High School Playwriting 2019. Photo by John Moore

Video: Student playwriting competition opens eyes, raises voices

In the video above, DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore speaks with Executive Director of Education and Community Engagement Allison Watrous and the student playwrights whose works were selected to be read at the 2019 Colorado New Play Summit. Video by David Lenk for the DCPA NewsCenter.

In six years, DCPA Education’s regional writing program now has engaged nearly 17,000 students

The Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ sixth annual Regional High-School Playwriting Workshop and Competition drew a record 181 one-act play submissions from students across Colorado. That’s an 18 percent increase over the previous year.

Photo by John Moore.

A blind judging process by DCPA artistic, literary and education professionals produced 10 finalists, from which three winners were chosen. After a week of in-house workshopping at the Denver Center with trained actors, as well as mentorship from both DCPA Teaching Artists and an asigned professional playwright, the three winning plays were given two professional staged readings at the 2019 Colorado New Play Summit.

The three finalists, all females, were Sophie Greenway of Estes Park High School; Katanu Mwendwa of DSST: Conservatory Green High School; and Molly Karst (pen name M. Rae K.) of Colorado Academy. After the Summit, each playwright’s work was staged at her own school for fellow students.

Last fall, local playwrights and DCPA Education faculty taught 170 playwriting workshops in 40 Colorado schools. A record 3,277 high-school students participated in those workshops, which were held in every school district in the Denver-metro area and in 21 counties around the state. The objective was to introduce students to the craft of playwriting, and encourage them to submit their own plays for the competition.

“We launched the one-act playwriting competition in 2013 to nurture Colorado’s young playwrights, create new plays and inspire creativity,” said Allison Watrous, the DCPA’s Executive Director of Education and Community Engagement. “In just six years, we’ve been thrilled with the response: 911 submissions and nearly 17,000 students served through the program, giving voice to the next generation of American theatre.”

Information in the 2019-20 student playwriting program

Karst, for one, felt heard. “Going through the process and hearing all these perspectives is so informative to what the potential of your play is, and how much farther you can take it,” she said.

Each winner also received a cash scholarship of $250 and complimentary passes to the Colorado New Play Summit. In addition, each teacher of the three winners received a $250 gift certificate for books, supplies or other teaching tools for their classrooms.

Greenway said the experienced opened her eyes to eventual career possibilities in theatre beyond acting.

“There are so many things I can do within theatre and art, which is what I love,” she said. “This whole process has given me insight into the future.”

The coordinator of the DCPA’s student playwriting program is 2017 True West Award winner Claudia Carson.

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

Photo gallery:

The three finalists, from left: Molly Karst (M. Rae K.) of Colorado Academy, Sophie Greenway of Estes Park High School and Katanu Mwendwa of DSST: Conservatory Green High School. Photo by John Moore

View more photos.

The chosen plays and playwrights at a glance:

Sophie Greenway Scenesters 2019Sophie Greenway, Estes Park High School

  • Class: Senior
  • Teacher: Andrew Virdin
  • Play Title: The 12:30 Train
  • Killer dialogue:

ESME: I already told you that we have no idea what this could do to the future! We can’t jeopardize it like that! Don’t you want a world to go back to?

HENRY: I don’t even know what the world looks like, Esme! I’d go back to a cinder-block cell and 25-to-life. I don’t care what changes, I won’t let this happen again. I’ve got nothing to lose.

  • What did you learn from writing this play? I’ve never written a play before, though I’ve performed in my fair share. All of my writing was confined to stories I have never shared with anyone. Writing this play allowed me to be vulnerable with my writing in the same way I was on stage. Putting something that you’ve poured yourself into is extremely scary. This play showed me that taking risks with creative projects is extremely important to growing as an artist.
  • Video: Watch Sophie Greenway’s The 12:30 Train

Scenesters 2019Katanu Mwendwa, DSST: Conservatory Green High School

  • Class: Sophomore
  • Teacher: Meriwether Joyner
  • Play title: Después de la lluvia (After the Rain)
  • Killer dialogue:

JUNIPER: “It’s Rafael. He won’t wake up.”

  • What did you learn from writing this play? I learned a lot about Puerto Rican culture and how the inhabitants of the island were affected by Hurricane Maria. I spent a lot of time trying to find a way to balance everything that happened in Puerto Rico recently with the culture and the way the characters interacted with each other, which was a challenge. Ultimately, it was a fun play to write, and it was fun to learn so much about Puerto Rican life.
  • Video: Watch Katanu Mwendwa’s Después de la lluvia (After the Rain)

Molly Karst Scenesters 2019Molly Karst, Colorado Academy

  • Pen name: M. Rae K.
  • Class: Sophomore
  • Teacher: Maclain Looper
  • Play title: Swiped Off Your Feet
  • Killer dialogue:

CONZO: Are you saying you’d rather have us be in some impossible, soul-shattering situation as star-crossed lovers than automatically fulfilled?


CONZO: Why?!?!?!

  • What did you learn from writing this play? Immersing myself in the world and drama of Conzo and Romea was rewarding, refreshing and all-consuming in the most fulfilling sense of the word. Hunkering down at Backstage Coffee and strictly allotting hours and chai lattes to explore their lives transformed my days into ones entirely occupied by writing, but ultimately days dedicated to artistry and creation. When I typed ‘END OF PLAY,’ I felt I had spent time doing something worthwhile and, above all, enjoyable. And of course, I had effectively educated myself about both the dangers and merits of Tinder (but mostly dangers) without creating an underage profile.
  • Video: Watch Molly Karst’s Swiped Off Your Feet

The 2018-19 Regional High School Playwriting Workshop and Competition is sponsored by The Robert and Judi Newman Family Foundation with matching gifts from The Ross Foundation, June Travis and Transamerica.