Forever Young Playwrights Festival Gives Talented High Schoolers a Chance

Article excerpt

Byline: Scott C. Morgan Daily Herald Staff Writer

"The 20th Annual Young Playwrights Festival"

Location: Pegasus Players at the O'Rourke Center at Truman College, 1145 W. Wilson Ave., Chicago

Times: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays (also this Thursday), 3 p.m. Sundays; through Jan. 29

Tickets: $12

Box office: (773) 878-9761 or www.pegasusplayers.org

Theater administrators forever fret about the future of the art form. When they're not stressing about the "graying" of theater audiences, administrators question where the next generation of theater artists and audiences will come from.

"I can't go anywhere among theater professionals without the first question being, 'How do we bring the next generation into theater?' " said Alex Levy, artistic director of Chicago's Pegasus Players. "We've come to realize that you don't get the next generation of theater lovers at age 25 or 26. People's love of theater starts when they're kids."

Levy is living proof of this axiom, and he has Pegasus Players to thank for it. Pegasus Players has held an Annual Young Playwrights Festival for the past 20 years, and this is how Levy was snared as a high school student. In 1995, a play Levy wrote was one of three selected that year to be produced.

"Of course it was overwhelming to be part of a professional production - not just to see my work performed but to be part of the whole production," Levy said. "I had no idea of all the work that went into theater, and I was so humble that so many people were putting all that time and effort into my work."

The experience steered Levy toward a career as a Chicago theater artist; Pegasus Players founder Arlene Crewdson tapped him as the theater's artistic director. He is a firm believer in continuing the tradition of Pegasus Players' Annual Young Playwrights Festival as a way to find Chicago's next theater artists.

"The kids' involvement is very important. This is not simply a contest or something for them to add to their resume," Levy said. "The kids are active playwrights and rewriting all throughout the process and working with directors and dramaturges."

Getting selected for the festival is quite an honor. Out of a pool of around 700 submitted plays by high school students in the Chicago Public Schools system, three one-acts make it through the selection process to receive a full production.

Levy says several past winners have gone onto careers in theater, ranging from playwrights (Marvin McAllister, Sheila Callaghan) to theater professors. Several alumni will converge to commemorate the festival's 20th anniversary for a pre-show reunion reception at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Levy is full of praise for each of this year's plays. There are 13 playwrights attached to "I Am Someone," a play featuring multiple voices from Our Lady of Tepeyac, a largely Latina and African-American all-girls Catholic school on Chicago's South Side. …