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Last updated: Thu. May. 15, 2014 - 10:03 am EDT

Aspiring writers hone skills during all for One productions' Young Playwrights Festival

The winning and runners-up plays in four age divisions will be performed this weekend.

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Showcasing youth

What: Theater group all for One productions presents its Young Playwrights Festival Gala with performances of plays by winners and runners-up.

When: 7 p.m. Friday, divisions One and Two for kindergarten-grade 5; 7 p.m. Saturday, divisions Three and Four for grades 6-12

Where: Summers Auditorium, Canterbury High School, 3210 Smith Road

Cost: Free admission and parking; a free-will offering will be accepted to benefit afO's educational programs.

Information: Call Sharon Henderson at 1-260-622-4610, email afooncall@comcast.net or visit http://allforonefw.wordpress.com.

Writers' insights

Two winning youth playwrights offer their thoughts on their experience:

Isaiah Powers

First-grader Isaiah Powers is the seventh of eight children.

“I like to read — my own books, not school books,” he clarifies. “I love drawing and computers. My mom makes me play educational games. I think I have been involved with all for One my whole life. My oldest sister Megan (Arnold) was in a play a long time ago, and then she was Emma (in afO's 2012 production of the classic Jane Austen novel).”

“My older sister Lydia won the very first YPF contest, and I wanted to write a play and have it performed onstage like she did,” he continues. “That looked cool.”

His initial foray into writing was in 2013 when he wrote the first installment of the Battle Bunnies adventures — a story inspired by his dad's bedtime stories starring Isaiah, his little brother, and older sister.

“They are called Battle Bunnies because they fight with marshmallow shooters,” he explains. “Last time, they fought little dirty aliens to save the planet.”

Isaiah is also acting in “Doomed,” which he says has helped him in his writing.

“My director ... teaches me to face the audience, say my lines slow, and never turn my back to the audience,” he says. “There's a lot to think about when you write — you can't make it too hard, like make a train or ship on stage.”

Bria Warren

Three-time winner Bria Warren is a home-schooled freshman at the Kilns Academy who learned about YPF from a friend. Her winning play, “Something to Give” focuses on adoption from the perspective of the birth mother who receives a phone call from the daughter she gave up at birth.

Bria has developed a writing routine that has proved successful, if a little unorthodox.

“I love creating the characters and actually writing and revising the play,” she says. “Coming up with a plot idea, on the other hand, is very difficult. For me, the writing process looks something like this:

Plan to write two or three plays over the summer and choose a favorite. Fail to do so.

About the time school starts, realize that I failed to do so and think, maybe I should start writing. A month and a half before the submission deadline, realize that I haven't done anything yet, and I don't have any ideas. Panic.

Three weeks before the deadline, come up with something brilliant. Stall. A week and a half before the deadline, sit down and write the play in two days. Revise in four.

Two days before the deadline, panic again, and rewrite a third of the scenes. On the deadline, submit the play. Then panic again, because I've instantly realized everything I did wrong.

“So, for anyone who has wonderfully poetic visions of me having a burst of inspiration and whipping up a brilliant play out of thin air ..., ” she continues, “those visions are sadly, very, very wrong.”

Bria enjoys both writing and acting. “When I write a play, I get to create my own characters and story,” she says. “When I act, I get to become a part of someone else's story. I love being a part of it — both behind the pen and on the stage.”

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On a recent Tuesday evening, the halls at First Missionary Church were teeming with eager young thespians.

Actors and directors were rehearsing productions addressing the true meaning of friendship, baby-sitting challenges and the race to save the world from an evil washing machine in original plays such as “An Ashleyrella Story,” “Doomed” and “Battle Bunnies Butterfly Adventure.”

Six months of preparation culminate Friday and Saturday as all for One Productions (afO) presents the sixth annual Northeast Indiana Young Playwrights Festival Gala at Canterbury High School.

Eight plays — the winners and runners-up from four age divisions — will be featured, with divisions One and Two (K-Grade 5) on Friday and divisions Three and Four (grades 6-12) on Saturday.

