This year we are celebrating our 5th year hosting a Playwriting Competition for Middle School Students. When we began our competition during our 2014-15 season, we were NYC’s regional host of the Theater for Young Audiences Young Playwrights for Change Competition. Former Artistic Apprentice Danielle Pampinella was tasked with organizing our very first competition. Back in 2015 Danielle wrote this blog post explaining what went into launching the competition, details about the first rehearsals and reading and why the program was so rewarding.
Back in October, around the time I started working at New York City Children’s Theater, I was given the honor and the challenge of organizing the Theater for Young Audiences, Young Playwrights for Dramatic Change Contest. The contest, organized by the TYA-USA organization, has only been around for two years and it was the first year New York City Children’s Theater volunteered to be the New York regional host. The contest this year focused on the theme of family: what makes a family and why family is important. It is only open to middle school students in 6th through 8th grade and called for original, ten-minute plays. Our top five plays would have their plays performed as a reading by professional actors and directors at the Studio Theatre at Theatre Row and our winner would have their play submitted to the national competition, with a chance to have their play developed as a full-scale production in Chicago (with all expenses paid)!
I began advertising the contest by working with Nicole to send email blasts to all of our contacts at New York City Children’s Theater. I then made a website devoted entirely to posting the submission guidelines, applications to apply and some helpful tips about playwriting provided by TYA-USA. I also utilized all of our social media and even reached out to a few government officials to help spread the word about the contest to middle schoolers!
When submissions started coming in, it was so exciting to read the plays. The creativity and range of topics was impressive and it was clear we had some talented students submitting their work. We ended up choosing our top five playwrights, ranging in age from eleven to fourteen. We had the privilege of working with the following talented young professionals:
- Aidan N., a sixth grader from New Explorations into Science, Technology and Math School who wrote No Matter What Happens, a play that shows how close his family really is after he gets in a car accident.
- Genevieve “Gigi” J., an eighth grader from East Side Middle School who wrote Fighting for Tomorrow, a play that explores the hardships on a family when they discover the mother’s cancer diagnosis.
- Amogh D., a seventh grader from East Side Middle School who wrote Feeling Edgy, a play that shows a family trying to make the best of a young boy’s struggles with Lyme disease.
- Destinee M., a seventh grader from The Young Women’s Leadership School of the Bronx who wrote Heart of Life, a play about a support group for teenagers with a variety of difficult life issues.
- Emma Jane J., an eighth grader from East Side Middle School who wrote iWill, a play about a girl who loses her parents and brother to drunk drivers and decides to find a way to help prevent these accidents.
It was so exciting to read the plays. The creativity and range of topics was impressive and it was clear we had some talented students submitting their work. – Danielle Pampinella
After letting our top five playwrights know their plays had been chosen, we invited them to attend the first rehearsal of their plays. All five of our playwrights, their parents and some of their teachers were able to attend the rehearsal at Ripley Grier studios and meet our actors and directors who graciously volunteered their time to participate in the reading. Our actors included NYCCT teaching artists, Claro de los Reyes, Diana Fox, Hector Ortiz, Michelle Payler and Christopher Ritz-Totten. Our directors were the fabulous Marty Johnson and Josh Penzell. The rehearsal was so much fun and it was great watching the kids interact with the actors and directors and help to convey their vision for the play.
Finally it was time for our reading, which took place at the Studio Theatre at Theatre Row. We had a great crowd of parents, teachers, the NYCCT staff and supporters and the plays were fantastic! Everyone had a great time and at the end of the night, we announced our regional winner: Genevieve Jarreau-Pan!
This was such a rewarding experience for myself and a great learning opportunity for the kids. I’m so excited that New York City Children’s Theater plans to make the TYA-USA Young Playwrights Contest an annual event!