ACT’s Young Playwrights Program & Festival

Last weekend I had the privilege of working on the Young Playwrights Festival (YPF), the culmination of the Young Playwrights Program (YPP) coordinated by my theatre colleague Kristina Sutherland – Director of Education at ACT Theatre. She asked me to stage manage the piece that she was directing and although I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, I’m endlessly glad that I agreed to be involved. Witnessing YPF come together was one of the most rewarding experiences in my career as a theatre artist, and all I did was make the lights go for 20 minutes.

The YPP sends teachers out to several schools across the city (and teaches some free classes at ACT too) to teach a 10-week class about playwriting. Students of all ages (middle to high school) are taken through all of the steps from inspiration to idea to structure to final product and a competition where they can submit their work to be considered for the festival. This year, 8 plays were chosen, written by 11-17 year olds, showcasing a multitude of subjects and styles.
The most exciting part was the talkback sessions following each performance. Some parents and relatives asked some silly questions (As audience members tend to do: “How did you come up with all of the facial gestures?” “I never would have imagined arranging the set in that way – how did you do it?”) but others posed deeper questions: “Do you want to be a playwright?” and to the directors: “What was it like working with this student’s new work?”

The beauty of the deep soul connection that had obviously been formed between each playwright and director was spectacular. I could see the eloquence in these children and realized that when I was 16 I was barely capable of harnessing my emotions. Yes, I wrote plays in high school and yes, they were produced, but there was no competition. These kids have the chance to see what it’s truly like to be involved in the Seattle theatre scene. YPF gives these kids a taste of how it works in the real world. Every playwright got to sit in on rehearsals and watch professional directors and actors work, while being involved in the process by giving notes and exploring their pieces further. My heart cried with happiness to see each director dote on their playwright like it was their own child. The pride that emanated from the room was almost overwhelming. I glimpsed into the future and saw when each student has grown into a wildly successful adult. It filled me with hope. It gave me hope for myself and my own dreams, it gave me hope for theatre (this is how you get the youth involved!), and it gave me hope for each of those playwrights that they will grow up to be beasts in their own right. The will be fierce individuals who take what they want because they know they can have it. They have been given the tools to express themselves in an exciting way, and I know they will push boundaries, making our world a better place.

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