Announcing the Winners of the 2017 VSA Playwright Discovery Competition

The Kennedy Center’s Office of VSA and Accessibility is pleased to announce the winners of the 2017 VSA Playwright Discovery Competition, a Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability Program. This annual competition invites young writers with disabilities and collaborative groups that include students with disabilities to examine the disability experience and express their views through the art of writing for performance.

The winner in the Primary Division (grades 6-7) is The Lesson Taught by a Slice of Pizza by Lucas Correal from Baltimore Lab School in Baltimore, Maryland. The winner in the Junior Division (grades 8-9) is The Beauty of Roses by Courtney Brown from Derby High School in Derby, Kansas. The winners in these divisions will be featured on the VSA blog in the coming weeks.

Selected winners in the Senior Division (grades 10-12/ages 15-18) receive exclusive access to participate in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in Washington, D.C., and the opportunity to participate in staged readings and workshops alongside the nation’s premier collegiate playwrights. The young playwrights also participate in the festival’s award ceremony.

The winning Senior Division plays include: A Change of Heart by Cicely Henderson; The Forgotten by Anna Hiestand; Silent Thank Yous by Dana Langston; What Now? by Lissette Lendeborg and Angeles Parada; The Pain of Scoliosis by Jacob Radford; and Dimples and Diabetes by Elle Shaheen.

Photo of Ciecely Henderson, a girl with light brown braided hair and a blue sleeveless top.Cicely Henderson (A Change of Heart) is a sophomore in the San Francisco School of the Arts Theatre Department. During her two years there, she has developed a love of both Shakespeare and playwriting. She especially enjoys playwriting because it allows her to express and discover new perspectives. Cicely is currently in recovery for an eating disorder. She is honored to be participating in the 2017 VSA Playwright Discovery Program.

A photo of Anna Hiestand, a girl with reddish brown hair and bangs, wearing a dark blue dress.Anna Hiestand (The Forgotten) is a high school senior from Blue Springs, Missouri. Anna, who has post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety, has a deep passion for writing, fueled by her desire to bring comfort and healing to others. She cites her disability experience as providing the empathy, emotional insight, and sensitivity necessary to make her a better writer. Anna believes we can accomplish things not only in spite of our disabilities, but also because of them!

A photo of Dana Langston, a girl with chin length, dark brown hair, wearing dark round glasses and a gray shirt.Dana Langston (Silent Thank Yous), age 17, hails from Pensacola, Florida. She is a senior at West Florida High School of Advanced Technology. Dana has severe depression and anxiety, which inspires much of her work. She is a published author, as well as the founder of Defective Dynamic, an organization that helps those with mental illness. She will be attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago after high school.

A photo of Lissette Lendeborg, a girl with black, braided hair wearing dark rim glasses and a black jacket.Lissette Lendeborg (What Now?) is a junior in the Creative Writing program at Miami Arts Charter School. Her work has been published in Orange Island Review, Poetry Matters, and di-verse-city Youth Anthology. Lissette has major depressive disorder, which she cites as the biggest obstacle she faces in producing work. She spends agonizing nights hovering over taunting blank pages, but rejoices when she takes part in the production of art.

Angeles ParadaPhoto of Angeles Parada, a girl with long, blonde hair and reddish rimmed glasses, wearing a pint shirt. (What Now?) is an eleventh grade student at Miami Arts Charter School. Angeles has migraine headaches; she aims to create art that helps others understand the disability experience.  She has been published by Poetry Matters and received two Silver Keys from the prestigious Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.

A photo of Jacob Radford, a young man with short brown hair wearing a collared shirt and blue tie.Jacob Radford (The Pain of Scoliosis) is a 19-year-old senior at Seneca High School in Louisville, Kentucky. He enjoys listening to music on his headphones and playing basketball with his friends. His bowling team recently finished 4th in the state. Jacob, who has multiple disabilities, says his favorite assignment in his academic career has been writing this play; it is one of his most accomplished pieces.

A photo of Elle Shaheen, a girl with long, dark brown hair, wearing a blue shirt.Elle Shaheen (Dimples and Diabetes) is a 12th grade student at Portsmouth High School in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Elle, who has type 1 diabetes, uses her talents and passion for the performing arts to be an effective advocate for people with diabetes. The story of her life became the New York Times bestseller Elle and Coach. Elle has served as Co-Chair of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Children’s Congress, campaigned for the restoration of stem cell research, and founded a production company to produce and perform The Diary of Anne Frank along with new works while raising money for diabetes research.

Excerpts from the winning scripts will be performed on April 22 at 10 a.m. in the Kennedy Center’s Theater Lab. To reserve a free ticket, email Megan Bailey at mebailey@kennedy-center.org before April 17.

Six Tips for Submitting a Winning Playwright Discovery Script

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Do you know a budding playwright or screenwriter? The annual VSA Playwright Discovery Program invites young writers with disabilities and collaborative groups that include students with disabilities, in U.S. grades 6-12 (or equivalents) or ages 11-18 for non-U.S. students, are invited to explore the disability experience through the art of  writing for performance: plays, screenplays, spoken word poetry (for single performer or a group), or music theater. Writers are encouraged to craft short works from their own experiences and observations, create fictional characters and settings, or choose to write metaphorically or abstractly about the disability experience.

Selected winners in the Senior Division (grades 10-12 / ages 15-18) will receive exclusive access to participate in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in Washington, D.C., and the opportunity to participate in staged readings and workshops alongside the nation’s premier collegiate playwrights as well as participate in the festival’s award ceremony.

Before your students apply online at www.kennedy-center.org/PDP, encourage them to consider the following tips for creating a winning script.

  1. Address the topic of disability in a meaningful way. Be thoughtful about how you incorporate disability into your script, and try to avoid clichés. Check out the playwriting resources available on the Kennedy Center’s website, including a series of short essays on the disability experience written by theater professionals with disabilities.
  2. Thoroughly develop the plot. Vary the stakes throughout your story to increase the sense of mystery and interest. Incorporate plot twists and subplots, but remember to resolve them.
  3. Pace the action well and sustain interest throughout. Many scripts have promising starts, but convenient or rushed conclusions. If the plot unfolds throughout your script, you will keep the audience on the edge of their seats.
  4. Make your characters believable and compelling. The characters in your play should elicit an emotional or intellectual response from your audience. Work on making them relatable and give them opportunities to learn and grow throughout the story.
  5. Use dialogue effectively. Dialogue is the playwright’s tool to further character development and express a range of human emotions. It should also reflect the writer’s language skills and a sense of natural speech patterns.
  6. Make your script your own. Tell a story that is unique, complex, and surprising, and your script will stand out!

The 2017 VSA Playwright Discovery Program is accepting applications until 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, February 1. For more information or to apply, visit www.kennedy-center.org/PDP.