Playwriting Festival combines different talents, voices

By Laura Russell

Taking different talents and skills, Westminster’s Playwriting Festival is piecing together voices that may have never otherwise been put with one another.

“One of the things that’s really exciting about this is that we’ll get to hear from students in other venues,” said English teacher and festival coordinator Maggie Blake. “So what I’m looking for is: Can I hear you? When I put these together, am I going to hear a lot of different voices?”

        One major part of bringing so many voices together was that anyone affiliated with Westminster could make a submission.

“The entire school [was] welcome to submit two- to five-minute plays for competition,” said director Kate Guyton Morgens. “We have had people like coaches, staff members, junior high students, high school students, and faculty submit plays.”
In order to prepare and help students write plays, after-school workshops were held daily.

“Usually [we’d] do an exercise or a game,” said Morgens. “So usually it’s something like, the other day, we said, name a location and a character, a conflict and a twist, and we named those things and someone would go off and write that. [Another time,] we got a bunch of different sounds and sound effects, and then we had to put them in a script to make sense.”

While not looking for any specific topic, Morgens and Blake did keep an eye out for certain things.

“It could be a song, a rap, a poem, a play,” said Morgens, “but the best thing, in my opinion, is relationships. Things that are honest and genuine and real. I like to hear what the voice of the Westminster community is really thinking about, so I like to see things that are interesting topically, and not just, ‘Oh, there’s a basketball over there.’”

“I think that we’re both looking for a clarity of vision,” Blake said, “so a scene that focuses around a clear relationship or problem or question or even an image. It may not be as straightforward as this guy hates this girl; it could be really trying to explain what the first snowfall of the winter feels like, and take two pages to do that.”

Westminster had some unexpected inspiration when deciding to host this festival.

“They did this at the Hawkins School in Ohio,” said Morgens, “which is where Ross Peters used to be. I called the person who put together that festival there and talked to her about it. We have started doing a new thing in the theater department where we have a team of people choose the shows for next year, and when I took this job, the playwriting festival was already set in place.”

Fairness was a big key in deciding which plays would be performed.

“Eddie DuPriest, Hudson [Adams], Gavin Drummond…read the works without any authors’ names on them,” Morgens said. “Then they’re going to help us choose which ones are actually going to go into the event.”

The plays were chosen on Jan. 23 and include titles such as, “Did You Really Just Say That?” and “One Million Dollar Question.”

Students were offered more than just the opportunity to write or perform.

“Maggie Blake and I will be sort of the masterminds who put everything together,” said Morgens, “and we will watch and help with the directing, so we will say with a student director we think it should go in this direction, and each individual scene will have its own director.”

The submissions had Blake excited before the plays were even chosen.

“[I’m excited] partly because I’ve seen things created in the workshops and partly because of a student’s reaching out and saying I wrote this for a class of yours,” said Blake.

However, Blake is excited for more than just the writers, actors, and directors.

“The best thing a school can do is let you know someone in a variety of ways… and it’s because you get to know someone in a variety of facets,” said Blake.  “So, how can we better showcase all these different parts of who we are?”

        For those who are interested in seeing the different pieces of the Westminster community come together as one, the festival should be a must-see performance.