Not many high school students are aware that there are opportunities for them to not only become published playwrights before they graduate, but there are also organizations that give these young playwrights a chance to showcase their work on a professional stage with professional actors.
Logan Stefanson entered Manitoba Association of Playwrights’ competition in Canada last year as a senior in high school. It was the first play he ever wrote for his drama class’ end of the year examination. A month before graduation he was declared the winner of the competition as his production was voted the best by his audience out of the five finalists. Now a student at the University of Manitoba, Logan is in the midst of producing another production entitled “Television” at his university’s theater. “It’s just a matter of finding every opportunity,” says Logan, “All you have to do is research ‘high school play writing competitions’ on the internet and you will come across hundreds of competitions.”
But just how many high school playwrights are out there? The art of play writing is not an encouraged medium at the high school level, says Literary & Education Manager Mr. Dan Burson of Portland Stage. Mr. Burson continued to say that “the majority of the submissions we [Portland Stage] receive are the kids’ first plays they’ve ever written. It’s really exciting as a literary manager to read first works.”
Overall, however, Mr. Burson does not believe that that there are enough opportunities for young playwrights. Ms. Rose Pearson of Circle Theatre concurs with Mr. Burson: “I think these opportunities are still a bit limited, but growing.” According to Ms. Pearson the Circle Theater received around 80 submissions this year from their teen contestants in the Forthworth Texas area. Though it varies each year of their competition, Portland Stage acquires, on average, 25 to 35 submissions from young adults. Though, when interviewed, Mr. Burson was happy with the submission number, his contest only includes young adults within the state of Maine.
Schools Program Manager Mr. Andrew Hager of the Alley Theatre in Houston, Texas received around 174 submissions from the Houston area. “Of the 174, around 20 are very good. 12 are usually exceptional. The final six are usually humbling, talent-wise. I’m very honored to get to know such young, talented people.”
Director of Education Mr. Josh Costello of the Marin Theatre of California was also amazed by the talent of the 40 submissions they received this past year from the Marin and Sonoma Counties. “I'm impressed not just by their talent but by the scope of their imagination. We've had plays set in historical periods, intense family dramas, raunchy comedies, and poetic spectacles.”
All the theatres mentioned above also give their finalist(s) an opportunity to produce their work in some way on stage in order to celebrate their ability to create a production at such a young age. Most play writing competitions for young adults occur at a state or city level. This is simply because to extend the submission lines to further cities or states would create a huge cost in producing expenses—it is simply economical to carry on the competition locally. Keeping the contests at a small level allows each script to get the private attention it deserves and creates an intimate setting for students to produce their work.
For teens that live in these areas, take advantage of these valuable circumstances; not all are as lucky as you. But do not be disheartened if you do not live in one of these areas, because there are some national competitions out there. Ms. Amy Marsh, the Literary Manager of Samuel French, believes that opportunities for teens are increasing. “I think it’s a growing trend...Lots of regional theaters are starting to get involved.”
Below is a compiled list of play writing competitions for teens; so please, submit your manuscripts and help create more opportunities for your fellow young playwrights by doing so!
Featured Playwright Competitions in the Preceding Article:
-Submissions: Thespian Playworks is a writing competition and script-development program for high school students, sponsored by the Educational Theatre Association and run by the staff of Dramatics magazine. Each year, up to four finalists are invited to bring their scripts the Thespian Festival in Lincoln, Nebraska, where they work with a professional director, a dramaturg (a working playwright who acts as script advisor and mentor), and a volunteer cast of actors to put the short plays up on their feet before a live audience. Participants must be active members of the Thespian Society who are enrolled in high school during the year they submit.
