Start a Playwriting Contest Using 20 Questions My Litpick Article, no. 3

Start a Playwriting Contest in 20 Easy Stepsimg_0641


Twenty-nine years ago, I was president of a community theatre, the Columbia Entertainment Company, in Columbia, Missouri.  Also, I was the director of a youth theatre program for them.   I volunteered hundreds of hours to both programs. It was an amazing learning experience and one that I draw upon from time to time in my career.

Here is the story of probably the most important thing we did in this company:  We created a national playwriting contest for large cast youth theatre plays.  It is called the Jackie White National Playwriting Award Contest and still in existence to this day.  That’s a long time for a contest of this nature to flourish, especially sponsored by a community theatre.


The Origin

Thirty years ago I was a young woman who needed scripts for large casts—over thirty students in number, ages fourth through ninth grade.  At the time, there were very few plays to choose from, much less musicals for kids.

 I lamented to a board I was having a difficult time finding any suitable plays for the season. In the past, I pad the roles with extra non-speaking characters or ones with little ad libs, but what I really needed was youth theatre plays with large casts, period. The board member suggested our company create our own playwriting contest specifically for this purpose.

So, really out of desperation, we created one!

Please understand, we had NO idea what we were doing.  We merely figured it out as we progressed.  It took us a few years to perfect the contest, but it is still one of the most valuable programs the theatre created.

The Why

Generally, playwrights need their plays or musicals to be produced before a publishing company will represent them. The Denver Performing Arts Center sponsors a New Play Summit each year in February.

Their contest is very clever.  The first time the winning entries are produced as stage readings with minimal set and costumes.  The audience gives feedback after the performance through a survey.

If the play suits DPAC’s needs, during the next season, they mount a full production of it.  My husband and I have attended several years of the New Play Summit and enjoyed being part of the creative process. We feel more invested in the play, because we offered our suggestions. Whether DPAC intends to or not, this is a terrific way to encourage audience members to return to see the production once it is produced.

Your contest could be created by your drama class, community theatre or even youth group.  There is no end to the possibilities a contest of this type affords a group. The contest can be as big or small as your group desires. You could sponsor whatever kind of contest you want—a ten minute plays, musicals for youth theatre, plays focused on bullying or plays concerning tolerance. It’s all up to you.

Now before you look at these questions and think is an overwhelming project, I want you to consider the people who will receive such fulfillment from the contest. Playwrights are always seeking places to get their plays read and produced.  That could be you!

Here are some questions to contemplate when creating your own playwriting contest:

1)      What is the mission of our contest?  What is our end result?  Are we looking for something particular subject to be explored? Reach a particular audience? Attract an underserved demographic?

2)      What are the requirements of the winning script?  Cast size, gender and age of characters, length of play or musical, set, costumes props and the feasibility of producing the script within the confines of our budget are all important questions to consider.

3)       Is any subject taboo? In some social circles, certain subjects are considered appropriate.

4)      How about inappropriate language?

5)      Should we charge a fee to enter the contest?  How much?

6)      Are there granting agencies or donors we could approach to fund the contest?

7)      What is our budget to spend to advertise the contest?

8)      What free media sources will we use to publicize the contest?

9)      Will we fully mount the winning entry?

10)  Should we present a stage reading?

11)  Can anyone enter the contest? Are we seeking only student scripts or adults?

12)  Who will read the scripts and make the final decision on the awardee?

13)  Will we award 1st 2nd and 3rd place awards as well as honorable mention? How many honorable mentions?

14)  What will the winner receive?  A cash award, gift, certificate, life time season tickets?

15)  Where will the cash award money come from? A donor?  A service organization? Your city’s arts council?

16)  After the awardee is selected, will we publicize the winner?

17)  Do we want to bring the winning playwright to the performance?

18)   If the winning playwright attends, is it our responsibility to provide room and board to them?

19)  If the playwright is present, do we want to host a social in their honor?

