Lighthouse students score honors in national playwriting contest

Three students in Spring Lake Park District 16’s Lighthouse Program have been named honorable mention winners in a national playwriting competition.

Three students from District 16’s Lighthouse Program received honorable mentions in the Young Playwrights Inc.’s annual National Playwriting Competition. They are Teagan Nelson, second from left, Sana Wazwaz and Natalie Horwath. Kristin Ammerman, left, is their teacher and playwrights coach. Photo by Elyse Kaner

Three students from District 16’s Lighthouse Program received honorable mentions in the Young Playwrights Inc.’s annual National Playwriting Competition. They are Teagan Nelson, second from left, Sana Wazwaz and Natalie Horwath. Kristin Ammerman, left, is their teacher and playwrights coach. Photo by Elyse Kaner

Natalie Horwath, 10, Teagan Nelson, 11, and Sana Wazwaz, 10, came home to find a large envelope with a letter notifying them of their wins and certificates of excellence signed by renowned composer Stephen Sondheim. This was the first time the girls had entered the Young Playwrights Inc.’s annual National Playwriting Competition started by Sondheim in 1981.

The Lighthouse has submitted entries for three years. This is the first year students from the program have placed in the competition.

Natalie Horwath

When Natalie first received the mailing, she figured it was a rejection letter. “So I was happy,” she said about learning otherwise.

Her play in six scenes, “The Shadow Creatures,” centers on Melody, whose sister Hope has magical powers. But she misuses them. Melody ventures into the forest to find a “not-that-evil witch,” who helps Melody defeat Hope’s misused magical powers. The witch’s minions are the shadow creatures.

Natalie, in her fourth year in the Lighthouse Program, particularly enjoyed creating the character of Melody’s mom, who overreacts to situations.

The judges said about Natalie’s story: “The world you have created has a lot of power in its ability to take audiences out of their everyday lives and put them somewhere far off and new. The most powerful tool you have is your imagination. Keep using it to further develop this world and the characters in it.”

Natalie is reaping the benefits of entering the competition. “It helps me learn to write better plays,” she said about receiving judges’ feedback on a national level.

Teagan Nelson

Teagan, a first-year Lighthouse student, was both happy and surprised to learn about her win. “It’s national,” she said. “There were a lot of other kids who had a lot better playwriting skills than me.”

Apparently, the judges thought otherwise.

Teagan learned through the process that she needs to develop her characters more, she said.

Her play, “An Interview Out of This World,” is about a TV interviewer, Katrina, and her partner, Jack. Katrina’s job is on the skids. She gets fired. But when she and Jack decide to interview an alien, viewer demand earns Katrina her job back.

“I was just honored because these are professional playwrights and they said my play was really good,” Teagan said.

As part of her contest feedback, a Young Playwrights’ judge said her play had “fun and creative characters steal the scenes in (a) wildly imaginative play about a handful of dimwits trying to produce a television show.”

Teagan enjoys watching crime shows, so her next play will probably be a mystery, she said.

Sana Wazwaz

This is Sana’s second year in the Lighthouse Program. When she opened her notification she thought, “Wow! I didn’t see that coming,” she said about the honor.

Sana entered the contest because she thought it would be a fun and challenging activity. She especially enjoys writing humorous, sarcastic dialogue, she said.

Her winning entry is a fantasy/comedy titled “My Way or the Highway,” a three-act play.

The plot is about a princess who despises rules and laws and uses a mind-control jewel to get what she desires at a masquerade ball.

The judges commented that her work reminded them of a Shakespeare play. Among comments, a judge said: “[Sana] created quite the magical world! This play was tons of fun to read and Princess Alianna really does have some strong opinions… Her charismatic behavior will make an audience invested in seeing how her story turns out.”

Sana rewrote the first draft of her play about seven times, changing scenes and characters.

At first, she figured playwriting wasn’t her thing, she said. But winning an honorable mention has changed her mind.

Before learning about the process, she thought a play was similar to a skit, with limitations.

“But now I know there are no limits,” she said. “A play is just a movie, except it’s acted out.”

Lighthouse students have entered the playwriting contest for three years, said Kristin Ammerman, teacher and playwrights coach in the Lighthouse Program. This is the first time, they’ve produced winners. “I was very proud,” she said.

To prepare for the competition, starting in September six Lighthouse students read and analyzed plays as part of the Lighthouse program’s requirement calling for entering a national competition. They also studied tips on playwriting on the Internet. Students had about two months to write the play.

The three honorable mention winners are looking forward to entering the contest again next year.

Spring Lake Park District 16’s Lighthouse Program for gifted students provides challenging educational experiences to insatiable learners in grades two through 12. The program is housed in the Spring Lake Park High School complex in the Learning Alternatives Community School wing.

Elyse Kaner is at elyse.kaner@ecm-inc.com

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