Playwrights young and old to show their work at New Play Festival
By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt
For the past 27 years, Playwrights Project has been encouraging talented writers under age 18 with a statewide Young Playwrights Contest, whose winners are offered staged readings or full productions of their works, performed by professional actors. The youngest winner to date was a 10-year-old; the 2011 winners range in age from 11 to 18.
This year, as part of their annual New Play Festival, they are also presenting productions of scripts by older writers, adults over age 55 who have been learning to dramatize their life experiences in a series of workshops led by Playwrights Project founder Deborah Salzer.
June Gottleib, one of four senior writers whose work will be shown in rotation with Plays by Young Writers, said the idea for her piece, “Changing Roles/My Year of Being Alone,” came from an exercise in one of the Lifestages workshops. “We had to do a ‘quick write’ on a variety of important events in our lives, and I selected the very last event I wrote down — my year of being alone after losing my spouse to dementia,” she said. “At first, I really didn’t want to write it, because it contained a lot of fresh and difficult emotions, but it kept calling out to me. I went through a number of drafts before I got to the heart of what I wanted to say.”
Among the youngest of this year’s winning young writers — and the only female — is 13-year-old Kira Nolan, who attends The Bishop’s School in La Jolla and has been writing for most of her life. “The Eccentric Flight of a Fly,” written when she was 12, will be her second appearance in the New Play Festival, where her play “Russet,” was presented last year.
“I actually swallowed a fly, and that gave me the idea of a girl with a fly inside her head, controlling her mind and making her lose control of her body,” said the playwright. “She has a pet dog, too, for comic relief.”
The 2011 winners are all from San Diego. “We didn’t plan it that way, of course, but that’s how it turned out,” said Playwrights Project Executive Director Cecilia Kouma. “So they’ve been very active in the whole pre-production process.”
Since mid-December, 16-year-old Nachi Baru, whose play, “American Idyll,” presents a futuristic world that is anything but idyllic, has been working with Deborah Salzer as his dramaturg. Caleb Rotiz, now 19, is working with dramaturg Shirley Fishman, Director of Play Development at La Jolla Playhouse.
There’s some border-crossing in the themes of the young and older playwrights.
“Caleb’s play, ‘Hallowed,’ about an old man who has decided it’s his time to die, is beautiful, poetic, and very insightful about issues of aging,” Kouma said. “And Topper Birdsall’s play, ‘Wahoo,’ is about being young. One is looking forward, one is looking back. It’s so exciting to watch these plays come together, and I’m so impressed by how thoughtful and creative all the writers are!”
If you go
What: Playwrights Project New Play Festival: Plays by Young Writers and Lifestages Reflections
When: April 20-29 (See schedule at playwrightsproject.org)
Where: Lyceum Theatre, Horton Plaza, San Diego
Lyceum Box Office: (619) 544-1000
Playwrights Project: (619) 239-8222
More from Playwrights Project
Besides the Young Playwrights Contest and Lifestages, Playwrights Project offers in-school programs for students in grades 3-12; Telling Stories, a playwriting program for foster youth; and Play by Play, a special program for emerging playwrights over 18.
On the third Tuesday evening of every month at various locations, professional actors perform lively readings of selected scripts. Next performances: May 15 and June 19. See playwrightsproject.org for details.
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