Thespian Playworks is a writing competition and script-development program for high school students, sponsored by the Educational Theatre Association and run by the staff of Dramatics magazine. Each year, up to four finalists are invited to bring their scripts the Thespian Festival in Lincoln, Nebraska, where they work with a professional director, a dramaturg (a working playwright who acts as script advisor and mentor), and a volunteer cast of actors to put the short plays up on their feet before a live audience.
After the workshop the scripts are published or excerpted in Dramatics. Many have been published in acting editions by major play publishers.
Launched in 1994 as a tribute to longtime International Thespian Society executive Doug Finney, the program aims to nurture young playwrights—and over Playworks’ seventeen-year history, many participants have gone on to college majors and careers in theatre, writing, and related fields. One early participant, Alison Stine, is now a prizewinning poet. Two Playworks alumni, brothers Doug and Jonathan Rand, launched a successful play publishing business, Playscripts, Inc. Several Playworks plays, including Jonathan Rand’s Hard Candy, have become part of the high school repertoire; many others received at least one additional staging after their Lincoln debuts. Chris Osborn, a 2007 Playworks finalist, used proceeds from production royalties earned by his play Constellations to help a high school in Uganda build a science lab.
Whatever the eventual future of the writers or their scripts, Playworks is, for virtually all who take part, an exhilarating experience in a creative discipline seldom taught in schools or celebrated in the wider culture.
The call for Playworks entries goes out in Dramatics each fall, with submission deadlines usually falling around the first of February. We typically receive between sixty and a hundred scripts from high school Thespians all over the country, from Canada, and as far away as the United Arab Emirates. Each play is reviewed at least twice, as teams of readers—Dramatics staffers as well as professional critics and theatre artists—narrow the entries down, first to a dozen semifinalists, and then to the final four. Each semifinalist receives a personal letter with feedback on his or her script.