20)  What is our time line?

A Contest with Their Head in the Right Place 

I am an indie author, too. Recently, I ran upon an indie author book contest in England created by a popular children’s author, Edward Trayer.  The Whistling Shelf Award is a fairly new contest.

When I was perusing his website regarding it, I discovered he charges an entrance fee and donates a portion of money to the Blind Children fund in England. Now, that’s my kind of author.  Because of this, I quickly entered my book, Bumbling Bea into its competition.  I look forward to this year’s awards.

I believe in philanthropy and I believe in the power of theatre.  I bet you do, too.

Try your hand creating a playwriting contest. The Jackie White National Children’s Play Writing Contest is one of the most important programs the Columbia Entertainment Company ever created.

If a desperate, young director like me with no experience creating a contest can be successful, so can you!

Columbia Entertainment Company playwriting contest:

Denver Performing Arts Center New Play Summit:

Wishing Shelf Book Awards

Contact me at or check out my website at








A Super Review of Bumbling Bea


STORY LINE BUMBLING BEA:In Bumbling Bea, author Deborah Baldwin creates an enjoyable look into growing up. Beatrice has one more chance to play the lead in the school play before she leaves middle school. After all, playing the lead will ensure she will be in with popular girls. She has planned all year towards this goal, she and her alter ego Bumbling Bea. However, things do not go as planned. A new girl has enrolled from Japan. Michiko talented, opinionated, and pretty, gets the lead roll. Beatrice and alter ego Bea refuse to be denied and devise plans to get rid of Michiko. Let the games begin.

Hilarity, missteps, and bungling follow as Bea and Michiko come to terms. My children’s contemporary novel review follows.


To begin with, I must tell you how much I enjoyed this book. Although classified as a children/preteen book, I found as a mature senior I thoroughly enjoyed this story. Filled with laughter, missteps, and trials of the young trying to grow up, I laughed out loud at Bea’s antics. As I read, I found myself remembering my preteen years and the emotions that ran riot. Author Deborah Baldwin captured the pain and confusion of transitioning from a child to preteen and the situations the immature mind can create.

Baldwin’s pacing of the story was inline with the length of the story. The pace did not lag or bog down, but was steady and smooth. Furthermore, I found the plotting skillful as Ms. Baldwin brought all the threads together to create a solid book.

Lastly, in concluding my contemporary children’s novel review, I found the book well written with well-developed main characters and secondary characters which added to the tension and story-line.


In addition, I gave Bumbling Bea 4 well-deserved stars. Subsequently, I found Bumbling Bea suitable for children and preteens as well as adults. As a senior I enjoyed this funny look back at the preteen years.

To purchase a copy of Bumbling  Bea, go to Amazon at

If You Teach Shakespeare You will Want to Check out this Book




Today I’m blogging about someone else’s book!  Surprised, huh? Lately, I’ve been considering creating another blog specifically about books focused on theatre and writing reviews about them.  Should I do so?  Would that help anyone?  We’ll start with this one.

A Pinterest Friend

This review began because of a pin on Pinterest. Wouldn’t you know it?    I saw this fellow’s pin and thought it would be helpful to me and my writing.  Brendan, the author, and I emailed each other several times since that pinning. I was not asked to write a review.  I offered it to Brendan. Although I don’t walk around calling myself an expert on youth theatre (because that sounds so pretentious to me–I’m just a hard working, really old teacher-haha), I can confidently say that I am well versed in drama education and youth theatre in general.  And besides…more press for someone’s book can’t hurt, right?

Playing with Plays

Playing with Plays is the publisher of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Kids. This great little book is packed with three versions of Shakespeare’s beloved play. Each version of the play is around ten minutes in length.  More importantly for a teacher, it has three different cast sizes!  Oh my, that is very useful!

