The casts and creative teams for the High School Playwriting staged readings pose for a photo together

Q&A with the High School Playwriting Competition Winners

The Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA) Education & Community Engagement’s annual Middle School & High School Playwriting Competition inspires students across Colorado to connect with their inner artist. 

The casts and creative teams for the High School Playwriting staged readings pose for a photo together

Photo by McLeod9 Creative

In this year’s tenth annual competition, three freshman winners were selected for the first time in the competition’s history. The DCPA is excited to see this caliber of talent appearing in a younger age group, and the future of the program looks bright.  

The three student playwrights spent a week with the DCPA Education team, directors, and mentors developing and rehearsing their work before staging a public reading during the 2023 Colorado New Play Summit. For these young playwrights, this is the first time they have seen their work performed live in front of an audience.  

According to the DCPA’s Director of Education and Curriculum Management, Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski, who also works as a mentor to the student playwrights, this opportunity is vital to aspiring playwrights and artists. When asked about his passion for the program, Elkins-Zeglarski pondered, “Seeing the wonder and enthusiasm of the student playwrights and witnessing the development of their writing is rewarding for all of us on the Education & Community Engagement team.”  

The three student playwrights stand onstage together

Elliet Johnson, Hayden Ferrandino, and Penelope Letter. Photo by McLeod9 Creative

Playwright Elliet Johnson penned A Curious Couple, a comedic play about an elderly woman who summons the devil to join her for a cup of coffee. Hayden Ferrandino’s work, From the Beginning of the Edge, explores a bittersweet friendship based on the playwright’s own experiences. Players, Staged, written by Penelope Letter, was inspired by Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night – but with a queer cast.  

The student playwrights took some time to answer questions and reflect on their experience after their staged readings during the Summit. 

What was one major delight for you between your play in rehearsals and your play in front of an audience? 

Johnson: Seeing the play in rehearsals with stops and experimenting with the lines versus what was produced on stage was amazing. To see what changes are made is an amazing delight. 

Ferrandino: I had so much fun connecting with the actors in my play. I also loved being able to hear my script out loud and amazingly acted — honestly the entire process was so much fun. 

A row of actors standing at music stands wearing all black

Photo by McLeod9 Creative

Letter: Getting to see the audience react to it and enjoy it was amazing. 

In what one important way did you grow as a theatre artist through this experience? 

Johnson: I got to see the other side of theatre. I’m usually on the performing side. But I saw the process of writing and being a part of the process of making a show. It was an amazing experience, and I found my love of writing. 

Ferrandino: Throughout this journey I was able to understand why my play was chosen, and that helped me grow as a writer. I also learned more about the rehearsal process and what it means to be a playwright while not being a director or actor at the same time. 

Letter: This experience has made me much more confident in my work. I feel a bit more ready to do theater and help out now. 

Two actors seated at music stands laugh together during rehearsal

Photo by McLeod9 Creative

What one piece of advice would you give to next year’s playwrights in terms of prepping them for success in this process? 

Johnson: I would say to cherish every moment. But really know your play and why you wrote it. Spend time on why the idea came to be. 

Ferrandino: Don’t be afraid to go with whatever random idea you may have, flesh it out. Don’t worry about how certain people in your life may react to your script; that is their problem, not yours. Finally, don’t be afraid to put parts of yourself into your play/characters. It can be hard- being that vulnerable, but it can make for an amazing script. 

Letter: I would give the advice to know that your play isn’t perfect, and maybe in your eyes it will never be, so you need to be prepared to make the changes you feel are necessary.