We are thrilled to announce the Playscripts Award & Scholarship as part of Writopia Lab’s Worldwide Plays Festival, an annual theater festival featuring the next generation of playwrights. This year, in addition to a production in New York City, high school juniors and seniors will have the chance to win our $2,500 college scholarship. (If you’re not a junior or senior you can still win a scholarship! David Letterman's production house, Worldwide Pants, is also giving out a $2,500 scholarship to the playwright who writes the funniest play of the 2013 festival.)
- Two plays in each category (elementary, middle, and high school) will be produced as part of Writopia Lab's off-Broadway theater festival in May.
- Playwrights must be in 1st -12th grade (11th or 12th grade to be considered for the Playscripts Award & Scholarship)
- The first 250 submissions will receive a written critique by a professional playwright.
- Maximum 12 pages (in standard format)
- No excerpts, full plays only.
- No more than two collaborators per piece
- 1 to 12 characters (2-12 characters for to be considered for the Playscripts Award & Scholarship)
- No fanfiction
- Musicals are accepted!
- Cover sheet with the following information is required: title, full name of writer, birthday, grade, address, two phone numbers, and email address.
- Hard copy submissions only, postmarked by January 25, 2013 may be sent to:
155 West 81st Street
New York, NY 10024
In the days when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, a play could be performed on Broadway and then make its way to the high schools of the world pretty quickly. And it would stay on that list forever. Think You Can’t Take it With You or The Crucible or Noises Off. Broadway used to do plays with large casts that everyone could enjoy.
Glancing at the current roster of Broadway shows, you get some idea of the challenge facing high school directors. There’s nothing there you could do in high school. Are you going to do a play with four characters in it? For your entire school? If you have a big, healthy program, that means turning down thirty to forty kids who might audition. Those kids will then swear revenge – can you imagine a theatre program with thirty phantoms of the opera lurking in the catacombs beneath your auditorium? Not a pretty sight.
There’s also the problem of subject matter. A lot of Broadway, and “professional theatre” is pretty racy and almost always contains language that would get most teachers fired. Even someone as seemingly innocuous as Neil Simon could get you in hot water.
So that’s the problem. We’re left with an aging roster of classics that we do again and again – Shakespeare (although there’s nothing wrong with Shakespeare), Arthur Miller, Kaufman and Hart, maybe the occasional Twelve Angry Men or Alice in Wonderland. Fifty years ago doing All my Sons or the Crucible was cutting edge. Not really that way anymore.
We have great theatre for little kids. If you ever go to a performance at a children’s theatre, it’s amazing. The audience is screaming, laughing, crying out with fear – live theatre is unmatched in its ability to connect with an audience.
And then, when the kids turn about eleven or twelve, we forget about them. Sure, adventurous parents will take them to modern, professional plays, but for the most part the new shows are inappropriate for whatever reason. And there’s an even smaller chance that their middle school is going to attempt Angels in America or the latest Pulitzer-winner.
Why is this a big deal? Because most teenagers think theatre is old, and it’s not for them. They’re right, in a sense, theatre is old – but not quite as old as music, and they’re all over that. The problem is that shows written in the fifites are great, but they don’t exactly give the impression that theatre is a living, breathing, changing art form. And they certainly don’t convey a sense that theatre could impact them directly, be about them, or for them.
So there’s the problem: Lots of new plays for kids, lots of new plays for adults, very little in-between. Our potential audience concludes that theatre is dead, and as a result the people actually paying money to go to the professional theatre get older and older and older. When those people in their seventies were teenagers, they got hooked. Now, we’re killing our audience.
That’s where I come in. To single-handedly save America. Okay, well, not so much. And, I admit, a lot of the plays I write for teenagers are very, very silly, but there’s a place for that too. I write plays for young people that they can perform, that they can find entertaining, and in some measure can be about their world.
I want to make one last point. There’s a difference between a one-act and a full-length play. One-acts, thanks in some part to Playscripts, have become much fresher, and give schools a chance to do something new. There are a lot of reasons for this: Mainly, you don’t see a lot of one-acts making it to Broadway or being performed all over the country (except for David Ives – yay David!) so there’s not that much traditional material to look at. One-acts are also used in competitions or student-directed plays, so there’s a lot more freedom to pick something unknown.
Obviously, as I have about thirty one-acts for teenagers, I don’t want to disparage the form. As a teacher I found them indispensible. But if we’re talking about the full-length after school play that hopefully the entire school is going to come and see, traditional, old plays still rule the day.
A lot of my full-lengths are wild, silly fun – (and there is a place for wild silly fun! That’s what got the kids excited in the first place), but in most of them I’m trying to make a comment on the modern world. I’m trying to say something about how we live, or how we cope, or what new insanity is being unleashed upon us. I’m trying to do it in the most entertaining manner I can, but shows like The Craving or The Election or A Tiny Miracle with a Fiberoptic Unicorn are digging at something deeper
We need plays like that. Our kids need plays like that.
-- Don Zolidis
I received this email from a drama coach who had directed a production of one of my plays.
"During the performance last night, one of the audience members was laughing so loud, I thought he had been drinking (haha). He approached me after the play was over. It was a community member who lost his wife to cancer last fall, and his son, Casey, is an extra in the play. He said that since his wife had passed, he had been unable to laugh - until he saw your play. For a couple hours, he was able to forget everything and just laugh. He wanted to know who wrote it. He plans on coming again Monday.
Well, his son is an understudy. When I told the cast what Casey's dad said, the student for whom his is understudying decided to let Casey play Victor on Monday. It’s going to be a surprise for Casey's dad. I'll let you know how it goes!