As a drama teacher of over thirty-eight years, I continuously sought quality resources for my students. Each year, I perused publishers’ books for new approaches to classic plays.  Playing with Plays has figured out what is needed for teachers like me– fresh approaches to teaching drama, etc.  Several times I have taught with the book, Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare which is a bit misleading.  The stories are those of Shakespeare’s plays not some other stories that Shakespeare authored.  I think Playing with Plays is a better introduction to the plots for students and young readers.

Brendan calls his versions “Melodramatic Modifications to Shakespeare’s Plays”.  I appreciate that description and think that’s a fair depiction of these playlets.  Brendan isn’t trying to be Shakespeare, but has created clever versions of the Bard’s play that is palatable to all students of various ages and abilities. Oh, I like that too!

I appreciate that  Brendan  has high-lighted the particular lines from the actual play.  For a child or beginning drama student or Language Arts student, this is tremendously helpful– a reader can clearly discern which lines Shakespeare wrote and which Brendan penned. Yeay! Also, a teacher could lift those lines very easily and use them in a class discussion. Anything to help our teachers; that’s what I say.


Integrity of the Story

I have read A LOT of plays, produced, directed and acted in many plays and musicals.  I’m a purist.  I don’t appreciate classic literature to be bastardized.  I dislike parodies or “skits” of fairy tales, beloved plays or musicals.  As an artist, I know it is difficult enough to get butts in seats and to encourage audiences to appreciate the work, as is.  Sometimes all people know is “that really funny middle school play version of Red Riding Hood.” Can you imagine? Ugh. I appreciate that Brendan hasn’t done that with Midsummer Night’s Dream, but he has plucked the most important pieces of the plot.

Playing with Plays created other Shakespeare plays:  Rome and Juliet, Macbeth (my person favorite0, Hamlet, Julius Caesar and Much Ado About Nothing and several more.  You can purchase Playing with Plays scripts in bookstore and on line at

If you have a chance, check out his website, too.  There is a lot of helpful information for anyone teaching Shakespeare.  I bet you find something there you can use in your next lesson. That can’t be said of every educational website.

So, check out Playing with Plays.  I think you’ll be glad you did.




A Secret of a Highly Successful Drama Teacher-Litpick Article no. 2

My Litpick article no. 2.

I hope you enjoy it.

Strengthening Reading Skills Through Drama

Teaching has its up and downs, but one of the most rewarding experiences of teaching is seeing a student’s eyes light up once some learning connects with them. I like to teach ‘magically’ if I can. I don’t wear a wizard’s robe and pull out a magic wand —I have no idea how that is done. I mean when a student learns something when they don’t think they are doing anything but having fun. Teaching and learning become effortless and almost enchanting! I use many drama games and exercises in my classroom. I’m especially fond of Viola Spolin’s book Improvisation in the Classroom. But that’s not today’s subject…. (my right brained-ness kicked in there for a moment). Sorry.

I find that when I am teaching a concept that a student is focused upon and I am using a particular activity to demonstrate the concept, the learning becomes ‘like butter’—smooth, enriching, and tasty. (Okay, I do have a fondness for butter I will admit, but you get the point.)

Reading skills can be strengthened through drama. No joke! Sometimes students don’t realize when they enroll in my classes that we will read aloud in class—that’s a given. And we read A LOT. Of course we read the occasional theatre textbook chapter, but mostly we read plays. I mean, obviously we read plays, right? Also, we perform the readings, so the words become memorized easily.

Families can do this at home, too! The benefits of reading plays aloud are varied, but suffice to say that if a group gets together and reads a play, a child’s reading skills will be honed.


Oh my gosh, play dialogue is so fun to read aloud! It’s far better to read a play aloud than to read it silently. That’s because it was created to be spoken. A playwright depends upon his characters’ dialogue to tell a story. That’s the whole point. Playwrights work for months, maybe years, to find and create just the right meaning in a sentence.