-Winners: Up to four playwrights will be chosen to participate in play development workshops and script-in-hand readings at the International Thespian Festival the year they are chosen. The playwright and actors will collaborate with a director and dramaturg; the emphasis will be on bringing the play to life on stage with minimal production elements, and on strengthening the script through rewrites. The student playwrights will be part of the production team, as they observe the readings, consult with their dramaturgs, receive and provide feedback, and work on revisions. The process will culminate in readings of the scripts, or portions of them, before a Thespian Festival audience, followed by an audience talkback. Publication opportunities. In addition to the invitation to participate in workshop rehearsals and a staged reading at the Thespian Festival, the finalist writers will receive an opportunity for a publishing and licensing agreement with play publisher Samuel French, Inc. The finalist plays (or excerpts, at the discretion of the editors) will also be published in Dramatics magazine.
-Contact:Thespian Playworks, 2343 Auburn Ave., Cincinnati, OH
Alley Theatre – HYPE: Houston Young Playwrights Exchange (Houston, TX)
-Submissions: The Ally Theatre offers several opportunities for 13-19-year-old playwrights in Houston, Texas. According to the School Programs Manager, Andrew G. Hager, “Each winner is paired with a mentor/director who will oversee rewrites and the final staged reading. The first week is an intensive with a playwright in residence. The six weeks ends with a staged reading process with a group of around ten actors over the period of a week. It ends with three performances of those readings here at the Alley on the Neuhaus Stage.”
-Winners: There are six finalists each year. The winners are afforded 500 dollars plus a six-week playwriting retreat here the Alley.
-Contact: For more information on the contest contact School Programs Manager, Andrew G. Hager, at [email protected]
Circle Theatre – High School Playwriting Project (Fortworth, Texas)
- Submissions: Entries are open to any high school in Fort Worth and nearby counties. Annual invitations are given to area high school teachers as well as students to enter 10-minute scripts for evaluation by a panel of judges. The selected judges then read the anonymous plays, write responses for each script, and choose 20 plays to send to Connie Whitt-Lambert, theatre professor at Texas Wesleyan University. Connie Whitt-Lambert and her playwriting students then provide written analyses for the selected plays. Out of the twenty submissions, four playwrights are then invited to the Wesleyan campus in order to discuss their work. Students are then allowed to edit their original pieces.
-Winners: There are four finalists and three semi-finalists, as opposed to one winner.
-Contact: According to the Circle Theatre’s official website, “Teachers or students wishing to participate in next year’s playwriting project may email Rose Pearson at [email protected]. This project is open to all students and is not limited to theatre classes”.
Manitoba Association of Playwrights – Manitoba High School Playwriting Competition (Manitoba, Canada)
-Submissions: According to their official website, “The Manitoba Association of Playwrights is a non-profit organization that supports playwrights and playwriting in Manitoba. Each year the Manitoba Association of Playwrights and Scirocco Drama invite high school students to submit plays for the Annual Highschool Playwriting Competition. The plays are about fifteen or twenty minutes, with a minimum of three characters. A panel of theatre professionals reads them and selects five.The finalists work with a dramaturge to improve the scripts as necessary, directors are hired and actors are cast, the plays are rehearsed and then produced for two nights in early June at the Warehouse Theatre.”
-Winners: Votes from the audience are taken each night to decide on the winners. There is first, second, and place or honorable mentions. All awards are either cash or gift certificates.
-Contact: [email protected]
Marin Theatre Company– Marin Young Playwrights Festival (Marin and Sonoma County, CA)
-Submissions: Eight original ten-minute plays are performed by teens in an event at Marin Theatre Company. The Marin Young Playwrights Festival celebrates the work of teen playwrights by accepting submissions from current high school students who reside or go to school in Marin or Sonoma County.
-Winners: One winner selected for professional stage reading, which is open to the public.
-Contact: Director of Education, Josh Costello, [email protected]
Portland Stage – Young Writers Project
-Submissions: According to their website, “Little Festival of the Unexpected Young Writers Project gives high school playwrights the opportunity to be read, seen, and heard by professionals during Portland Stage’s annual celebration of new works for the stage. Young writers are invited to explore their imaginations and the theatrical form, and submit original scripts of short plays or monologues to Portland Stage.” All students grades 9-12 from the state of Maine can enter.
