The Kennedy Center’s Office of VSA and Accessibility is pleased to announce the winners of the 2015 VSA Playwright Discovery Competition, an annual competition that invites middle and high school students to examine the disability experience and express their views through the art of script writing. These talented young writers had their scripts chosen from more than 400 scripts submitted from around the world.
The winner in the Primary Division (grades 6-7) is The Problem with Wheelchairs by Elena Koogler, Enyo Okeoma, and Gloria Peroza-Aguirre from Northwest Junior High School in Coralville, Iowa. The winner in the Junior Division (grades 8-9) is Blind Faith by Rebecca Lewis from Union County Academy for the Performing Arts in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. The winners in these divisions receive a certificate of award and his or her school receives $500 to put towards arts programming.
The eight winners from the Senior Division (grades 10-12) are invited to participate in a weekend of pre-professional activities at the Kennedy Center during the annual Page-to-Stage New Play Festival. The young playwrights engage with seasoned professional playwrights, directors, and actors to refine their scripts and further develop their playwriting skills. The winning plays include: 3AM on a Park Bench by Paige Colvin; Cade Klein by Leah Davis; A Journey to the Mind’s Eye by Christopher Huntsman; Twelve Bucks by David Merkle; Forty-Seven by Olivia Popp; Mutant Boy by Bennett Sherr; Personification by Molly Kate Toombs; and Where Colors Rest in the Nighttime by Catherine Valdez.
Paige Colvin (3AM on a Park Bench) is entering her senior year at Redwood High School in Larkspur, California where she has been involved in acting and writing for as long as she can remember. Past awards include a silver medal at the Margie Burke Speech Tournament for her poems, as well as having her work published in the 2009-2010 anthology of California Poets in the Schools. She has written and directed one-act plays for her high school’s theater program, and is very excited to be performing as Veronica Sawyer in the school’s production of Heathers: The Musical in the fall. Theater is her ultimate passion, and she hopes to pursue acting for the stage at university level and as a career.
Leah Davis (Cade Klein) is a junior at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, Texas, where she studies theater and is active in many productions both at her school and within the Dallas community. Her play is based on the events in the life of a childhood friend with autism. She is a member of the National Honor Society, International Thespian Society, National Science Honor Society, and Mime Troupe. This was her first attempt at playwriting, a passion she will continue to pursue.
Christopher Huntsman (A Journey to the Mind’s Eye), who has autism, is a recent graduate of Boise High School in Boise, Idaho and is interested in pursuing a program of study in digital filmmaking and video production, game art and design, or media arts and animation. In 2014 he completed a street-art mural painting on display in downtown Boise and participated in VSA Idaho’s Work of Art project with three other local teen artists.
David Merkle (Twelve Bucks) is a playwright, screenwriter, poet, musician, and rapper from Glen Rock, New Jersey where he has been active in his high school’s theater scene, acting in more than 18 plays and musicals, many in lead roles. As part of the school’s Theatre Company, he also served as a student director, playwright, and executive board member. He served as editor-in-chief and poetry editor for his school’s literary journal, Mobius, and most recently had two poems selected to be published in Susquehanna University’s literary journal, The Apprentice Writer. He is currently a freshman at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in the department of Dramatic Writing.
Olivia Popp (Forty-Seven) is a rising senior at Skyline High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and is involved in many of her school’s arts programs, including the theater pit orchestra playing keyboards/piano, the school’s symphony orchestra as concertmaster, and Tri-M Music Honor Society Chapter 6265 as president. Understanding the importance of arts education upon a student’s academic, social, and mental health, and she strives to engage others in learning about its value as well. Being an avid anglophile, she hopes to one day further her studies and exploration in England.
Bennett Sherr (Mutant Boy) of Princeton, New Jersey, is a rising junior at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, where he actively participates in social justice organizations supporting his peers and the broader community on issues relating to diversity, multiculturalism, identity, equity, and inclusion. He is a student board member of DREAM (Disability Rights, Education, Activism, and Mentoring), a club that advocates for and provides support to students with disabilities, a mission he understands well from a childhood spent in 17 surgeries and bone lengthening procedures due to a rare orthopedic condition. In addition to acting and writing for the theater, he has a chapter published in the book, The Boarding School Survival Guide, and an article published in the USTA Tennis Championships
Molly Kate Toombs (Personification) is a homeschooled rising senior currently living in Richmond, Virginia. She is deeply passionate about creative writing and music, attending Brevard Music Center as a piano performance major in both 2013 and 2014, and Sewanee Young Writer’s Conference in 2015. She has attended Allstate Chorus twice, sung in the Mercer University Women’s Chorus, and received recognition from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. An avid lover of British film, television, and literature, her dream is to study playwriting in the United Kingdom. She hopes to pursue creative writing and playwriting on the university level.
Catherine Valdez (Where Colors Rest in the Nighttime) of Miami, Florida is a freshman at Columbia University, where she plans on majoring in creative writing and environmental biology. She is a lover of magic realism and is continuously inspired by folklore and her Dominican heritage. She is also the first-place winner of Princeton University’s 2014 ten-minute playwriting competition. Her work has gained international and national recognition from such organizations as The Poetry Society of America, The Young Arts Foundation, The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, John Hopkins Creative Minds Essay Competition, The National Student Poets Program, and the Foyle Young Poets of the Year.
Excerpts from the winning Senior Division scripts will be performed on Saturday, September 5, 2015 at 4:00 p.m. in the Kennedy Center Terrace Gallery and on Sunday, September 6, 2015 at 6:00 p.m. on the Millennium Stage. The Sunday Millennium Stage performance will be streamed live online at kennedy-center.org and archived for future viewing.