Teens have voice heard at Young Playwrights Festival this weekend

Mar 7, 2013

Teens will be the first to complain that no one listens to them. But Seattle's ACT Theatre is doing precisely that. 

For a dozen years now, the theatre has been offering playwrighting classes to young people, in and out of school time. From some 400 submissions, eight young playwrights were chosen to have their words heard in the upcoming Young Playwrights Festival. 

The Inside Scoop is the first play 17-year old Jenna Levin has ever written. She's chosen an unusual idea. 

"It starts in an office, like the Office TV show with quirky characters and the office is under attack. Don't really know why but they're on lockdown and funny interactions between characters. Later on throughout the show, you realize that the office is the inside of a human body."

The idea for The Inside Scoop developed in a playwrighting class that was offered at Jenna's school, Seattle Academy of Arts & Sciences. It's one of 16 public and private schools that participated last year in the Young Playwright's Program, initiated by ACT Theatre. The 10-week course sends professional playwrights into area middle and high schools to teach the basics of playwrighting. Anita Montgomery is the education director at ACT Theatre. 

"We take them thru structure, plot, theme, character development and dialog and all of those things and encourage them to keep journals. And then they come in with these amazing stories and fabulous imaginations and create this work around that."

Frank Garland is an old hand at writing plays. The freshman at Seattle’s Northwest School has a play in the festival for the second year in a row. It's called Fairest. It's a twist on the tale of Snow White told from the point of view of the Queen and the mirror. He likes how the playwrighting program isn’t all about work. 

"You don't start out writing a play. The first day you get to know your peers and you sort of bond with them and play little acting games. And so you do these little writing exercises, these fun little things and then after a couple of weeks then an idea, for some it happens faster than others, but then an idea starts to form in your head and mine happened to involve a mirror and a queen."

Fairest, like the other seven plays in the Young Playwrights Festival, has actors on stage reading from the scripts. ACT Theatre's Anita Montgomery explains none of the plays are fully produced.  

"We're focusing on the playwright in the process. We're not focusing on production values, we're focusing on the work that was written.”

So how do the plays get chosen? Montgomery says that with over 400 plays last year, it was difficult but they look for specific things.

 “Very often a play will come up; it’s either got an incredible theme or an extraordinary investment by a student in something that is so completely about being a teenage person on the planet that we’ve all forgotten or taps us back into that moment in time that we all think we have to put that on the stage.”

That’s what young writers like Frank Garland are doing, by observing their teenage world. 

 “In order to be a playwright, you just have to know how people talk, how they express themselves in real life. And to be a playwright, all that is helpful but also just listening to everyday conversations at school or in life. That all builds you as a playwright, as a writer.”

The Young Playwrights Festival runs tonight (Thursday) thru Saturday at Seattle's ACT Theatre.