“(The) festival has exploded this year,” says Sharon Henderson, afO's executive director. “Writers represent 12 different schools (including Canterbury and Carroll high schools, and Weisser Park elementary school in Fort Wayne) and 12 different home-school academies.”

The vision

Henderson is one of the founders of all for One, a faith-based theater company started in March 1993.

“In 2007, Rebecca Sanchez, a faith-driven professional actress and director moved (here),” Henderson says. “She sought out afO and shared her passion and vision for a young playwright festival fashioned after the Marilyn Bianchi Kids Playwriting Festival.”

The Bianchi festival, sponsored by the Dobama Theater in Cleveland, was the first of its kind in the nation, and Sanchez had been involved.

“After several months of discussions, Rebecca and I sensed God would honor an effort to draw out, nurture and launch the next generation of great playwrights in our community,” recalls Henderson.

The Young Playwrights Festival was established in 2008 with Sanchez as director.

“When we started, we had seven writers,” Henderson says. Before the first performances, however, Sanchez and her husband relocated to Indianapolis, so Henderson took the helm.

The first steps

The competition is open to any greater Fort Wayne-area student in kindergarten-Grade 12 attending public, private or home school. Though resources are provided to parents and educators, classroom time isn't required to complete the project.

“Age-appropriate workshops teach core elements of good writing with specific focus on aspects of writing for stage,” Henderson explains.

This past November, 69 students gathered for the writer workshop for this year's festival and were placed in age-appropriate classes. Under the tutelage of published playwrights and local professional educators, actors and writers, Henderson says, each child explored his or her creative potential, received coaching in the writing process and learned the six critical elements of good playwriting — plot, dialogue, characters, conflict, dramatic premise and originality.

Interactive learning activities and a multitude of resources also helped to inspire and encourage fledgling writers.

The winning plays

Plays were submitted in January, with winners announced in February and auditions held in April. •Division One (K-2): Winner Isaiah Powers, a home-schooled first-grader, wrote a sequel to his 2013 winning play titled “Battle Bunnies Butterfly Adventure.” The five-member cast is directed by Gregg Salser, who says, “They knew all their lines by week two!”

“In this play, the (three) Battle Bunny siblings save the day by using the infamous 'marshmallow shooters' from last year's show to rescue a butterfly from a hungry spider,” explains Megan Arnold, afO director of educational programming.

Runner-up Kellyn Bertsch submitted “Best Friends Forever.” “Kellyn weaves the theme of salvation through her play on friendship,” Arnold says.

Division Two (grades 3-5): Gabi Hanna, a fourth-grader from Eel River Elementary, won with her play “S.W.A.T.”

“In this play, Gabi introduces us to a cast of bumbling spies,” Arnold says. “(They) save the world from an evil washing machine.”

Runner-up Esther Powers, a home-schooled fifth-grader, wrote “Doomed,” a play about a baby sitter who is trying to corral twin 3-year-old boys.

Division Three (grades 6-9): Bria Warren tackles a serious topic in her winning play, “Something to Give.”

“A repeat winner, Bria once again attacks heavy-hitting issues like adoption and abortion in her three-character play, bringing depth and emotion to the stage,” Arnold says.

Runner-up Esha Dhawan, a Canterbury School seventh-grader, wrote “The Medical Mystery.”

“With a hint of the ethereal, Esha spins a story of suspense and mystery,” Arnold says. “A young doctor travels to the country to cure an old man of an unknown illness.”

Division Four (grades 10-12): Carroll High School sophomore Betsy Bleed's winning entry, “A Villainous Pride,” weaves a “Harry Potter-esque tale of magic and adventure.”

Runner-up Joshua Zahm, a junior at Horizon Christian Academy, entered “An Ashleyrella Story.”

“Ashley loves cats,” Arnold says, “but gets picked on in school. ... Josh stands up for Ashley, kindly puts the mean schoolchildren in their place and gets the girl.”

“Festival participation gives youngsters a creative experience that is both broad and deep,” Arnold says.

“Young people have the opportunity to participate in any aspect of theater through their involvement in YPF,” she says. ... “Opportunities not only to write, but also act, stage manage, dress sets, run lighting and sound, and work as an assistant to the director.”

nsfeatures@news-sentinel.com


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