Student Playwrights Inspire At Virtual Plays By Young Writers Festival

This season five brilliant young writers provide insightful glimpses into the question, “How do we move forward?”

By: Feb. 19, 2021

Student Playwrights Inspire At Virtual Plays By Young Writers Festival

Five young writers between the ages of 13 and 18 have written insightful new plays that will be presented online in Playwrights Project 36th Season of Plays by Young Writers. Playwrights Project's

Executive Director Cecelia Kouma said, "Plays by Young Writers offers young playwrights a rewarding opportunity to work alongside professional theatre artists to bring their writing to life. This season five brilliant young writers provide insightful glimpses into the question, "How do we move forward?"

Each writer approaches the question from a different perspective -- a father and daughter moving forward after a tragic accident, a mother not ready for her son to learn to drive, a teen fearful of claiming his sexual identity, a girl longing to be a singer despite discouragement from her family, and a mother and son navigating their relationship with Fear and Worry personified. But at the core, each asks, "What do we let go of?" and "How do we embrace a new reality as we step into an uncertain future?"

It's a question many of us wonder after a year of lock down from COVID. Playwrights Project is committed to amplifying voices, highlighting issues of importance, framing alternative viewpoints, and providing a platform for thoughtful discussion between our playwrights, audiences, and the community."

Announcing the winners of the California Young Playwrights Contest, whose plays will be featured in Playwrights Project's 36th annual Plays by Young Writers Festival, sponsored by the Sheila and Jeffrey Lipinsky Family Fund and Mandell Weiss Charitable Trust. While theatres remain closed across San Diego county, Playwrights Project will present its first virtual performances of this highly regarded festival, which will stream live to the general public March 11 - March 13, 2021 and will be available free to schools March 15 - March 26, 2021. Contest winners were selected from 243 plays submitted by students from across the state. Four scripts will receive full professional productions and one script will receive a reading by professional actors.

All 243 contest submissions were evaluated blindly by Rachael VanWormer (Contest Coordinator) and a pool of theatre professionals who volunteered their time and expertise. The top 50 scripts were reviewed by Cecelia Kouma (Executive Producer), who worked with the Contest Coordinator to choose 10 finalists whose plays were evaluated by Final Judges. Final Judges in the selection process included Peter Cirino (Co-Founder of Tuyo Theatre and SDSU Theatre faculty), Jacole Kitchen (Artistic Programs Manager & Local Casting Director at La Jolla Playhouse), Josefina López (Award-Winning Playwright & Plays by Young Writers Alum), Annie Weisman (Award-Winning Playwright & Plays by Young Writers Alum) and Ruff Yeager (Co-Founder Roustabouts Theatre and Professor of Theatre Arts at Southwestern College). Yeager (who is also serving as Festival Artistic Director), Kouma and VanWormer chose the final plays for the season based on the judges' feedback and interviews of the top finalists.

Selection criteria focused on creative ideas, intriguing and authentic characters, fresh use of language, a story that is revealed through dialogue and action, producibility on Zoom, and a script that would benefit from further development in the production process. All contest participants who requested feedback received individualized written critiques.

To ensure the safety of our audience, performers, and writers during the COVID-19 pandemic, Playwrights Project has moved the production of Plays by Young Writers online. We are excited to continue this annual tradition as a virtual event, permitting us the opportunity to welcome new audience members from San Diego and beyond. Playwrights Project is committed to bringing playwriting programs and quality theatrical productions to all members of our community, including those who may not see themselves as writers or conventional theatregoers. For student audiences, many of whom have never seen professional theatre, Plays by Young Writers is an inspiring opportunity to engage with art written by their peers. Watching what other young people create and communicate through theatre is an empowering experience that leads to additional arts engagement and enhanced academic achievement.

Playwrights Project is excited to feature local Equity actor, Jason Heil and family - Kim, Katrina, and Tristan Heil in three of the five plays. This talented family of actors will perform together from the safety of their home, allowing more interplay between actors than is typically possible in online performances during COVID-19 closures.

The Festival is divided into Program A (appropriate for ages 11+) and Program B (for ages 16+). Each program includes one reading and two virtual productions. Two acting ensembles will present the two different programs, with actors playing multiple roles.

