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Write On, Young Playwrights!

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Budding dramatists across America are writing, rewriting, and re-rewriting dramas, comedies, farces, and other kinds of stage works, a sure sign that the annual Young Playwrights, Inc. (YPI) competition is nearing its deadline.

Each year YPI holds this competition to give playwrights under the age of 18 (as of the Dec. 1 deadline) a chance to have their work evaluated by professionals, and in some cases, to take part in its annual writers conference in New York.

Eight of the nine winners from the 1999 competition arrived in New York City Mon., Oct. 30 for the most recent conference. They spent a week billeted in hotels in the theatre district at YPI's expense, and passed their days developing their plays, meeting and working with their peers, and attending daily workshops and talks with such artists as Lynn Ahrens and Nan Knighton. In addition, because all work and no play makes dull playwrights, they also attended "Copenhagen," "Rent," and "Seussical: The Musical" on Broadway, as well as "Fully Committed," "Les Mizrahi," and "The Beginning of August" Off-Broadway, and had dinner at YPI President Alfred Uhry's home, where they got to take good looks at his Tony, Pulitzer, and Oscar awards.

The week culminated with the staged readings of the young dramatists' plays, using professional actors, directors, dramaturgs, and stage managers.

"It was wonderful," YPI Artistic Director Sheri Goldhirsch told Back Stage. "It was a very talented group, and we're very pleased with the work."

The winners of the next competition won't have to wait so long to attend the next writers conference. "We hope to do the next conference in March or April," Goldhirsch said. "We're trying to pick up the pace so that we can put together a festival of theatre pieces in September or October, drawn from the conference we just did and the next one."

Showcasing new works had been a principal part of YPI's program, but budget cutbacks since 1997 made that impossible for a couple of years. Fortunately, recent financial support from the Douglas Cramer Foundation and Universal Studios economically reinvigorated the program and provided the means to open a festival in September, unveiling new plays by four teenage dramatists. The Joseph E. Seagram Fund, Philip Morris Companies, Lawrence and Alfred Fox Foundation, John Golden Fund, Cameron Mackintosh Foundation, Diller-Von Furstenberg Family Foundation, and Broadway.com have provided additional funding.

In the 19 years since Stephen Sondheim founded YPI, it has won an Obie Award, the NY Drama Critics Circle Award, the Margo Jones Award, the Villager Award, 15 Newsday Oppys, the Alliance for the Arts Schools and Culture Award, the Children's Theater Foundation Medallion, and the Jujamcyn Theaters Award. Playwrights who had early success there include Jonathan Marc Sherman, Kenneth Lonergan, and Rebecca Gilman, whose "Spinning Into Butter" is one of this year's offerings at Lincoln Center Theater.

Rules of the YPI competition require that authors, not teachers or parents, submit scripts, which must be typed and stapled, with numbered pages. Plays may be any length or style, but cannot be written by more than three collaborators, adaptations, screenplays, or (somewhat surprisingly, since the program was founded by the most celebrated Broadway songwriter of our time) musicals.

Authors may submit more than one play. Because submissions will not be returned, authors should keep the original script and send a copy, with a title page listing the dramatist's name, date of birth, home address, telephone number, and e-mail address (if applicable). Scripts may not be submitted by e-mail, and they must be postmarked on or before Dec. 1 to 2001 National Playwriting Competition, Young Playwrights Inc., 321 W. 44th St., Suite 906, New York, NY 10036.

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