March 3, 2024

Young Playwrights Get a Chance to Strut (and See) Their Stuff

By Ross Boissoneau | April 7, 2018


When writing a story, the characters come alive on the pages. For many that’s enough. But five young writers from around the area will see their characters come alive on stage April 29 at the Young Playwrights Festival at the City Opera House.

The Young Playwrights Festival program is an offshoot of a similar program at the Wharton Center in East Lansing. That program has been ongoing for more than 20 years, while the local version is in its seventh year. 

The rules are the same for both: regional high school students submit an original one-act play, nine to 12 pages long, with up to four characters. “We got about 45 applications from all over the area,” said Diane Baribeau, executive director at the City Opera House. They represented students from Benzie Central, Cadillac, Elk Rapids, Glen Lake, Grand Traverse Academy, Kalkaska, Kingsley, Leland, Mancelona, Northern Michigan Home School Group, St. Mary Lake, St. Francis, Traverse City West and Traverse City Central. 

Twelve students are chosen as semi-finalists through a blind reading process. Then those 12 are narrowed to the finalists by another group of readers, led by the director of education at the Wharton Center in East Lansing, which partners with the Opera House for programming. The finalists are: 

·      Isobel Bowker for her play, "The Intervention" (Central High School; Kerrey Woughter, teacher)

·      Paul Oh for "Jane the Great" (Home school–Front Street Writers/Career Tech Center; Teresa Scollon, teacher)

·      Amelia Shotwell for "Love, Lissette" (Central High School; Kerrey Woughter, teacher)

·      Olivia Seymour for "Yellow Orchids" (Central High School; Kerrey Woughter, teacher)

·      Grace Zucco for "Honey" (St. Francis High School–Front Street Writers/Career Tech Center; Teresa Scollon, teacher)

Baribeau said the contest used to attract a number of students from Interlochen Arts Academy. As that number has decreased, students involved in the Career Tech Center’s Front Street Writers program have picked up the slack. This year the Front Street Writers students were required to submit to the Young Playwrights Festival as part of the curriculum. Instructor Teresa Scollon and writing fellow Sam Collier were pleased with their students’ efforts. “In just a few short months, I have watched our kids’ skill level and creative capacity develop tremendously,” said Collier. In addition to the two finalists who are members of the group, five others were semi-finalists. 

Each of the finalists is assigned a national theater mentor with whom they work to revise their scripts for a second reading. The finalists are now working with their mentors via email they work to refine their stories. They will meet in person and work side-by-side on Saturday and Sunday, April 28 and 29. At the same time, the City Opera House is recruiting actors and directors who will bring the stories to life onstage on the afternoon of the 29th.

Collier believes that in addition to the academic skills they develop, the students grow in confidence and are able to process their emotions through play writing. “One of the critical steps of play development is a live reading,” explains Collier. “When a writer finally hears his or her dialogue spoken aloud, it is tremendously empowering when those expressions come to life.” 

Baribeau said she is always excited to see what the students come up with, and this year is no exception. “They are very well-written. I’m always impressed by the quality,” she said. Baribeau also noted the great variety in the subject matter of the student-written plays. “The subject matter varies widely. They can be dark, light, use strong language – we don’t censor them.”

The plays are performed for the community beginning at 1:30p.m. Family, friends and community members are invited to attend the performances and the award ceremony which follows at no charge. There is an artist forum and dinner following the performance. All the finalists receive certificates of participation and a $100 award.


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