On November 11, 2020

Dorset Theatre Festival announces winners of Young Playwrights competition

Heidi Armbruster

DORSET—Dorset Theatre Festival has announced the winners of the 7th annual Jean E. Miller Young Playwrights Competition, as well as enrollment for the 2021 online program.

An annual collaboration between Dorset Theatre Festival and local schools, Dorset Theatre Festival’s Young Playwrights program provides regional middle and high school students the opportunity to learn about playwriting and create plays of their own. This year, the Festival offered its classes online for the first time.

A panel of professional playwrights and theatre artists from across the country read the plays, provide feedback, and select winning submissions from the middle and high school categories. Traditionally, the winning pieces are given a public reading at an annual awards ceremony.

This year’s winners are Shea Smitwick from Maple Street School in Dorset and Matthew Califano from Craftsbury Academy in Craftsbury.

The 2020 winners will be celebrated with an online ceremony, including a digital presentation of the winning pieces, directed by this year’s teaching artist, Heidi Armbruster. The virtual event will be held on Friday, Nov. 13 at 4 p.m.

“This pandemic time has been uniquely suited to introspection and imagination — which are the building blocks of storytelling and play-making,” said Armbruster, a New York City-based theatre artist who has worked extensively in creating new work, both as a playwright and an actor. Her play Mrs. Christie had its world premiere in Dorset in 2019. As a performer, Armbruster’s credits include Broadway, Lincoln Center, and many appearances in film and television, including as the character Michelle on TVLand’s Younger.

The program’s goal, according to Armbruster, is to provide an online interactive course in playwriting for students without creating additional lesson-planning for educators. Instructors may schedule a session for a whole class, individual sessions for specific students, or simply use videos from the course in their own lesson plans as they wish.

“In the classroom experiences that I have had so far, the experience of making something together – even in an online format – has created a sense of community, and that has been exciting and healing,” Armbruster said. She and Dorset Theatre Festival are currently in the process of enrolling students and classrooms for the 2021 program, which will continue online.

Offering Young Playwrights online has expanded the reach of the program, according to Dina Janis, the Festival’s artistic director. “Now this Vermont tradition is available both to more schools in Vermont, as well as to students and teachers anywhere in the country,” said Janis. Students in Wisconsin, North Carolina, and New Jersey participated in the 2020 program.

“Students, teachers, and parents are all experiencing a world-wide, life-changing moment right now. Especially for the kids, teaching them how to put what they’re thinking and feeling on stage is something we’re so grateful to be able to provide,” said Janis.

The 2021 program will continue to offer multiple options for educators to customize how they incorporate this program into their existing lesson plans. All options will give students an opportunity to explore the fundamentals of playwriting:  character, dialogue, structure, and conflict.

“I can adapt my lessons for any classroom situation or any number of students. I can tailor it to the work that students are doing in the classroom, or do something entirely independent,” said Armbruster, encouraging those interested to sign up soon in order to secure space in the interactive versions.

There is also a series of virtual classes available online through Dorset Theatre Festival’s website (dorsettheatrefestival.org/young-playwrights-program) and on their official YouTube channel, with more to come soon.

Educators interested in participating should contact Heidi Armbruster at: heidiyp@dorsettheatrefestival.org.

The Jean E. Miller Young Playwrights Competition is funded in part by support from the Glenn N. Howatt Foundation. For more information, visit dorsettheatrefestival.org.

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