It all began as a mandatory assignment for students in Philadelphia from second to 12th grade.
Six months later, the words these students wrote in May were brought to life in front of an audience by Temple theater students. From Oct. 1-10 in the Randall Theater, six plays written by students from eighth to 12th grade were acted out by Temple students for the New Voices Festival.
The New Voices Festival, an annual collaboration between Philadelphia Young Playwrights and Temple Theaters, has been a tradition for 27 years, featuring the first place winners in the middle and high school divisions of Philadelphia Young Playwrights’ Annual Playwriting Festival.
This year’s first place winners were narrowed down from 800 submissions.
“Every one of them is so different and unique than the rest of them,” said Glen Knapp, executive producing director at Philadelphia Young Playwrights. “And that’s just like every one of our young people.”
Each play is then cast and also assigned a professional director and a dramaturge, someone who handles research and development, to oversee the play. There is a three-week period of intensive rehearsal where they work through the script with the playwright and begin to put together the production.
The plays in this year’s festival range from comedies to dramas that cover hard-hitting issues. KC Camper, a junior theater major who played parts in “Our Hands are Up” and “For a Good Investment,” is one of many Temple students who were cast.
“It’s really awesome to do that because you get to see the art form right in front of you, and you are the first one to bring it to life,” Camper said.
The directors for the plays are all hired through Philadelphia Young Playwrights to work with the students on their plays.
Claire Moyer, a professional director in Philly, directed “Dirty Cuts” this year, a play written by David
“I think it’s a really neat way to bring together different people at different stages in their lives—like you have professional directors, you have college students who are a variety of ages—and then to bring in high school students so everyone is at a different stage of their understanding of theater and a different stage of life,” Moyer said.
Harry Freed, junior at Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy, is one of the playwrights in this year’s festival. While he admits he wrote his play “Curtains” for a grade, Freed was amazed to see his writing come alive in front of him.
“There have been multiple stages throughout all of this where I’ve gotten to have my mind blown in front of me seeing a school project dance in front of me,” Freed said. “The first read-through, it was weird to have actual acting students with their trained ‘actor-ly’ voices saying things I had written down like six months prior.”
Donnell Powell, associate producer of the New Voices Festival and a 2012 Temple alumnus, has been involved with the festival since his junior year at Temple and feels the event is growing better with each installment.
“The thing about art is how can we take it to the next level?” Powell said. “And I think that New Voices is taking it year by year to the next level … it always gets better and that’s what I’m proud of.”
“I think Philadelphia Young Playwrights does a really amazing job of asking young people what they think and then saying, ‘We hear you, let me show you how much we value your voice,’” said Shavon Morris, director of Freed’s play. “I feel like after the play is done, the fact that someone listened to these young bodies is a worthwhile, lifelong experience.”
Gillian McGoldrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: Jenny Kerrigan, photo editor for The Temple News, is a freelance photographer for Philadelphia Young Playwrights. She did not play a role in the editing process of this article.