Catasauqua Press

Friday, September 22, 2017

Touchstone’s Young Playwrights brings community to the stage

Thursday, May 11, 2017 by LUKE MUENCH Special to The Press in Focus

For many students, the “Young Playwrights’ Festival” may be the best way to present their creative talent to their peers.

“The schools look at their students a little differently,” explains Mary Wright, Young Playwrights’ Lab coordinator.

“They may not always be as successful in a classroom setting, but they really flourish in this program. So, seeing teachers and principals get it, that’s exciting for them, and for us.”

It’s the 12th year the program has been helping to educate and empower youths in Bethlehem Area School District. This year, the lab expanded into Easton.

Says Wright, “For the first time [this year], we were able to run the program at Liberty High School during the school day as a drama class. And these aren’t kids who are normally involved with the plays at Liberty, which made it that much more rewarding.”

For the past few months, Touchstone Theater has been sending educators to schools for 16 sessions, primarily after-school, to teach students how to craft and write their own one-act plays.

This process leads to students submitting their plays to the Festival, with a handful selected to be performed the night of the event, May 13, in Baker Hall, Zoellner Arts Center.

“Before the festival, we have a party for folks to meet the young playwrights prior to the show, and we invite all playwrights to attend for free, regardless of whether their play was picked, so that they can see and understand the end result of the process.”

After the performances, a Gala is held to celebrate the occasion and raise money for the program.

“Fund-raising is very vital to the continued success of this program. It’s not a cheap program, so this is one of the biggest ways to help make it happen,” Wright explains.

The Young Playwrights’ Festival and Gala has been a staple of Touchstone Theater for some time now, so much so that they are starting to see younger students return to the program years later.

“One of the plays that was picked for this year’s festival was written by a playwright who happened to be a part of the program in third grade, and her play was picked then as well. We’ve been doing this program long enough where playwrights can come back as mature writers.”

The scale of the event has also grown dramatically over the years, with the festival having outgrown two other theaters because of the sizable involvement of participants and audience.

“It’s exciting, not just because the program is doing so well, but because we can reach more schools and grow even larger every year. My dream is that one day this could be anywhere and everywhere,” Wright says.

While the program does focus on helping children become more confident in their writing, it’s clear that the festival strengthens the community as a whole.

“I have personally seen the expressions on the faces of parents as they listen to something their child has written, and they look at their daughter or son in a new and exciting way,” Wright says.

The Young Playwrights’ Festival and Gala, May 13, Baker Hall, Zoellner Arts Center, Lehigh University, 420 E. Packer Avenue, Bethlehem. The “Meet the Playwrights” party is at 6:30 pm, followed by performances at 7 p.m. and the Post-show Gala at 8 p.m. Tickets: touchstone.org/events/12th-annual-young-playwrights-festival-gala/; 610-867-1689