Following a call for submissions of ten-minute plays, 836 students from 32 middle and high schools in Kentucky and Indiana submitted their plays for a chance to win the New Voices Playwright Contest and have their show produced on our stage. Of these submissions, eight winners were chosen—Gabe Cora (Floyd Central High School), Sophie Ice (Assumption High School), Katelyn Spencer (Washington County High School), Ariana Tulay (Moore Traditional High School), Claire Binford (Male High School), Maddie Gaughan (Youth Performing Arts High School), Sara Sandfort (Male High School) and Corbin Gravil (Kentucky School for the Blind). These plays will premiere in the New Voices Young Playwright Festival which runs April 23-25 in the Bingham Theatre.

For these playwrights, getting their play produced means the exciting opportunity to work side by side with Actors Theatre’s Education Department, a director, a dramaturg, a design team and a cast that consists of members of the Professional Training Company. Claire Binford, playwright for What’s More Important speaks to the experience of working with so many people on this project: “I’ve been amazed by the amount of care that goes into each performance. There are so many moving parts when creating a show and it's been a great learning experience.”

This year’s festival offers a diverse lineup featuring stories about powerful friendships, the role of family, growing up and finding strength. The plays vary from comedies to dramas to science-fiction plays to sitcoms. For Circle of Leaf playwright Sophie Ice, she’s most excited about introducing audiences to her two main characters—two leaves named Maple and Chestnut who are best friends: “Maple and Chestnut aren’t real people, they aren’t even real, but I have fallen in love with them and they mean so much to me…I just can’t wait for more people to see the story and find their own interpretation.” Playwright Sara Sandfort, whose play, Sickcom, was inspired by sitcoms she saw on television, agrees. “It’s up to the audience to find their own meaning.”

Over the past few weeks, the eight writers have gotten the chance to sit in on rehearsal for their shows, contribute to design ideas and help shape their play into a fully-staged production. For Katelyn Spencer (Purple), this process has been a great learning experience. “In my play, the message is to do things even though they seem scary. I had to heed my own advice, and in the process, I learned to have more confidence in myself and what I’ve achieved.”

Gabe Cora, writer of The Wilting feels similarly: “I learned so much through the process, but the main thing for me was all the steps it takes to produce a show. As someone without an extensive background in theatre, it is inspiring and exciting to see all of the work that goes on behind the scenes.”

The 14th Annual New Voices Young Playwrights Festival premieres tomorrow night, April 23, and runs through April 25. All performances are at 7 p.m. in the Bingham Theatre. Tickets are $5.00 and can be purchased here.