Program A

For ages 11 and up

Directed by Ruff Yeager

Full Productions

Dub Thee Fear, Declan Kallberg, age 13, Temecula

Controversy in the Comments Section, Sarina Hegli, age 16, Carmel Valley

Staged Reading=

The Fight for a Dream, Arely Gómez Hernández, age 13, City Heights

In Declan Kallberg's insightful and timely comedy Dub Thee Fear, Dyllan and his mother are doing their best to cope with COVID-19 restrictions. When his Fear and her Worry come to vivid life and overtake even the most mundane of every-day tasks, they are faced with the choice to gain control of their emotions, or let them - literally - run wild. Declan, age 13, is the youngest playwright to receive a full production in the Festival. The sensitivity, nuance, empathy, and unexpected genuine comedy of his script earned it a rightful place among the full productions. Declan says "I was inspired to write Dub Thee Fear soon after quarantine began. I wanted to explore the idea that fear is not evil, and, in fact, is necessary, but easily becomes misguided. This led me to the idea of a 'bumbling hero' figure to portray Fear." Declan lives in Temecula, California, and attends the iShine Student Center. He has been involved in youth theatre productions, classes, and camps since he was seven years old. Contest Coordinator Rachael VanWormer serves as dramaturg for Dub Thee Fear.

Controversy in the Comments Section, by 16 year-old Canyon Crest Academy Senior Sarina Hegli examines the good, the bad, and the unintended consequences of social media. Sarina says "I was inspired to write this play because of my love-hate (but mostly hate) relationship with the community application Nextdoor, on which people feel free to be so unpleasant, it's almost comical!" Sixteen-year old Jackson and his mother Fiona stumble upon an unexpected moment of connection and togetherness over a contentious exchange on a neighborhood app. Both mother and son realize the power of interaction - through screens and face to face. In addition to honing her writing skills, Sarina serves as vice president of the Envision Conservatory for the Humanities at Canyon Crest Academy, co-president of French Club, and co-president of the Model United Nations club. She enjoys playing movie themes on the piano and singing all the songs from Oklahoma! Sarina has shown her dedication to improving her craft through several years of contests: her script Working Woman was selected as a semi-finalist in 2018, and she submitted a total of four scripts this year! Local actor, playwright, and Playwrights Project Teaching Artist Tori Rice dramaturgs Controversy in the Comments Section.

What if you realized you were no good at the one thing you wanted the most? In Arely Gómez Hernández's The Fight for a Dream Lulu knows she is destined to become a famous singer - until she learns that it will take more than wishing to achieve her dreams. Does she have what it takes improve? Thirteen-year-old Arely wrote her script as part of a Playwrights Project Residency in Mr. Ensler's class at The Preuss School taught by Teaching Artist Aurrora Arnold. Arely's writing is sincere and surprising in its examination of family behavior. Her story offers a mature perspective, recognizing that even when your family disappoints you, they have your best interest at heart. Cynthia Ochoa, Teaching Artist and playwright, supports Arely dramaturgically.

Program B

For ages 16 and up

Directed by Tanika Baptiste)

The Love Project, Jordan Marie Finley, age 18, San Diego

Forward, Kaya Dierks, age 17, San Francisco

The Love Project by 18-year-old Jordan Marie Finley tackles themes of self-discovery, acceptance, sexual identity, and first crushes. A class assignment, a group project, and an algorithmic error offer Ronnie a surprising opportunity to explore truths and questions about his own identity, safe behind the anonymity of a screen name. When he is accidentally sorted into an online school project "screen-to-screen" with his crush, he overcomes his fear of rejection and eventually decides to be honest about his feelings. Jordan hopes her play will help young people who are finding themselves feel seen, heard, and understood. Jordan's play Feliz Cumpleaños was produced in last year's Festival. She is now a Sophomore at UC Santa Barbara studying Writing and Literature in the College of Creative Studies and pursuing a BFA in Acting. At UCSB, she is involved in Promise Scholars, Word Magazine, and Her Campus. Jordan is long time member of Jack and Jill of America's San Diego Chapter and Girl Scouts San Diego, where she completed all levels of Scouting and earned the 2019 Emerging Leader and Lifetime Achievement awards. Rachael VanWormer serves as dramaturg to support Jordan throughout her revision process.

Kaya Dierks's play Forward delves into the rift that's developed between John and his teenage daughter Katherine as he tries to move past the tragic event that turned their family upside-down. Katherine, meanwhile, feels abandoned and overlooked. In an effort to rebuild their family, they must find forgiveness for themselves and each other and establish a new set of expectations moving forward. Kaya Dierks is a 17-year-old senior at The Branson School in San Francisco, California. She says she was "specifically interested in exploring the aftermath of loss...What does it mean to move 'forward'?" As a fiction writer, Kaya turned to playwriting to further develop her skills at writing dialogue and relationships. She is currently writing a novel. Kaya has participated in the NYU Tisch Summer High School Dramatic Writing Program and the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop. She was a Fiction Mentee in the 2020 Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program. Playwright, Teaching Artist, and San Diego Playwrights Founder Thelma de Castro serves as Kaya's writing mentor.

Playwrights Project empowers people of all ages and backgrounds to voice stories through theatre, inspiring individual growth and creating meaningful community connections.

Ticketing and schedule information may be found at For more information, please contact

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