Young Playwrights Take the Stage

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s 9th Young Playwrights Showcase features three plays by high school writers.

By - Jan 26th, 2021 06:06 pm
Marcella Kearns, associate artistic director of Milwaukee Chamber Theatre

Marcella Kearns, associate artistic director of Milwaukee Chamber Theatre

One of the things that regional theater does for our community is reaching out to students. Even if they do not make theater a career, young people can learn from the experience. For instance, says Marcella Kearns, associate artistic director of Milwaukee Chamber Theatre: “My goal is to foster storytellers. The ability to tell stories is natural and desirable.”

Kearns should know. She has been with MCT since 2013, serving as lead educator/literary manager and since 2016 as associate artistic director. She puts together the Milwaukee Chamber Theater (MCT) Young Playwrights Festival Showcase, a biannual event by held MCT that is now its 9th season. She describes the process as “having three arms.”

One Arm is the residency program that she and her associate Samantha Martinson work on, going into schools and working with the students to produce a one-act play about any subject the student chooses to pursue. Kearns teaches the format for writing a script and how it differs from novels or short stories.  By working in a collaborative environment students learn to construct a story through dialogue and movement on stage.

The second arm is the competition. Out of hundreds of submissions each year, ten are selected for further evaluation. Because this a bi-annual event, it means that Kearns ends up with twenty for final judgment.

The third arm is The Showcase. Three of the 20 scripts are selected and performed. One of the benefits to the winners is that the student author can observe the process in every facet, from auditions to table reading, technical, blocking, and rehearsal. Three other plays will have staged readings. The authors of those plays will also be involved in that process.

Occasionally a play will present itself for further discussion and the director of the showcase will go into the classroom for further discussion and critical analysis.

And, of course, since this in 2020-2021 the residencies, competition and the showcase are all being done virtually.

No one in theater is completely happy with what they produce virtually because theater is the art of live performance in front of a live audience, However, Kearns found some “silver lining” in this year’s competition. “We are noticing more student participation because the process is done online,” Kearns says. “I‘m not sure if it’s because it’s easier to do without the travel and timing, but more students are participating in more steps of the production.”

The residency is offered to high school students (Grades 9 -12). Kearns told me about a playwright that wrote about Alzheimer’s. When she was selected she had by then graduated and was studying in a nursing program. This allowed the student playwright to have her script vetted by her professors for authenticity.

Teachers use the exercise as a part of their lesson plans. Though it varies from program to program, the residency can serve as a block in a creative writing, theater, or English class.

There is a fee for the classes, but Kearns assures me funds are available so that no one has to be turned away.

And the winners are:


by Samia Sheikh

directed by Jeffrey Mosser

Ronald Reagan College Preparatory High School

Mentor teacher: Carrie Baker Jackson

YPF Playwriting Residency participant

A young couple facing an arranged marriage lay down some ground rules with their parents.

“Would it be odd if I do actually like you?”



by Dexx Spychala

directed by Nadja Simmonds

Ronald Reagan College Preparatory High School

Mentor teacher: Carrie Baker Jackson

YPF Playwriting Residency participant

Think it’s tough being a teenager? Try being the teenage kid of Satan.

“Lucifer Junior Satan, heir to the throne of Hell, I am your father and you shall do as I say!”



by Imanol S. Ruiz

directed by Jake Penner

Cristo Rey Jesuit High School

Mentor teacher: Catie O’Donnell

YPF Playwriting Residency participant

Inspired by a true story: a priest reflects on his history with a pupil whose name the world would one day know.

“Si, todo Cuba conocerá el nombre de Fidel Castro.”

This year’s showcase is virtual it will be online from February 1-28, 2021. Tickets to see the three performed plays are $18.00 and can be purchased online from the MCT website

To see the reading of the honorable mentions scripts go to the MCT website and subscribe. They are free (Donations always appreciated).

There will be live talkback opportunities.

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