-Winners: Finalists get readings by professional actors during larger festival as well as chances to observe professional full-length rehearsal processes.
-Contact: Literary & Education Manager, Daniel Burson at [email protected]
Other National and Local Playwright Competitions for Young Adults:
Actors Theatre of Louisville – New Voices (KY and IN)
-Submissions: According to their website, “The New Voices Young Playwrights Festival celebrates new plays by young writers from our region. Every year we choose 8-10 short plays from the contest to produce in the festival, which takes place in April at Actors Theatre of Louisville. The winning playwrights work alongside professional dramaturgs, directors, designers and actors from our staff and Apprentice/Intern Company to bring their stories to life onstage. The plays are also published in our annual New Voices anthology. The New Voices Young Playwrights Festival is open to middle and high school students, grades 6 through 12, living in Kentucky or the 812 area code of Southern Indiana.”
-Winners: Finalists stage their plays with help from professional dramaturgs, directors, designers, and actors and get published in trade edition.
-Contact: Associate Director of Education, Jacob Stoebel, [email protected]
Baltimore Centerstage – Young Playwrights Festival (Baltimore, Maryland)
-Submissions: Limited to Maryland-only. “Final Honorees” have plays workshopped and performed in staged readings at Centerstage, and then those plays go on tour.
-Winners: from this year span grades 3-12
-Contact: Community Programs Fellow, Jay Gillman, [email protected]
Blank Theatre – Young Playwrights Competition & Festival (Hollywood, CA)
-Submissions: According to their official website, “The Blank Theatre Young Playwrights COMPETITION & FESTIVAL is the premiere nationwide forum dedicated to developing and producing plays and musicals by playwrights 19 years of age and younger. Accomplished professional writers make up a team of mentors who help winning playwrights prepare their work for public performance. Original plays and musicals on any subject may be entered. There is a limit of up to 3 plays per playwright or playwright team.
-Winners: Number of winners not specified.
-Contact: No listed Education Director or other competition staff, general inquiries to [email protected]
Geva Theatre Center– Young Writers Showcase (Rochester, NY)
-Submissions: According to their website, “Geva Theatre Center invites aspiring playwrights from the Greater Rochester area, ages 13-18, to submit short plays for consideration for the Young Writers Showcase. We recommend submitting plays of no more than 10 pages and having no more than eight characters.”
-Winners: Selected scripts given staged readings by professional actors.
-Contact: New Plays Coordinator, Jean Gordon Ryon, [email protected]
Hartford Stage – Write On (CT)
-Submissions: Annual young playwrights competition open to all CT residents grades 9-12.
Culminates in 10-minute plays. Submissions are just outlines of ideas, not scripts.
-Winners: 5-6 winners sit in on professional play development (of professional plays, not their plays) and participate in intensive writing workshops taught by professional playwright(s).
-Contact: Education Programs Manager, Robert Reader, but no emails listed, contact page here http://www.hartfordstage.org/contact/
Horizon Theatre Company– Young Playwrights Festival (Atlanta, GA)
-Submissions: According to the their official website, “Students, high school through college, are invited to submit completed one-act plays for consideration in the Horizon Theatre Company’s New South Young Playwrights Festival Contest. Twenty playwrights will be selected to participate in the New South Young Playwrights Festival at the Horizon Theatre Company in the trendy Little Five Points area of Atlanta. This weeklong festival will include playwriting workshops, seminars, and rehearsals with professional theatre actors, directors, and playwrights.”
-Winners: 20-30 are chosen for week-long festival of workshops, seminars, and rehearsals with professional actors, directors, and playwrights.
-Contact: Education Coordinator, Jessica de Maria, [email protected]
Massachusetts Educational Theater Guild – Sherwood Collins Playwriting Contest (MA)
-Submissions: Any Massachusetts student in grades 9–12 is eligible to enter the contest. The script must be written for stage presentation, no musicals. The scripts can be no longer than forty minutes in length. A student may not submit more than one entry.
