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Young Writers Shine in Uptown Festival

By Adeshina Emmanuel | January 20, 2013 8:22am

UPTOWN — A theater company in Uptown is "supporting the voice of the future" by showcasing young playwrights.

The 26th Annual Young Playwrights Festival at Pegasus Players features one-act plays penned by Chicago teenagers. More than 700 high school students submitted plays to the festival in 2012 to be staged this year in an event that kicked off Jan. 3 and ends on Jan. 27. But only four were selected.

Festival Director Ilesa Duncan said that even though the plays come from the minds of teenagers, the depth of subjects explored and the quality of production make the festival appealing and not just to people looking to "support a new generation of writers."

"We are supporting the voice of the future," said Duncan, who is also the artistic director at Pegasus, 4520 N. Beacon St. "But people would be surprised by the depth and breadth of what the youth are writing about. And these are professional productions."

One play, "The Flood," by former Taft High School student Liza Farler, is reminiscent of the tragedy brought on by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It centers on "what a disaster can do to a community," Duncan said.

Farler's winning play is set in a small town struck by "a mysterious rising water."  Farler, a 19-year-old Edison Park resident, said that the play was also partially inspired by cataclysmic fears in 2012.

The teen said she has been writing her "whole life," but never thought of it as a career option. Until now. Being featured in the festival has been a potentially life-changing event, she said.

After finishing at Taft last year, Farler decided not to go directly to college, explaining she needed some time away from school to figure out what she really wants to do.

Farler is interested in tattoo artistry and visual arts — but now writing is another strong possibility, she said.

"When you're growing up, everyone is like 'you have to choose a good career, go to college, be a doctor, a scientist.' Nobody really says 'you can be an artist. You can be a writer if you try.' I never thought of myself as good enough but nowadays, I don't know. Maybe I am," she said.

Winning playwrights had their plays produced by Pegasus staff, were assigned a mentor to work with during pre-production, and won $500.

The other winning plays were:

• Former Whitney Young student Stephanie Chavez's "The Queen and Her Cliquedom," a story about an outcast who joins forces with a new kid on campus to take down the cliques at their high school.

• Former Lane Tech student Willa Sachs' play "Pinwheels," about an Iraq War veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder who lives with his brother and the brother's live-in girlfriend

•Former Northside College Prep student Daniel Swanson-Nystrom's play "Quick and Go," about a cashier who encounters a customer who tries to con him.

Tickets to the festival can be purchased here.