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CONTRIBUTED PHOTO 10th annual Young Playwrights' Festival, 7:30 p.m. May 16, Zoellner Arts Center, Lehigh University, Bethlehem. Photo is of students from a previous Young Playwrights Festival. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO 10th annual Young Playwrights' Festival, 7:30 p.m. May 16, Zoellner Arts Center, Lehigh University, Bethlehem. Photo is of students from a previous Young Playwrights Festival.

Taking Young Playwrights seriously

Wednesday, May 13, 2015 by LUKE MUENCH Special to The Press in Focus

It's not easy selecting plays for the Young Playwrights' Festival.

For this year's festival, 100 scripts written by children were submitted to be performed. Six were chosen.

"It was hard," says Mary Wright, Young Playwrights Lab' Coordinator. "Not only do we have to pick what showcases the schools and students, but what plays will work together for a festival."

Touchstone Theatre presents the 10th annual Young Playwrights' Festival, 7:30 p.m. May 16, Zoellner Arts Center, Lehigh University, Bethlehem. The preshow celebration begins at 6 p.m. in the Butz Lobby. There's a post-show reception in the Lehigh University Art Galleries.

Young Playwrights' Lab is an eight-week arts and literacy residency developed by Touchstone and the Bethlehem Area School District.

Wright stresses "how important it is for us to take kids' creative voices seriously. We tend to not pay a whole lot of attention to what kids say, or their creative voices. And when we stop to do that, that's when our lives become rich."

The six play finalists were chosen based on their imaginative nature, witty dialogue, strong character development, and what "reached out and grabbed" the directors who would be working on them. Of the six selected, five were written by elementary school students and one by a middle school student.

Each student hails from a different school, allowing for the community to be better represented as a whole.

This year's schools include Broughal Middle, Calypso Elementary, Central Elementary, Farmersville Elementary, Freemansburg Elementary, Harrison-Morton Middle School, Lincoln Leadership Academy, Lincoln Elementary and Nitschmann Middle School.

The plays, directed by Touchstone's ensemble, are performed by Touchstone actors, community performers and students.

Don't be fooled by the age of the playwrights.

"Because these are written by young people, I think that people imagine that these plays are lightweight," Wright says, "but I'll tell you, some of these plays have some serious emotional moments."

Take "The Nurse," for example, written by Ryan Calhoun. His play tells the story of a medic's struggles in World War II, being picked on for the lifestyle he chose and facing the horrors war.

The Playwrights Festival is all the more special when one considers the amount of work and effort that goes into it.

"Without the support of Touchstone Theater, this wouldn't be possible," Wright says.

With school budget cutbacks, Touchstone has picked up more and more of the cost, approximately 50 percent.

Not only is the Festival "an opportunity to do cool theater," says Wright, "but to financially support the program and other such productions, physically and financially."

"To many loyal supporters of the program, the Young Playwrights' Festival is the most magical night of theater of the year," says Lou Cinquino, Festival Committee Chair. "And the Gala Reception that follows the performance makes it possible for Touchstone to maintain the Young Playwrights' Lab program, one of the Valley's signature school-based arts education programs."

One of Wright's favorite moments of the Festival is "at the end when we bring up the playwrights to take their bows and then all the playwrights who were involved. It always ends in a standing ovation, and seeing the expressions of the kids makes it all worth it."

Tickets: touchstone.org, 610-867-1689