-Winners: Prize is cash and “an offer of publication by JAC Publishing and Promotions” (unclear if this includes a licensing contract).
-Contact: No email address listed, but there is a contact form on the site (http://metg.org/contact/
Mississippi Theatre Association – Playwriting Competition (MS)
-Submissions: Entries limited to Mississippi high school students. Length of scripts must be 20-40 pages.
-Winners: The winning play in the youth competition receives a stage reading a the MTA Festival/Conference and a $250 cash prize.
-Contact: Playwriting Division Chair (Youth), Janice Weaver, [email protected]
Philadelphia Young Playwrights (Philadelphia, PA)
-Submissions: Enter your play to Write On!, their annual play writing competition. This contest is for young Philadelphia-area playwrights. Each contestant gets written feedback from the Literary Committee. They read and provide individualized written feedback for each student script submitted to the Annual Playwriting Festival.
-Winners: First, second, and third place for elementary, middle, and high school levels.
-Contact: Director of Education and Programs, Amy Hodgdon, [email protected]
and Marketing and Communications Coordinator, Sameer Rao, [email protected]
Playwrights Project– California Young Playwrights Contest (CA)
-Submissions: According to their official website, entries are open to all “Californians under the age of 19 as of June 1, 2012. Collaborations and group plays will be accepted. Scripts will be evaluated in two groups. Winning writers aged 15 and older will receive full professional productions; winning younger writers will receive staged readings performed by professional actors.
-Winners: All winners get full professional productions in San Diego in annual Plays by Young Writers festival, including workshopping support in the rehearsal process.
-Contact: Kaja Dunn, [email protected]
Princeton University – 10 Minute Play Contest
-Submissions: Any high-school students can submit a play. There is a 10-page limit to the script length. The jury that determines the winners consists of members of the Princeton University Theater faculty.
-Winners: First, Second, Third, and Honorable Mention. First three places are given cash prizes.
-Contact: Lewis Center for the Arts Program Assistant, Joe Fonseca, [email protected]
Southeastern Theatre Conference, Inc. – High School New Play Project (SETC)
-Submissions: High school student playwrights who currently reside in one of the 10 states in the SETC region are eligible: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. According to their regulations, “The script should be a one-act play that has not been published or professionally produced. Each applicant may submit one play only. Plays must be written by a single playwright - no collaborations.”
-Winners: Winning play gets $250 and subsidy to attend conference, where play gets staged reading and a talk-back.
-Contact: Contest Chair, Nancy Gall-Clayton, [email protected]
Syracuse Stage – Young Playwrights Festival
-Submissions: Syracuse Stage invites Central New York high school students to write original ten-minute plays and other performance pieces for entry into their annual Young Playwrights Festival contest. Plays should be centered around “Big Question,” which this year is “What lies beyond the frame?”
-Winners: Semi-finalists come to writing workshop where plays get critiqued; finalists get staged readings by Syracuse University kids.
-Contact: Director of Educational Outreach, Lauren Unbekant, [email protected]
Young Playwrights, Inc. (New York, NY)
-Submissions: Entries are open to any U.S. Citizen, though you must be 18 years old or younger on January 2, 2013 to participate in the competition. Style, subject, and length are up to you, but collaborations of more than three writers will not be accepted. Original plays only; no screenplays, musicals or adaptations. You may submit more than one play. According to the Young Playwrights, Inc. website, “Your play becomes part of a packet of plays that is given to a reader who works for Young Playwrights Inc. After your play has been read and evaluated, it is returned to our office with 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 four-person Evaluation Committee. No more than 25 Finalists are selected.
-Winners: Once the Finalists are selected, the evaluations are sent out to the playwrights. The plays advancing to the final round are all read by the Selection Committee which is composed of distinguished alumni of Young Playwrights Inc. This committee chooses up to ten winners.
-Contact:Literary Manager, Elizabeth Bojsza, [email protected]