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wordplay The Newsletter of Young Playwrights Inc

February 2011

Young Playwrights Inc. Wants NYC Students To Write A Play! March 1st marks the deadline for the 2011 Write A Play! New York City Playwriting Competition. This competition is open to kindergarteners through high school seniors who are attending school or living in New York City. Just like the Young Playwrights Inc. National Playwriting Competition, the New York City competition does not restrict the number, length, or content of submissions: we are simply looking for good plays by young writers. We also want to encourage all writers, which is why each and every submission receives one page of detailed feedback regardless of the placement in the competition. Where the Write A Play! New York City Competition and the National Playwriting Competition differ is in how the plays are judged and how the playwrights are honored. With the national competition, all writers compete against each other, but in the NYC competition writers compete in three divisions: elementary (up through 5th grade), middle school (6th-8th grade), and high school (9th-12th grade). Instead of having a first, second, and third place, writers vie within these divisions for three equal winning positions. Honorable mentions may also be granted in each group at the discretion of the committee that selects the plays. All participating playwrights (and there are several hundred of them

each year) are invited to attend a special Write A Play! NYC awards ceremony held each June. At the awards ceremony there will usually be a special guest (last year we had Michael Weller!) who will start off the afternoon with some remarks for the playwrights. Following those inspirational words, each winning playwright will have a short selection from his or her play performed in a staged reading by professional actors. The playwrights are then called up on stage to receive much applause and their prizes--which include a certificate and a monetary reward. That’s right, MONEY! In addition to other surprises there are lots of opportunities for photos of smiling playwrights and their families --and perhaps a Young Playwrights Inc. staff member if you can catch one of us on a good hair day. All submissions into Write A Play! New York City are automatically entered into the following year’s Young Playwrights Inc. National Playwriting Competition, meaning they are considered for the additional honor of having an OffBroadway staged reading! This year’s national winners include two native New Yorkers who have also won the Write A Play! Competition: Ruby Spiegel, now a junior in high school, and Ben Ellentuck, who has just completed his first semester at Swathmore. We can’t wait to find out who the next winners will be!


WB

riter’s lock

Inspirations from Lady Fuzzybottom By: Elizabeth Bojsza

The dog run in Washington Square Park is one of my favorite places in NYC. I love looking at all of the different breeds, observing their interactions, and inventing titles and names for them. I watch for a while and see who hangs out with whom, what happens when someone new comes in, who is aggressive and who is aloof… but what does this have to do with playwriting? Well, it occurred to me (as I was ruminating about whether a dog I had named Lady Fuzzy-Bottom was being shy or just coyly stringing her suitor along) that one can get inspiration for characters from just about anywhere: through observing people and animals, looking at photographs, even thinking about inanimate objects and what they might say if they could talk. Perhaps you would like to try your own experiments in building

characters. Animals can be great inspiration for characters, but if the dog run doesn’t flip your switch, perhaps you can try the following exercise adapted from our Write A Play! Curriculum: First, pick an object. Any object will do: a pencil, a beret, a plastic dinosaur, whatever! Maybe the object is something in your environment right now, or maybe it is something that exists only in your imagination at the moment. Think about this object’s environment: what would it see, hear, taste, smell, touch if it could? What stories would it tell if it could communicate? Write for five minutes or more from the perspective of this object. Challenge yourself to not name the object in the monologue. If you don’t write “I am a [insert name of object here]” how would someone else identify what you are? In other words, what makes that object itself beyond its name? Next, look at what you have written— does the object have something it needs to talk about? What might be immediate and necessary for this object to communicate? Why? Revise to ensure that your object has a clear voice and something it needs to share. Perhaps you will write about the day in the life of a sofa, or a donut that wants to get married to a cup of coffee, or whatever your imagination can generate. Who says characters have to look like human beings? What makes a character a character is not its species or any other categorization—a character is anything or anyone in the play that has something to say, that has obstacles to overcome, that has a goal or a dream.


National Statistics Tracking by Elizabeth Bojsza

I found a website online where I could download and print out a map of the United States. It was meant to be a coloring book page, but I repurposed it to help me with my task of statistical tracking for our Young Playwrights Inc. National Playwriting Competition. I broke out my trusty highlighter and colored in each state from which we received at least one submission in 2010, and used a different color to track submissions we have received so far for 2011. When the stacks of plays arrived each day in the mail in anticipation of our January 3rd deadline I excitedly tore open the envelopes (well, excitedly but carefully, so as to avoid harming the precious play inside) and scanned for the state or district from which the writer hailed. And every time I got a new one, I grabbed that highlighter and colored in the appropriate area with a smile. More highlighted states means we are closer to being a truly national competition. This year we got submissions from all states EXCEPT the following: Alaska, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, West Virginia, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Fourteen states with not a single submission! Come on America, where are you at? On the other end of the spectrum, New York and Texas had the most submissions from individual states. And I am happy to report that we got submissions this year from several states that we did NOT hear from in 2010. Special props to Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Nebraska, Iowa, Arkansas, Alabama, Maine, Hawaii, and Kentucky for showing up to the party. I hope we continue to receive submissions from your states in the future. In 2010 we received submissions from males and females in fairly equal proportion, with the ladies making a slightly stronger showing overall (around 55 percent). These trends are expected to continue this year. In terms of age, the playwrights ranged from eight to 18 years of age. Roughly ten percent of the submissions came from playwrights 13 years of age or younger, with the majority of plays –upwards of 70 percent—arriving from 16 through 18 year olds. Submissions are up this year! My fingers are crossed that we will get more submissions by younger writers this year, as well as submissions from states we have not yet heard from so that I can use my highlighter some more. Maybe 2012 is the year we’ll receive submissions from all 50 states.