Presently, I am preparing to direct a summer youth theater camp production of Tams Witmark’s Music Library version of The Wizard of Oz musical. Here is a tidbit of dialogue from the production:


They’re gone! The ruby slippers! What have you done with them?

Give them back to me, or I’ll—


It’s too late! There they are, and there they’ll stay!

Awesome, don’t you think? The dialogue is precise, rhythmical, and exciting. A playwright’s goal is to express a particular message, right? She wants the audience to continue listening to her play. Her dialogue must be excellent. There can be no excess words, very few challenging words or word pronunciations that an audience member must struggle to understand. Since theatre is live, it is essential that the play is engaging right from the first word. When one is not enjoying a book that she is reading, she can put the book down. But at a play? The confused person might just walk out of the performance. Eeek!


Young readers love to read scripts aloud once they understand the form. It’s a little daunting, you must admit. There are no markers—no ‘he said’ or ‘she yelled.’ In particular moments, emotions are written in for the actor to use. Generally, a playwright leaves it up to the director and actors to convey the required emotion. That’s more interesting for everyone involved. It allows the director to create her own concept of the play—sort of like painting a picture using her own thoughts about the story. That’s more interesting for everyone involved.

Usually, I read aloud the stage directions so the students can create the atmosphere or plot in their minds. The plot of a play must be very clear to understand, although surprises are always welcome. That’s what makes for excellent theatre, I think.

Once when my class of middle school students read aloud the ‘Tom Sawyer’ play, I purposely stopped us at an exciting moment—scary Injun Joe hid behind a tree and overheard Tom and Huck discussing the big bag of money they found. Many of the students were reluctant readers. I heard groans of ‘Oh man, Mrs. B. can’t we continue reading?’ But instead, I handed out paper and pencils and asked them to draw what they thought would occur next. I’m a tricky teacher….


In researching this article, I came upon a tremendous website– that says it much better than I can.

1. Listening to others read develops an appreciation for how a story is written and familiarity with book conventions, such as “once upon a time” and “happily ever after.”

2. Reading aloud demonstrates the relationship between the printed word and meaning – children understand that print tells a story or conveys information – and invites the listener into a conversation with the author.

3. Listening to others read develops key understanding and skills. Reading aloud demonstrates the relationship between the printed word and meaning – children understand that print tells a story or conveys information – and invites the listener into a conversation with the author (Bredekamp, Copple, & Neuman, 2000).

4. Reading aloud makes complex ideas more accessible and exposes children to vocabulary and language patterns that are not part of everyday speech. It exposes less able readers to the same rich and engaging books that fluent readers read on their own and entices them to become better readers. (Fountas & Pinnell, 1996).


How does a family select the right play to read together? I’d suggest checking out a public library. They have a fountain of plays to read including many versions of classics such as Anne of Green Gables, Peter Pan, Charlotte’s Web, or Huckleberry Finn. If reading an entire play script seems overwhelming, look into reader’s theatre scripts. They are short, concise, edited well and give the ‘nugget’ of the story. They are a great stepping off point for young readers to pique their interest, giving them a feeling of success before they tackle the complete novel.


Children’s literature consultant Susie Freeman states, “If you’re searching for a way to get your children reading aloud with comprehension, expression, fluency, and joy, reader’s theater is a miracle. Hand out a photocopied play script, assign a part to each child, and have them simply read the script aloud and act it out. That’s it. And then magic happens.”


One of my favorite authors of reader’s theatre scripts is Aaron Shepherd. Check him out at He has adapted a treasure trove of stories, many multicultural, including original ones of his own. I have used a host of his scripts including Legend of Lightning Larry with an ESL drama club, The Legend of Slappy Hooper with a creative dramatics class, and the beloved Casey at the Bat with an introduction to theatre class plus various other scripts.

So, the next time on a really hot summer day your family is stuck indoors and has exhausted every other avenue of entertainment or learning, pick up a play script! I promise you a magical and great time of reading