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
Tell us about the Young Playwrights Festival?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
further info: http://www.YoungPlaywrights.com
did you become with The Blank Theatre Company and the Young
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.
What has been most fulfilling so far with this experience in
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.
Any memorable productions from either this year or past that
you like to share with our readers?
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
What advice or words of wisdom could you share to our readers
who are also pursuing their dreams and goals?
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
Websites to Explore
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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.