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June 2005


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L O S  A N G E L E S  -  Interview - Daniel Henning  



LOS ANGELES, CA - What is so great about the theater community in Los Angeles are the people who give back, the people who enable others to make their dreams a reality- Daniel Henning is an individual who founded a theater company and the very successful Young Playwrights Festival, currently in its 13th year. Playing through June 26th, The Young Playwrights Festival has been playing to fantastic audiences at the Hudson Theater in Hollywood, CA.


Maestro Arts & Reviews correspondent Adrian Rennie recently snagged a brief interview with Daniel Henning regarding The Young Playwrights Festival and to hopefully introduce our readers to an individual who’s deserves recognition for his ability to help others realize their aspirations.


Adrian :  Tell us about the Young Playwrights Festival?


Daniel Henning :  In June 2005, The Blank Theatre Company presents its Thirteenth Annual Nationwide Young Playwrights Festival. Since 1993, we have been encouraging young playwrights from around the country to hone and practice their craft. 

We have given 136 playwrights aged 19 and younger the opportunity to work with professional actors and directors on their scripts and then have their work presented to the public.

The Blank Theatre Company Young Playwrights Festival is the only national annual festival producing the work of young playwrights. Many of these playwrights have gone on to write successful plays and to have careers in the theatre. Several of our winners have had their plays optioned by Hollywood film companies or signed with agents as a result of our Festival. Our Young Playwrights Festival gave them the encouragement and the opportunities they needed at just the right time.

Playwrights submit their work in open competition. A hard-working team of volunteer readers selects the finalists and winners. Then, accomplished playwrights lead a team of mentors who help winning young playwrights hone their work for performance. Experienced directors work with winners during the rehearsal process. Best of all, winning playwrights see their work professionally performed by working actors.

Past mentors and directors include: Paris Barclay, Constance M. Burge, Robert L. Freedman, Jack Heifner, Winnie Holzman, Gordon Hunt, Elizabeth Hunter, Robert Iscove, Paul Lazarus, Terrence McNally, Michael Mayer, Garry Marshall, Stuart Ross, Austin Winsberg, Mark Saltzman, and Jonathan Tolins.

In order to open the experience to the greatest number of young people, the Festival has very few requirements other than that the playwrights must be 19 years of age or younger by the mid-March cutoff date. Playwrights can co-write plays, submit plays in handwriting if they do not have access to a word processor, and even submit plays in languages other than English.  Playwrights do not have to be attending school to participate in the Festival.

Of all the work we do at the Blank Theatre Company, we truly believe that it is our annual Nationwide Young Playwrights Festival that will have the greatest long-term impact on the future of theatre. For further info:  http://www.YoungPlaywrights.com

Adrian :  How did you become with The Blank Theatre Company and the Young Playwrights Festival?

Daniel Henning :  I founded The Blank Theatre Company in 1990. I wanted to raise the level of the quality of theatre in LA. I also founded the YPF [Young Playwrights Festival] in 1993. I felt a need in Los Angeles for a Festival of plays by teenaged writers, a home where they could learn from professionals as I had been given that opportunity.

Adrian :  What has been most fulfilling so far with this experience in your life?

Daniel Henning :  Wow. Tough question. Each night of the Fest is quite fulfilling. Watching the vision of these teenagers being presented on stage each night and seeing the response of the audience to their words is pretty great. Each time feels like a new time to me 

But I suppose the most fulfilling would be what’s starting to happen now. We have been doing this for 13 years now and we are starting to see real results for these young people. Our previous winners are having their plays produced by regional theatres across the nation. Many of them are playwrights and screenwriters.

