For 20 years, Santa Barbara’s theater community has supported the education and transformation of young people through writing for the stage. The Young Playwrights’ Festival, which celebrates this momentous anniversary at the Elings Performing Arts Center at Dos Pueblos High School on Saturday, May 23, at 2 and 7 p.m., offers high school students the opportunity not only to study the art of playwriting but also to see their work come alive through staged readings featuring professional actors. Rich Hoag, Jeff Meek, Shannon Saleh, and Samantha Eve are the talented adults who will join Dos Pueblos theater program acting students to deliver the lines and create the characters that seven of the school’s novice playwrights have imagined.

The program is the brainchild of theater teacher/producer Clark Sayre and will be directed by Gioia Marchese. When I met with the students onstage at the Elings Center last week, the excitement was palpable. Asked what they love about this program, the students offered a wide range of answers, from “When I started writing plays, I didn’t know anyone, but now I do, much more so than in any of my other classes” to “There’s nothing like seeing the smiles — or the shock — on people’s faces when they hear and see what you have written performed.”

The range of styles and subjects explored by these young writers is remarkable, as well. In Trial by Fury, AJ Nisich portrays what he describes as “a courtroom drama meets the Roman coliseum in the future.” Gordon Dawson’s medieval coming-of-age story, Eternal Night, was heavily influenced by The Lord of the Rings, while Aivy Nguyen’s Struck … Literally takes its inspiration from the ultra-contemporary world of teen celebrities as seen on such programs and websites as TMZ. Other student writers who will have plays performed include Cayla Henry, Santi Melendez, Justin Ealand, and Natalie Nelson. If you are a fan of contemporary drama, or if you are interested in how good schools are encouraging students to enjoy learning more, then you’ll want to check out the Young Playwrights’ Festival. —Charles Donelan


The Young Playwrights’ Festival takes place, Saturday, May 23, at 2 and 7 p.m., at Elings Performing Arts Center, Dos Pueblos High School. Call 968-2541 x4670 for information.


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