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The Wharton Center accepting plays from high school playwrights

November 27, 2017

Every year, the Wharton Center and the MSU Department of Theatre collaborate for the Young Playwrights Festival, an event that allows high school students the opportunity to send in their one-act plays for review and the possibility to see their work on stage. 

Out of the submitted applications, 12 semi-finalists will be chosen by a coalition formed by the Institute for Arts & Creativity at Wharton Center and the Department of Theatre. From there, the top six will have their plays performed by students in May of 2018, according to Bob Hoffman, the public relations manager for the Wharton Center.

Additionally, the semi-finalists will receive $100 and the finalists will receive $200 for their accomplishments.

“Each of the six finalists will be assigned a professional theatre mentor who will assist them in maybe revising their play or they’ll have notes on their play,” Hoffman said.

According to Hoffman, there is an exciting pool of mentors for this year’s Young Playwrights Festival.

“The mentors this year are really cool: you got the managing director of the Gretna Theatre in Pennsylvania, you got the associate professor of theatre from Arizona State University, you got a Michigan-based playwright, somebody from the University of Michigan, you’ve got a playwright and a screenwriter,” Hoffman said. 

In regards to the young playwrights’ shows being performed by students in the department of theatre, Hoffman said that it’s a great experience that can result in anything. 

“Imagine if you write a play and then it’s produced by, you know, theatre students. And, really from there, it can go anywhere. So, it’s really great,” Hoffman said. 

Just like the Wharton Center’s many other events, the Young Playwrights Festival is one that brings awareness and attention to the arts.

“I’m excited about it," Hoffman said. "I think it’s such a great opportunity. I mean, for 22 years we’ve been doing this, it’s one of those extra things that happen at Wharton Center that encourage young people to participate in the arts.”

Bert Goldstein, who oversees all aspects of the Playwrights Festival through the Wharton Center, said that this event is beneficial for high school students who are looking into a career in writing and to the students in the department of theatre who will be largely involved in the process.

According to Goldstein, the department of theatre, specifically professor Dan Smith, puts a reading committee together to judge the scripts that are sent in. 

The committee is responsible for narrowing the 40 to 50 submissions down to about 12, Goldstein said. From there, the playwrights are given a rewriting opportunity to improve their scripts based off of the feedback they will receive from Smith.

Although there is a variety of plays each year, according to Goldstein, there are still some common themes that seem to persist. 

“When you read a play, you know it’s good or has potential,” Goldstein said. “There’s something about it that’s unique, that’s interesting, something that the playwright is saying. Even though it may have been said before, they’re saying it in a way that’s deeply personal, that’s moving, that’s funny.”

Each year there seems to be a play about topics such as teen suicide, politics, parental relationships and history, according to Goldstein. Although these themes are pretty consistent each year, Goldstein said that those judging the scripts still know what they are looking for. 

“It’s kind of like trying on a sport coat: you know it fits and then you’re going to buy it,” Goldstein said. “We’re looking for that unique voice.”

Goldstein decided to add the mentoring process to the Young Playwrights Festival when he took the event over in 2008 so that students could learn about the importance of rewriting and revising a play. 

“I felt, being in the theatre for 40 years, plays get rewritten for years. You know, Hamilton was five years before it went to Broadway,” said Goldstein.

After the young playwrights work with their professional mentors via phone and email for about four to five weeks, the rewritten play will come back to the board to be judged again, according to Goldstein. 

“Usually, at that point, there’s been significant changes in the play because they’ve been working with a mentor,” Goldstein said.

Professor Dan Smith, who is approaching his sixth year of being a part of the festival, also emphasized that rewriting and collaborating are two beneficial skills the students learn through this experience. 

“What they do learn from this process, I think, is the benefit of revision; the benefit of seeing a large project come to fruition,” said Smith. “And the idea of collaboration."

The Wharton Center is still accepting applications for the 22nd Annual Young Playwrights Festival until Monday, Dec. 4, 2017. 

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