What Happens When You Submit to NYC! So you’ve written a play and decided to submit it to Young Playwrights Inc. But what happens once you affix appropriate postage and drop your precious package into the mail? Your play has quite a journey ahead of it at Young Playwrights Inc.: When your play arrives, it is logged into our system and given a unique number to identify it. You should get confirmation that we have received your play after this step. Then your play becomes part of a packet of plays that is given to a reader who works for Young Playwrights Inc. Readers are professional theater artists who have been trained in reading and creating evaluations of your work. Some are dramaturgs, others are actors, directors, or designers, but all have highly evolved play-analysis skills and something to say about your writing. After your play has been read and evaluated, it is returned to our office with a the reader’s recommendation for our literary department: either the play needs no further consideration, or it should be read again. The reader also sends us the one-page evaluation that you will receive just for entering the competition, regardless of your placement. The top 20 to 25 percent of plays go on to be read by all members the Selection Committee. Your play is discussed at periodic meetings and committee members advocate for the plays they feel best exemplify superior craft. They must keep discussing and fighting for your play until they choose no more than 3 plays to be winners in each division. They will also choose who of the finalists will be awarded Honorable Mentions. Winners will be announced and evaluations will be distributed at the awards ceremony in mid-June 2011. Everyone who enters the Write A Play! New York City competition will receive an invitation to the ceremony. If you are not able to attend the ceremony, your evaluation will be mailed the next day. Not everyone can be a winner, but everyone can be a playwright! The entry deadline is approaching quickly so submit your play today!

Save the Date! Coming Soon from Young Playwrights Inc. . . .

March 1

Write A Play! NYC Competition Postmark Deadline

March 1

Urban Retreat Early Bird Application Postmark Deadline

May 1

Urban Retreat Final Application Postmark Deadline

May

National Playwriting Competition Evaluations are Sent Out

Mid-June

Write A Play! NYC Awards Ceremony

August 6-8 Teacher Training Institute


Teacher Training Travels to Asheville by Nicole Lorenzetti On a gusty weekend in November, two workshop leaders stepped off a plane in Asheville and were greeted warmly in true Southern hospitality style by members of the North Carolina Theatre Arts Educators (NCTAE). A playwriting-packed weekend was ahead, and 24 NCTAE members traveled from all over the state to learn Young Playwrights Inc.’s curriculum for teaching playwriting in their classrooms. After hotel check-in and a quick dinner, the North Carolina Teaching Training Institute 2010 commenced, led by Elizabeth Bojsza, Literary Manager at Young Playwrights Inc. and Frances McGarry, Director of Instruction at Young Playwrights Inc. Friday night started off with the key exercise What’s In A Name— participants thoughtfully create a character based on a name. Moving on to other classics such as the One Minute Play and Need To Tell, participants were completely engaged in their writing. Christine Northrup from Raleigh explained, “I think needing to tell is the motivation for most creation and it’s certainly why we do playwriting. I think having an interesting sequence of exercises is also really important and I feel like things were sequenced in such a way that the most creative, most earnest thoughts can happen. I can’t wait to see it happen in my classroom.” Saturday brought another full day of training, this time including an advanced workshop for participants who completed the first part of Teacher Training Institute in the fall

of 2008. Elizabeth led this workshop, which focused on dramaturgy and revision. After modeling a feedback session in which the playwright has the ability to receive response on their work from their peers, Elizabeth passed the baton to one of the participants. “The participants found this facilitation practice to be challenging, but grasped the concepts and successfully implemented them. For example, while occasional proscriptive advice would sneak into conversation, by the end of the exercise each participant was able to identify this as it happened and take that moment to remind the playwright that the choice is up to her,” Elizabeth described. Hands-on work was the key to the success of the NCTAE Teacher Training Institute. Sally Guerard from Bakersville explained, “What was most useful was ‘seeing’ [the exercises] in action to get an idea of how to facilitate them. This is something you cannot get from reading any kind of book or lesson plan.” Teacher Training Institute provides a blueprint for integrating playwriting into the classroom and thereby inspire young playwrights to reach their full potential. Implicit in this goal is empowering teachers to feel comfortable incorporating this work in their everyday practice, and also to remind teachers of their love of the craft which can be easily forgotten in the midst of a teacher’s hectic schedule.


