As a double major in playwriting and business at Emory University, seeing my work onstage is always a dream come true. This summer, my full-length play The Groundwater won the Blank Theatre’s 31st Annual Young Playwrights Festival, producing the play in Hollywood in July 2023. The play is the final installment of a five-play series about human connection and the climate crisis.

This was my second production with the Young Playwrights Festival, and it was also the company’s first in-person festival since 2019 (due to the pandemic). Any playwright between the ages of 9 and 19 can submit work to the festival, and 12 winners are chosen from the nationwide submissions every year. I can’t recommend the program highly enough!

Bringing The Groundwater to the West Coast was an exciting challenge, and while the play was first performed as a staged reading by Emory’s Oxford College theatre department in September 2022, the Blank Theatre produced the first fully staged production.

Here’s a peek into the festival experience and the playwriting lessons I learned along the way.

Mentorship and Edits

The Blank Theatre assigns every playwright a mentor as they edit their script. I worked with Aliza Goldstein, a playwright who is also an alumnus of the Young Playwrights Festival. She and I met over Zoom multiple times to reread the play and discuss how to make it stronger.

Because I tend to overwrite, this meant cutting down the script and removing unnecessary lines of dialogue. The mentorship process also gave me the opportunity to explore different facets of the characters and include an entirely new scene.

Lesson: Keep it short

From these meetings, I learned that brevity makes a script stronger and dense paragraphs of dialogue are difficult for the audience to follow. When writing, ask yourself how the characters can communicate using as few words as possible.

A photo of Dylan Malloy with her cast from the Blank Theatre's Young Playwrights FestivalThe Rehearsal Process

We began rehearsals in early July, where I met the cast and creative team for the first time. Madison McLaughlin (Arrow on CW, Chicago PD), Jorge-Luis Pallo (The Secret Life of the American Teenager), and David Bloom (American Born Chinese on Disney+) starred in the production. I learned so much about the craft of theatre from watching them work! 

The actors all brought an incredible amount of enthusiasm, talent, and dedication to the play. As we analyzed the characters, I discovered even more about the story, which I’d been working on for two years. We all grew very close during late-night rehearsals and became fast friends. The new relationships formed over the summer are one of the most transformative parts of the Young Playwrights Festival!

Lesson: Make space for creativity and rest

Our director, Laura Stribling, wanted the actors to feel free to make bold decisions onstage, so she let them improvise certain movements to see what felt natural. From this experience, I learned that stage directions should work for the actors, not the other way around. If you’re working on an original play and notice that a certain direction is uncomfortable or unnatural for the actors, it helps to step back and see if there is another way to approach this movement.

Though we usually rehearsed at night, I spent the rest of the day working on other writing projects. It’s easy to become burnt out while juggling multiple stories. I realized that I had to make time for rest so that I could bring my best self to rehearsal. Going on long walks, spending time with family, reading, and taking naps gave me energy. If you’re working on a production and want to recharge, try setting aside time in your day when you are not doing anything creative. Spending time in silence quiets your mind and reduces stress levels.

The Finishing Touches

The production ran from July 20-23 and was performed alongside two short one-act plays written by other winning playwrights. The West Coast premiere of The Groundwater was magical, and I’m so excited to continue developing this script. 

We performed in the Skylight Theatre, a gorgeous venue in Los Angeles with an actual skylight.

Lesson: Shows will always evolve

After multiple productions and performances, a play is never “done” until a playwright decides that it is. The world of your story is like a sandbox: You can build and rebuild different parts of the story for as long as you’d like.

Our director decided to introduce classical music mixed with sounds of dripping water, which formed the musical motif of the show. We loaded in furniture pieces and then experimented with different technical elements. Blue and purple light represented moments where the characters are dreaming or feeling distanced from reality. It was wonderful to learn more about how technical elements highlight the emotions of a story.

The Blank Theatre has changed the lives of countless young playwrights, and I’m forever grateful for the summers I spent with the company. Working in the theatre this summer taught me how to revise a script to make it punchier and more efficient. I also learned how to balance a demanding rehearsal schedule with time to write and work on other projects. Through the friends I made on set, I once again discovered the joy of telling stories with other people and watching their talent shine onstage. 

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