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Pendragon Theatre looking for young playwrights

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Pendragon Theatre will hold its first annual Young Playwrights' Festival the first week in April. 7th grade, 8th grade and high-school aged playwrights across the region are being asked to submit original one-act plays and musicals for a chance to have it presented on Pendragon's stage in Saranac Lake.

The deadline for submissions is February 1st, and the winning play will be performed by a cast and crew of professionals. Pendragon's artistic director Karen Lordi Kirkham shares some playwriting tips and suggestions.

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Todd Moe
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Karen says that for playwriting, the script really is a blueprint, and that the collaboration of all the artists creates the final product. For a young writer learning about playwriting, working on a script in a rehearsal is a wonderful experience. It’s very common even for professional playwrights to work on a play while it’s getting worked on in rehearsal. They hear the words in actors' mouths, they have a director, they have a designer. The writer will see different things that they didn’t see when their work was just words on a page.

Karen has taught playwriting in the past. After graduate school, she was an intern at the Old Globe in San Diego, and there was a group there called the Playwrights Project,a group committed to writing and teaching playwriting to young people. They would teach middle and high school students playwriting through acting games and working on your feet and through theatre. By getting students working and talking, she says that they were better able to understand character development and dialogue.

The idea of writing a play may seem daunting, but Karen provides some tips on where to start. There’s a cliché about "writing what you know," Karen says, but what makes a play differ from a movie is that so much of it is based on the journey of a character. And that is told through dialogue and dramatic action. Karen advises that the writer should start with a character and think about what that character wants, and what gets in their way, and how do they go about getting what they want.

Karen says that the judges of the contest are looking for dialogue, dramatic action and strong and continuous movement through the play. She says, “You want to create characters that you care about and a story that you want to tell. We all can access through our imagination and experience things to write about that inspire us and that we can be passionate about.”

April 5 is the tentative date for what is going to be more of an event than a contest. In the morning, there will be activities for younger kids involved in theatre. In the afternoon, there will be a panel workshop for everyone who submitted a play. There will be several judges and there will be a panel and discussion and a time for students to ask questions about playwriting.

The judges will include Karen Lordi Kirkham, Karen Lewis, who is an Emmy award winning writer, Fred Balvak, who is a freelance writer, and hopefully several other established New York City playwrights. The evening will culminate with the reading of several of the submissions and a final full production of the chosen plays. Based on the submissions, Pendragon will decide on how many plays they will honor and produce.

For writers who want to submit work, Karen says to keep in mind that a page of dialogue normally runs about a minute, so you’re probably looking at about thirty pages roughly, particularly if you’re talking about dialogue. And she says that you really want the play to have a lot of dialogue, you really want it to be about what the characters are saying to one another, along with some stage direction.

She says, “One thing that would be helpful is that if someone reads it aloud.” This will help the writer determine if the story flows and whether or not the characters' individual voices can be distinguished.

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