2015 Playworks and Musicalworks finalists

Playworks, Musicalworks winners chosen

By Julie York Coppens

The judges have spoken—and soon, a few dozen original characters will speak (and sing) for the first time.

Thespian Playworks and Thespian Musicalworks celebrate outstanding student voices from across the United States, Canada, and beyond. Both programs are sponsored annually by the Educational Theatre Association and run by the staff of Dramatics magazine, with support from Samuel French, Inc. (in the case of Playworks) and TRW (for Musicalworks). The professionals who reviewed this year’s submissions summed up the winning entries in one word: ambition. None of these young authors are wasting time on small ideas or easy forms.

Four plays and one musical in the making have been selected for development and staging at the 2015 Thespian Festival, June 22-27 in Lincoln, Nebraska. The student authors will work with professional playwrights, directors, and corps of actors to put their scripts and songs on their feet.

Cat Reynolds from Cypress (Texas) Ranch High School was named the winning finalist of Thespian Musicalworks 2015, for the selection “More” from her original musical The Sessions. The show deals with mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. “I wrote this musical to truly highlight the struggles teenagers face, and how they’re often told to just be happy, or that it’s just a phase,” Cat said. “I wanted to use my voice to speak for those who felt silenced… I want to prove to anyone watching The Sessions that they are not alone.”

The four winning finalists for Thespian Playworks 2015 are:

Austin Hughes, a senior from Troupe 3706, James W. Martin High School in Arlington, Texas. Austin has the rare distinction of having had two plays among this year’s semifinalist scripts: Ramblings of a Black Semi-Genius, an interracial friendship drama set in Arkansas in the late 1950s; and the piece that will be workshopped in Lincoln, Atlas’s Equal, an historical drama of female liberation set in the American colonies circa 1775.

Tanner Heath, a junior from Troupe 5698, Rutland High School in Vermont, wrote Escalator, whose seven characters are stuck on a stalled people-mover in a busy mall—and they can’t even text for help on their smartphones. Talk about a breakdown of the social order...

Matthew Waterman is a senior from Troupe 414, Bloomington (Indiana) North High School. His play, It’s Gonna Rain, brings together several teen-aged couples at a remote picnic site for various illicit activities: two couples are living in the present day, and one pair is living a thousand years ago in the same location, dealing with the same relationship issues. And the same weather.

Hunter McKenzie, a senior from Troupe 4820, Winnacunnet H.S., Hampton, New Hampshire, examines teen-aged relationships from an entirely different angle in The Okay Kids. There’s a bad breakup, a bad girl back in town, and a really bad party, but it’s all… okay.

A fifth playwright—Bethany Bauer, a sophomore from Troupe 740, Albuquerque Academy in New Mexico—also received high marks from the Playworks judges for her drama titled A, whose young adult heroine struggles with anorexia. Bauer was named first alternate in case one of the four finalists is unable to attend the Nebraska workshop.

In addition, these four outstanding Playworks submissions made the semifinal round:
The Deadline, by Lucy Sohr, Troupe 410, Harpeth Hall School, in Nashville, Tenn.;
Unexpected, by Maddie Peterson, also from Troupe 410 in Nashville;
Don’t Cry Over Spilt Coffee, by Sarah Doerner, Troupe 5869, Denver School of the Arts in Colorado; and
Fiction, by Aly Scarbrough, Troupe 5073, Thomasville (Ala.) H.S.

Joining the Dramatics editors in reading and evaluating Playworks submissions this year was Merritt Beischel, a member of the EdTA staff. The final round of judging included the playwrights Stephen Gregg and Nicholas C. Pappas, and director Elise Kauzlaric—three professionals returning to the Playworks team in June—in addition to the Dramatics staff.

The Musicalworks panel included program coordinators Gregory Bossler and Maggie Perrino, stage director Brian Curl, and TRW vice president Jim Hoare.

If you’ll be at the 2015 Thespian Festival, consider auditioning for Musicalworks (Monday afternoon and evening) and/or Playworks (Tuesday morning). Rehearsals are held during the workshop sessions at various times during the week, and are open to observers. A select “Dream Team” of experienced stage managers, designers and technicians is also needed to help bring the Playworks scripts to life; interested students should apply to Julie York Coppens in advance of Festival.

And everyone is invited to experience the Musicalworks and Playworks performances at Festival. Check your program on arrival for details.

Next fall, look for details on Thespian Musicalworks and Thespian Playworks 2016, including submission guidelines and deadlines, in Dramatics and on our website.