Alumni Spotlight Carter Bays (born August 12, 1975) is an American television writer. Along with writing partner Craig Thomas, he is best known as creator, writer, and executive producer of the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother. He has 70 episodes of the show under his belt from 2005-2009, and has been nominated for six primetime Emmy Awards. The duo are also members of a band called The Solids. Bays plays guitar and is the lead singer of the band, which performed the theme songs for both Oliver Beene and How I Met Your Mother. Carter Bays is also a Young Playwrights Inc. alum (‘93), and he recently made this appeal to his friends and associates that we thought was darn good enough to pass on to you: Let’s just get to the big sales pitch: spend a little money now, and one of these Young Playwrights could be the next Shakespeare. Seriously. It’s possible. For a few bucks you could be buying the English language a lush new catalogue of genius, a richly realized life’s work teeming with brand new characters and stories... and vocabulary! Did you know Shakespeare invented the words “alligator,” “eyeball,” and “bump?” Don’t you think, even in this economy, a new “eyeball” is worth at least a few hundred bucks? How many times have you said “alligator?” Don’t you think you should be paying someone for it? Obviously the laws of copyright (and logic) prevent us from collecting royalties on all the household words you’ve been using for free all these years. But it’s worth noting that household words don’t coin themselves. Somebody works hard to think them up. (In fact, in the case of the term “household words,” well, that was Shakespeare too.) Who knows what words the next generation of dramatists will come up with? Pizzle? Wimberthamp? Florb? Aren’t you curious what florb could possibly mean? If you don’t send a check to Young Playwrights Inc., you may never find out. What I’m getting at is the reason I believe encouraging kids to write plays is so uniquely important to American cultural life right now: It teaches them that words are important. If there’s one fundamental thing that sets writing a play apart from writing a book, poem, article, essay, blog, text, or tweet, it’s this: When you write a play, the words you choose are spoken out loud. Usually by someone else. And usually at great volume. So… they better be some good words. For nearly 30 years, Young Playwrights Inc. has taught kids the awesome power of words. They are at the cutting edge of bringing the world its next Shakespeare. I urge you to read on about this marvelous program, and then join me in making an investment in the future of theater. With great thanks and florb,


Happenings Jason Brown (YPF84) currently teaches screenwriting with Writers Boot Camp in New York City. He also writes, produces and directs film and web projects. Adam Goldberg (YPF93) created a TV show for Fox called “Breaking In” which will air in April after “American Idol” and How to Train Your Dragon was just released to DVD. Lauren Gunderson (YPF01) wrote the book for Harry Connick Jr’s new Christmas musical The Happy Elf, and her play Emile: La Marquise Du Chatelet Defends Her Life Tonight is running at ArtsWest in Seattle in January and February 2011 and is now available through Sam French. MJ Halberstadt (WC09) just finished his student teaching in sixth grade drama in which he created and taught a Playmaking/Scriptwriting unit. In January he will be participating as a playwright/ director in a 24-hour-play festival at Boston Playwrights Theatre. Martha Jane Kaufman (YPF02?) is in her first year of a playwriting MFA at the Yale School of Drama and her play A Live Dress won the Jane Chambers award for playwriting this past spring. She was also made a playwriting fellow at the Huntington Theater. Johanna LeproGreen (WC08) won the 2010 fiction contest for Seventeen Magazine and her short story was published in the October issue. Maggie Levin (YPF01) has written the book for a musical called US (Peter Gabriel is music and lyrics) that will have a workshop at UCLA next year. Her film script Lovesick is currently in preproduction. Caroline McGraw (YPF02) is enjoying her second year in the MFA program at the Yale School of Drama. Her play Debut Track One Chord One Verse One was produced at the Yale Cabaret, and her play Tall Skinny Cruel Cruel Boys was workshopped with Washington Ensemble Theatre. Rich Tanne (YPF02) shot one of the lead roles in Swamp Shark, a TV-movie and has produced two independent feature films : Worst Friends and Mischief Night.

STAFF SHERI M. GOLDHIRSCH ARTISTIC DIRECTOR FRANCES MCGARRY DIRECTOR OF INSTRUCTION AMANDA JUNCO EXECUTIVE ASSOCIATE MARKETING MANAGER ELIZABETH BOJSZA LITERARY MANAGER WORDPLAY EDITOR NICOLE LORENZETTI EDUCATION PROJECT MANAGER

BOARD OF DIRECTORS JANET BRENNER PRESIDENT STEPHEN SONDHEIM EXECUTIVE VP ALFRED UHRY CHAIRMAN EMERITUS CARLA ALLEYNE CAROL EVANS SHERI M. GOLDHIRSCH MURRAY HORWITZ DAVID HENRY HWANG JULIA JARCHO JOHN MCNAMARA LOIS ROBBINS ELLEN STARR GEORGE C. WOLFE Can’t place the playwright with the play? Visit the alumni section of our website for a full list of participants and their plays. www. youngplaywrights.org


Young Playwrights Inc. POST OFFICE BOX 5134 NEW YORK, NY 10185

FOUNDED IN 1981 BY STEPHEN SONDHEIM


Wordplay February 2011