Kids in Charge

Young playwrights show their stuff again at Dobama.

Marilyn Bianchi Kids' Playwriting Festival Dobama Theatre
One of the major dreams of school-age kids has to be making adults and other kids say exactly what they want them to say. This is impossible for most children, but not the winners of Dobama Theatre's Marilyn Bianchi Kids' Playwriting Festival, an annual excursion into the richness of young minds for the past 26 years. The words of these budding authors are staged as written, by actors of all ages, before a crowd of people -- and if that isn't enough to get a youngster juiced about live theater, it's hard to know what would.

This year's festival is now over, but the glow of the weekend has always suffused the entire Dobama season -- and this year was no different. Michael Knopf, a fourth-grader from Royalview Elementary, created a superhero known as Monkey Man, who kept a town safe from the evil Eagle Woman. Along the way, the simian do-gooder developed an adoring following among a gaggle of young girls (hey, a playwright's allowed to indulge personal fantasies now and then). In another piece, a girl's struggle to grow up and develop friends is explored in Melanie Adelstein's A Doll Can Change a Girl's Life. Little Amanda's doll comes to life and helps her reach out to other children on the playground. And first-grader Nataya Lyons showed that wonderful things can appear quite unexpectedly in The Baby Egg.

There was mystery afoot in The Famous Unknown Art Thief by Evan Joyce, a fourth-grade student, who included some knowing satire of broadcast news along with his whodunit. Scott Jackson, a sixth-grader, imagined some strange aliens in his intergalactic adventure Mission Space Landing, while fourth-grader Angie Holecko, from Big Creek Elementary, crafted a Rod Serlingesque twist in Let's Go to the Zoo, where the roles of people and animals were reversed.

The most ambitious play in this set was Don't Forget to Say I Love You, by sixth-grade student Lydia Borowski. Dealing with generational conflict, the play examined what it takes to compromise for someone you love.

Robin Pease, founder and artistic director of Kulture Kids, provided delightfully inventive segues between performances. She and her monkey puppet deserve a TV show all their own.

Two plays written by senior-high students, performed separately, demonstrated sophisticated writing. In Dinner, 12th-grader Tim Israel mounted a sitcom parody, complete with laugh track, which poked fun at the adult penchant for orderliness in all things. In a completely different vein, Mitch Frank (also in grade 12) wrote Specimens, which peered into the relationship of two college-age brothers groping their way toward maturity, each in his own way.

If you know any school-age kids who'd like to put words into other people's mouths, keep an eye out for next year's festival. It's quite a rush for everyone who participates -- including the audience.

About The Author

Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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