FHS Drama Coach"
Dear Michelle and the cast and crew,
I can’t tell you how flattered I am to receive this email. Reading it reminded me of an exchange I had years ago with a really great improv teacher. I was bemoaning the fact that, because of the war, we had been adding more and more serious scenes into our graduation show. He asked me, “Why do you think people come to the theater?”
“To be entertained.”
“No, they come to be affected.”
I think most of us, when we realized we were destined to work in theater in some capacity, proceeded because we wanted to be part of entertaining audiences, and then, years later, we learned our relationship with the audience is a little more complicated than that.
Maybe the audience doesn’t think of it in those terms, but in truth they are there to be affected, manipulated, moved by the experience. Laughter is certainly part of that, but so are tears, anger, and heated conversations in the parking lot after the show dissecting the meaning of what they’ve just seen. We want to affect the audience, the audience wants to be affected. A perfect, symbiotic relationship.
But sometimes, sitting in that darkened theater, there is an audience member who doesn’t want to be affected. Sometimes that person needs to be affected.
A very smart actor with whom I often work once said, “The most important gifts you receive are the ones you give away.” Casey’s father has given you the most important gift someone in the theater can receive; He made what you do matter. And in turn, you gave him the gift of affecting him in the way he needed most at that moment. Many speeches are given by many theater practitioners about the importance, honor, and responsibility of the theatrical arts. I can’t think of a better example than this one. You never know when someone like Casey’s father will be out there, but you should always assume they are, and approach the stage as if tonight’s show can be a transformative experience.
(And just to be clear, I’m speaking of everyone involved in the show. Without the director, playwright, costumes, props, sets, lights, stage manager, running crew, or the person handing out tickets and programs, Casey’s father wouldn’t have had that experience.)
Speaking of gifts, I must applaud the actor who stepped aside so Casey could take his role for the evening. When you hear actors speak of other actors as “gifted” and “generous,” generally that refers to their onstage habits. Rest assured, your generosity and gifts were definitely on stage that night, even if you weren’t.
So, again, thank you for the email; thank you for choosing my show; and thank you for reminding me of what’s important about what we do.
Sean Abley is one of the founding members of the Factory Theater in Chicago. While there, he adapted the films Corpse Grinders, Reefer Madness, and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians for the stage, and wrote the original plays Bitches, Attack of the Killer Bs, and Nuclear Family. He also contributed to the ensemble-created worksHooray!, Second City Didn't Want Us..., and P, a comedy adaptation of the "P" volume of the encyclopedia. Commissioned and published works include The Adventures of Rose Red (Snow White's Less-Famous Sister), Dr. Frankincense and the Christmas Monster, Bad Substitute, We Wish You a Marry Spendmas!, Historically Bad First Dates, Camp Killspree, Confessions of a Male Pin-up, The RISE of the House of Usher, Dracula's Daughters: A Family Comedy, Horror High, Elevator Games, Double Trouble on the Prairie and The End of the World (With Prom to Follow).
Visit Sean's website: www.playstoorder.com
Syl Jones is the author of 60-plus plays, including Black No More, produced by the Guthrie Theater and Arena Stage and winner of the Kennedy Center Award for Best New Play of 1998. He is the only playwright to win the Mixed Blood Theater Versus America and the Penumbra Theater Cornerstone awards in the same year. He began his career as a journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio at the age of 14. In 1980, his historic interview with physicist William B. Shockley appeared in Playboy and has since been anthologized in The Best of The Playboy Interviews, Vol. II. Mr. Jones writes an editorial column for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and is the author of Rescuing Little Roundhead: A Childhood In Stories, published by Milkweed Editions in 1996. Playscripts, Inc. publishes two collections from Mixed Blood Theatre that contain Mr. Jones's plays Sacrament and Wooden You?.
What inspires you to write (plays)?
I believe that theater has the ability to enchant, to entertain and to teach audiences, and so I write because of the impact I think a good/great play can have on people. The world is starved for insight into the human condition. What we as playwright's do (without actually talking about it) is create situations that allow audiences to gain an understanding of what it means to be human. To me, the greatest drama and the greatest comedy have one thing in common: both show characters attempting to soar beyond the gravity that keeps us rooted to the earth. Whether they succeed or fail -- and how they do so -- determines the level of enjoyment an audience receives from a play. Finally, I write because I truly love it.
Who helped you along the way, as far as your playwriting career?
I learned to write plays by reading plays, especially Shakespeare, Shaw, Brecht, LeRoi Jones, Ed Bullins, and a host of others. I learned about theater as literature before I learned about it as a performance art. I started writing at the age of 14 and had a one-act play produced in high school. At the time, I set a broad goal for myself of writing plays as one form of communication that I would master. I never set out to be just a playwright. Life is too uncertain to set such narrow goals. Then, I had my first play produced professionally in 1972 and since then I've been writing plays for many different venues and audiences. I would not be honest if I ignore the fact that in my lifetime as a playwright I have received many grants, commissions, and awards that contributed to my financial success, which is no small thing in the realm of theater.
What play are you most proud of and why?
I would have to say Black No More which won the Kennedy Center New Play Award. It is an adaptation of an obscure novel but the comic twists and turns in that script were primarily my own and they really moved audiences. It is the play most people remember. But I am also proud of Kirby, Cincinnati Man and Shine! But I'm also working on two new scripts that may be the best I've ever done. We will see!
What advice would you give up and coming playwrights?
My advice is to write constantly and read, too. Storytelling is an art that can be mastered in the doing of it and not by thinking about it. Also, insist on finding a collaborator who is willing to work with you on producing your work. No one is successful alone. We all need partners who believe in us and are eager to help us.
Were you involved in theatre in high school or college?
Yes, I actually thought I was destined to be an actor. I had many great roles in high school and college. But I learned that despite being a reasonably good actor, I often came away from a show saying to myself, "I wish I had written that." When those feelings became strong enough, I began to write steadily and never stopped.