BWW Previews: Actors Gives Teens The Stage With New Voices Festival

BWW Previews: Actors Gives Teens The Stage With New Voices Festival

Actors Theatre of Louisville just recently completed its 38th showcasing of career playwrights on the rise in the Humana Festival of New American Plays.

Now, the venerable regional theater is doing the same for a group of local teenagers, some of whom have written their first play ever.

Actors Theatre will present the world premiere of nine new plays by nine new playwrights at the New Voices Young Playwrights Festival April 21-22.

The seeds of these new works are planted in the New Voices playwriting residency program, a nine-session introduction to scriptwriting conducted by Actors Theatre's Education Department which covers fundamentals like character development, conflict, structure and stakes. The program reaches schools throughout Kentucky and the 812 area code.

Each student creates a 10-minute play for consideration in the New Voices Play Contest. This year's contest received 582 submissions, breaking the submission record from 2013 (the record is routinely broken each year). Every student who submits receives written feedback on their play. Plays are read blind by a committee which chooses the winners.

"Students are nervous about putting their work out there, especially if it's the first time they've written a play," says Jane Jones, Actors' education manager. "So we try to make sure they understand, because young people can be embarrassed easily, 'No one is going to know this is you' because it is a reader-blind process."

The residency program began in 2003, with the festival starting in 2008. The program originally culminated in readings of the scripts; now, Actors gives the chosen playwrights a production and a level of involvement that writers years into their careers receive.

"Every year, we try to be as inclusive of the playwrights as possible," Jones says. "This year, I think especially, we have succeeded even more in terms of our scheduling. A lot of our writers are very engaged with very active lives, and a lot of them have been able to come be in the room."

From the directors and dramaturges to the design staff, the entire creative team consults with each playwright on ideas that will achieve their vision. At an age where nervous insecurity is rife, several of the teenage playwrights say that receiving feedback on their work was most welcome.

"I think it's great," says Madison Zirnheld, a student at Male high school and writer of "What Not To Wed," a parody of Disney princesses in group therapy for their failing marriages. "I come from a biased point of view. I can't give myself more input. Their changes have made it 10 times better."

"I love critical feedback," says Travis Ryan, a duPont Manual student who wrote "Greg's New Phone" and whose play "Table 3" was selected for the 2012 festival. "The director and the dramaturg are just as important as the writer. Anything to improve the play is totally worth it."

"It's not a journal entry," Jones says. "Theater is made to be shared, whether it is read or performed in any way. It is not fully realized until you have presented it to someone else."

Once the plays are selected, the production process begins. The creative staff begins multiple workshops in which the directors and dramaturges read the plays aloud and discuss them as a group. The first day of rehearsal is the day all the plays are read out loud by the actors who are going to perform them.

"A number of our playwrights were able to come to the first reading," Jones says. "To see them hear their jokes land for an audience and hear those sad, poignant moments really performed out loud for anyone else - it's just magical. And this is day one!"

"It's so clear that in that first moment that this is what plays are meant to be," says Betsy Anne Huggins, education coordinator. "They're meant to be out loud."

The festival also gives the staff the chance to bring in members of the Actors Theatre team who may work in other departments such as marketing, development and finance and provide them the opportunity to contribute their artistic sensibilities.

"Everyone is a student, artist and teacher," Jones says. "Internally, we can recognize our coworkers as artists."

With a diversity of themes and styles from parody to dystopia and subject matter ranging from mental illness to ageism via technology, the 2014 festival shows that teenage minds are vibrant and alive with creativity.

"This festival shows that teenagers care," Jones says. "They really, really care and are willing to go for really intense, personal, meaningful issues. There's a lot of bravery in that. New Voices shows me a wide range of creativity and ability to engage in serious issues and commentary."

2014 New Voices Young Playwrights Festival

April 21-22 at 7 p.m. at the Bingham Theatre
Free, but ticketed. Tickets available by calling 502.584.1205. Limit six per household.

by Nakoma Ehrhart,
duPont Manual High School
Directed by Jeff Sachs, dramaturg Mirirai Sithole

by Hannah Rose Marks,
Assumption High School
Directed by John Rooney, dramaturg Sara Durham

"Cabbage CRAZED"
by Mark McDaniel,
Ballard High School,
Directed by Jane B. Jones, dramaturg Dara Tiller

"Piece by Piece"
by Saide Martinez
Floyd Central High School
Directed by Jacob Sexton,
dramaturg Amanda Simmons

by Emma Morris,
Atherton High School
Directed by Talleri McRae,
dramaturg Rebecca Goldstein

"Greg's New Phone"
by Travis Ryan,
duPont Manual High School
Directed by Jeff Rodgers, dramaturg Eric Werner

"Because I Knew You"
by Annie Stone,
Youth Performing Arts School
Directed by Michael Whatley,
dramaturg Katie McCandless

"Can We Just Kill the Bad Guy Already?"
by Hallianda Williams,
Fairdale High School
Directed by Betsy Anne Huggins, dramaturg Keith McGill

"What Not to Wed"
by Madisen Zirnheld,
Male High School
Directed by Cara Phipps, dramaturg Sam Weiner

Honorable Mentions

by Emma Bryan, Eastern High School

"Backwoods Football"
by Shelby Osborne, Jeffersonville High School

"It's Black and White"
by Ally Polk, Floyd Central High School

"Obscene Newscasters"
by Ben Potts, Male High School

More Louisville! More...

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Todd Zeigler Todd Zeigler is Artistic Director of The Alley Theater in Louisville, Kentucky, his home base for performing, writing, and directing. He is the "Stage Reading" local theatre columnist for The Voice-Tribune and

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