and play descriptions.) During the week, our school matinee audiences get a chance to talk to the artists after the show—I think the audience discussions with the playwrights have inspired many of their peers over the years to try a hand at writing a play—and to take an interactive tour at City Theatre to see how our production departments work their magic. The weekend is especially exciting, though, because there’s so much activity that the Festival atmosphere really kicks in. Besides the performances and post-show parties, any student in 7th to 12th is welcome to attend any of the free workshops we offer throughout the weekend. This year we’ll have workshops in playwriting, scenic design, prop building, costume design, and scenic painting—offering something for all those middle and high school aged students who probably have a place to try their hand at acting but are also interested in learning more about the technical side of theatre-making. (Click here for a schedule of the free workshops.)

2009_0918YPF10read-thru-seat

Playwright John Marabello (far left) watches rehearsal as director Anya Martin (far right) directs his play "The Nerds of the Century" for the Young Playwrights Festival.

For those who don’t know, the Young Playwrights Festival selections are chosen from the plays that are submitted to us in our spring Young Playwrights Contest. All of the playwrights whose submissions are not selected for production still receive feedback from us, and we select three middle school and three high school plays to produce in the Festival. It’s always a lively selection discussion among the senior artistic staff and a difficult decision since the finalists always have great merit—we often wish we could produce many more than three of each division.

This year’s writers were notified in June that their plays had been selected and they have been readying their plays for production ever since—doing revisions over their summer vacations, some of them while on vacation. In any new play process, you can never anticipate everything and the questions that come out of the rehearsal hall from the director and actors often help to put the finishing touches on revisions for production. We allow for that in the Young Playwrights Festival, too. We’re about a week into rehearsal now, though, and the scripts are just about set—this year’s playwrights are just about to the point when they can sit back and really watch their works come to life onstage.

Actors rehearse John Marabello's "The Nerds of the Century."

The YPF cast works on blocking for John Marabello's play "The Nerds of the Century."

No matter what else happened throughout the season, there used to be one day I always looked forward to—one of the most pleasurable days of the year for me was the day I used to be able to call six young playwrights to tell them that we loved their plays and were going to produce them for them. Now that pleasure belongs to Kristen Link, our Education Director—and though I might wistfully think of the days when I was the bearer of such great news, I would not take it back if it meant losing Kristen as a colleague and I happily hand over that pleasure to her.

While I’m thinking back for a moment, I should mention that this year is a milestone: the 2009-2010 season includes the 10thAnnual Young Playwrights Festival. My first day of work at City Theatre was the launch of the program, and I only recently realized that we have produced 89 young playwrights between then and now. As City Theatre’s dramaturg, I’m sort of the umbrella for all of the dramaturgical work that happens for the Festival (I jokingly call myself the uber-dramaturg), so I have had an intimate view of the process for all of those 89 playwrights—a perspective that is unique to me. In some ways I feel like a walking repository of the history of Young Playwrights at City Theatre because I really do remember each of them vividly.

Check back in a few days for an entry from one of this year’s playwrights, Isabel D’Angelo from Washington High School—she wrote the “Act Two” play that begins this entry, a noir crime thriller—talking to her dramaturg, Julie Tosh, about their collaboration over the past few months and what made it so successful.

Carlyn Aquiline, Literary Manager and Dramaturg

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