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Prime Attraction: Playwrights Project’s ‘Plays by Young Writers’

What it is: Playwrights Project’s “Plays by Young Writers” is a festival that features winning scripts from the 2009 California Young Playwrights Contest. A total of 11 performances will be presented this season.

The annual statewide contest accepts scripts from writers 18 and younger. Of the 243 scripts that were submitted, only six were selected. The scripts were evaluated in two age groups. Winners age 14 or younger receive readings, while the older writers work with the Playwrights Project to stage full productions of their scripts.

The 25th season will be produced at The Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza in downtown San Diego.

Why it is special: “Plays by Young Writers” is not simply an event that theater lovers enjoy. It is also an enriching educational experience for the writers and all who work with them.

The nonprofit San Diego organization prides itself on emphasizing the young writers as creators. Every writer who enters the contest has the opportunity to receive constructive criticism. Winners who get a full professional production get to refine their scripts and work with professional directors, designers and actors.

History: Playwrights Project’s founder Deborah Salzer created the festival. At the time, Salzer worked for the education program at the (now defunct) Gaslamp Quarter Theater.

Salzer created the contest because she wanted to help students develop their literacy skills. She also wanted young writers to experience the collaborative nature of theater.

While the content has changed, executive director Cecelia Kouma says the program’s core values have not.

“It’s always responded to what matters to the kids at any given age,” she says. “The content has changed as the world has changed and kids have responded to different issues … They’re treated as adults; they’re professionals in this process. They get asked very difficult questions and they have to make sure they’re clear about their intentions, who they’re writing for and what they want the audience to leave with.”

Quotable: “There are other playwriting programs and contests in the nation,” Kouma says. “I think that ours is so special because we focus on revision and we really work with the winning playwrights to make sure that their ideas really come to life in the way that they want them to.”