There is a young man named Austin Winsberg, 28, who is the creator and executive producer of ABC’s Jake in Progress. He is a 5 time winner in our Fest. He has also directed and mentored for us in the Fest as well. He invited me to the premiere party for JAKE. I pulled him aside at the party and told him how proud I was of what he had been able to achieve and that indeed he had made my dreams come true. He asked me what I meant. I told him that 12 years ago when I started this Fest, I HOPED that we would be encouraging young people to continue to write. My dream was that we would give them a foundation for a future in the arts. That we would be responsible for giving just the right kind of push to these teens to let them know that what they dream of can be achieved with talent and hard work. And, of course, I wanted to help these kids along a career path that would include great things for them as artists. In Austin’s case we did that, as he readily admits. His success is our success. His signing a “7 figure deal” with Fox Television is certainly a success. He has made my dream come true.

Adrian :  Any memorable productions from either this year or past that you like to share with our readers?

Daniel Henning :  There have been many wonderful pieces throughout the years. By June 26, there will be 148 in all (over the years). 9 of the plays we have put on a full productions on the Mainstage. They have included 3 full blown musicals (book, music and lyrics by teens). The musicals were, of course, quite something; especially when you consider there are 50 year old writers out there who would love to write a good musical and can’t! I suppose the ones that stand out most for me are the ones that deal with particular moments in time and the issues young people are facing. THE WHY by Victor Kaufold) was in 200, shortly after Columbine. It dealt with school shootings and used satire and pathos to try to explain the unexplainable. There were 4 actors playing 28 roles. Noah Wyle and James Marsters did it for us. Victor was nominated for an Ovation Award for Best Writing World Premiere (at 19) for THE WHY.  In June 2002, we did THE WIDOWS, by then 13-year-old playwright David Watson from New York City. His play dealt with the emotional aftermath of 9/11. It was incredibly powerful and moved our audiences greatly. As a nation, we hadn’t really dealt with 9/11 emotionally and this 13-year-old kid summed it up so beautifully that there was a major catharsis for our audience. All sorts of wonderful plays with amazing actors have graced the board at the YPF. I am eternally grateful to the artists who give their time and talent to be a part of this Fest.

Adrian :  It has been utterly fantastic to see such an outlet. And giving back to the community in this fashion should be commended. What is next for yourself? And the Blank Theatre Company?

Daniel Henning :  Thank you for the commendation. Theatre is one of the only professions left where people pass down their knowledge to younger people. The world has become so much about “what’s new”, that traditions get lost. Many people taught me the ropes so I feel it is only fair to continue that tradition.

The Blank Theatre Company is opening the West Coast premiere of THE WILD PARTY, a musical by Michael John LaChiusa and George C. Wolfe in mid-September. It is a thrilling musical set in the decadence of Manhattan in the 1920s. I will be directing that. It is set to star Valarie Pettiford, Tony nominee for FOSSE.

After that I will be choosing our 2006 season to begin in February of next year. I am also heavily engaged in developing our Board of Directors. I have set a goal for The Blank to become a Regional Theatre in Hollywood. It is a long road the get there and I need dedicated Board members who are willing to help us with that journey. If any of your readers wants to help with that goal, send them along. We need all the help we can get. And as you probably got from the Fest, I sincerely believe we are all in this together. And when I say “this” I mean improving the quality of life; all of our lives, through art.

Adrian :  What advice or words of wisdom could you share to our readers who are also pursuing their dreams and goals?

Daniel Henning :  Listen to your soul. Don’t let others dissuade you from your dreams. You are the only one who can tell you whether something is “right” or “wrong”. When I started The Blank Theatre Company at 24, people thought I was crazy to start a theatre company in a town filled with “movie people”. Maybe they were right. I didn’t listen. I did what I had to do. I followed my own dream and worked hard to make it a reality. I don’t make a lot of money doing this, it is a constant struggle to pay the rent, but I am happy most of the time at work. And ultimately, if I hadn’t followed my dream I wouldn’t be in a position to help other people follow theirs.  Printable View

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Adrian Rennie, staff writer and editor for Maestro Arts & Reviews, is an actor and Los Angeles area playwright. Having received great reviews for his plays, The Seven Lessons of Life and Only a Phone Call Away, he continues to write and act in Los Angeles Theater, Television and Film. 




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