The Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ (DCPA) Student Playwriting Competition held its staged readings during the 2022 Colorado New Play Summit. But these plays have a slightly different journey to the stage than those of the professional playwrights. The main difference? The young playwrights receive guidance from the DCPA Education team to hone their craft with individual mentorship. Plus, they work with directors to see their play come to life. For many of these students, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness and participate in the professional development of their work. One influential person in this process is Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski, DCPA’s Director of Education and Curriculum Management, who acts as mentor to the student playwrights.
“I had a very important high school teacher who took me aside and said, ‘you should think about teaching.’”
Outside of the competition, Elkins-Zeglarski, or PEZ as he is affectionately called, works in collaboration with the DCPA team to support and bolster educational programming for students of all ages. “Our teaching artists are valued for their creative capacity and their ability to take their enthusiasm for the discipline and bridge it into core curriculum in the PreK-12 landscape,” explained Elkins-Zeglarski. In fact, the influence of arts education impacted his own career, leading him to train and perform as a professional actor for many years. “I had a very important high school teacher who took me aside and said, ‘you should think about teaching,’” said Elkins-Zeglarski, “So while I pursued my professional acting career, I always found myself back in the classroom.”
The High School Playwriting Competition begins with a series of workshops that are available for free to any school in the state that wishes for their students to participate. “We receive a few submissions that indicate some teachers set this as an assignment,” laughed Elkins-Zeglarski, “but so many of these students are clearly personally motivated to write a play.” After receiving hundreds of submissions, the selection is whittled down by a group of volunteers, theatre professionals, and the DCPA Education team. Once the top three plays are chosen, they spend a week in professional development. That’s where Elkins-Zeglarski’s mentorship comes into play.
“Any comment I make is based on the strength and quality of the work.”
As a mentor, he works with each playwright individually to amplify their voices. “It’s my job to make sure they don’t feel like their plays are broken,” said Elkins-Zeglarski. “Any comment I make is based on the strength and quality of the work.” By providing very specific feedback, mentor and playwright can work together to take something great and turn it into something wonderful. One of the selected student playwrights of this year’s competition, Ricardo D’Urso, found working with Elkins-Zeglarski illuminating. “I wrote the play in November, so when I went into the revision process, I found that my views had changed since then,” explained D’Urso. Working with Elkins-Zeglarski helped him pinpoint those areas and bring the play into a new light.
“It’s a really valuable learning opportunity for these students, and never at the expense of them feeling like they can’t have their own opinion.”
Through Elkins-Zeglarski’s mentorship, a week of rehearsals, and staged readings where the student playwrights see their work performed in front of an audience for the very first time, the Playwriting Competition is a vital resource for aspiring playwrights and the community. “It’s a really valuable learning opportunity for these students,” said Elkins-Zeglarski, “and never at the expense of them feeling like they can’t have their own opinion.” When asked about his passion for education, Elkins-Zeglarski pondered, “Why is my work particularly impactful?” Seeing the wonder and enthusiasm of the student playwrights must be answer enough.
If you’re interested in your middle school or high school participating in the DCPA Middle School and High School Playwriting Competition, please visit our website for more details.