ANGELES, CA - What is so great
about the theater community in Los Angeles are the people who
give back, the people who enable others to make their dreams a
reality- Daniel Henning is an
individual who founded a theater company and the very successful
Young Playwrights Festival, currently in its 13th
year. Playing through June 26th, The Young
Playwrights Festival has been playing to fantastic audiences at
the Hudson Theater in Hollywood, CA.
Maestro Arts & Reviews correspondent Adrian Rennie recently snagged a brief interview with Daniel Henning regarding The Young Playwrights Festival and to hopefully introduce our readers to an individual who’s deserves recognition for his ability to help others realize their aspirations.
Tell us about the Young Playwrights Festival?
Henning : In
June 2005, The Blank Theatre Company presents its Thirteenth Annual
Nationwide Young Playwrights Festival. Since 1993, we have been
encouraging young playwrights from around the country to hone and
practice their craft.
have given 136 playwrights aged 19 and younger the opportunity
to work with professional actors and directors on their scripts
and then have their work presented to the public.
Blank Theatre Company Young Playwrights Festival is the only
national annual festival producing the work of young
playwrights. Many of these playwrights have gone on to write
successful plays and to have careers in the theatre. Several of
our winners have had their plays optioned by Hollywood film
companies or signed with agents as a result of our Festival. Our
Young Playwrights Festival gave them the encouragement and the
opportunities they needed at just the right time.
submit their work in open competition. A hard-working team of
volunteer readers selects the finalists and winners. Then,
accomplished playwrights lead a team of mentors who help winning
young playwrights hone their work for performance. Experienced
directors work with winners during the rehearsal process. Best
of all, winning playwrights see their work professionally
performed by working actors.
mentors and directors include: Paris Barclay, Constance M.
Burge, Robert L. Freedman, Jack Heifner, Winnie Holzman, Gordon
Hunt, Elizabeth Hunter, Robert Iscove, Paul Lazarus, Terrence
McNally, Michael Mayer, Garry Marshall, Stuart Ross, Austin
Winsberg, Mark Saltzman, and Jonathan Tolins.
order to open the experience to the greatest number of young
people, the Festival has very few requirements other than that
the playwrights must be 19 years of age or younger by the
mid-March cutoff date. Playwrights can co-write plays, submit
plays in handwriting if they do not have access to a word
processor, and even submit plays in languages other than
English. Playwrights do not have to be attending school to
participate in the Festival.
all the work we do at the Blank Theatre Company, we truly
believe that it is our annual Nationwide Young Playwrights
Festival that will have the greatest long-term impact on the
future of theatre.
How did you become with The Blank Theatre Company and the
Young Playwrights Festival?
Henning : I
founded The Blank Theatre Company in 1990. I wanted to raise the
level of the quality of theatre in LA. I also founded the YPF
[Young Playwrights Festival] in 1993. I felt a need in Los
Angeles for a Festival of plays by teenaged writers, a home
where they could learn from professionals as I had been given
What has been most fulfilling so far with this experience
in your life?
Henning : Wow.
Tough question. Each night of the Fest is quite fulfilling.
Watching the vision of these teenagers being presented on stage
each night and seeing the response of the audience to their
words is pretty great. Each time feels like a new time to me
I suppose the most fulfilling would be what’s starting to
happen now. We have been doing this for 13 years now and we are
starting to see real results for these young people. Our
previous winners are having their plays produced by regional
theatres across the nation. Many of them are playwrights and
is a young man named Austin Winsberg, 28, who is the creator and
executive producer of ABC’s Jake in Progress. He is a 5 time
winner in our Fest. He has also directed and mentored for us in
the Fest as well. He invited me to the premiere party for JAKE.
I pulled him aside at the party and told him how proud I was of
what he had been able to achieve and that indeed he had made my
dreams come true. He asked me what I meant. I told him that 12
years ago when I started this Fest, I HOPED that we would be
encouraging young people to continue to write. My dream was that
we would give them a foundation for a future in the arts. That
we would be responsible for giving just the right kind of push
to these teens to let them know that what they dream of can be
achieved with talent and hard work. And, of course, I wanted to
help these kids along a career path that would include great
things for them as artists. In Austin’s case we did that, as
he readily admits. His success is our success. His signing a
“7 figure deal” with Fox Television is certainly a success.
He has made my dream come true.
Any memorable productions from either this year or past
that you like to share with our readers?
Henning : There
have been many wonderful pieces throughout the years. By June
26, there will be 148 in all (over the years). 9 of the plays we
have put on a full productions on the Mainstage. They have
included 3 full blown musicals (book, music and lyrics by
teens). The musicals were, of course, quite something;
especially when you consider there are 50 year old writers out
there who would love to write a good musical and can’t! I
suppose the ones that stand out most for me are the ones that
deal with particular moments in time and the issues young people
are facing. THE WHY by Victor Kaufold) was in 200, shortly after
Columbine. It dealt with school shootings and used satire and
pathos to try to explain the unexplainable. There were 4 actors
playing 28 roles. Noah Wyle and James Marsters did it for us.
Victor was nominated for an Ovation Award for Best Writing World
Premiere (at 19) for THE WHY. In June 2002, we did THE
WIDOWS, by then 13-year-old playwright David Watson from New
York City. His play dealt with the emotional aftermath of 9/11.
It was incredibly powerful and moved our audiences greatly. As a
nation, we hadn’t really dealt with 9/11 emotionally and this
13-year-old kid summed it up so beautifully that there was a
major catharsis for our audience.
It has been utterly fantastic to see such an outlet.
And giving back to the community in this fashion should be
commended. What is next for yourself? And the Blank Theatre
Henning : Thank
you for the commendation. Theatre is one of the only professions
left where people pass down their knowledge to younger people.
The world has become so much about “what’s new”, that
traditions get lost. Many people taught me the ropes so I feel
it is only fair to continue that tradition.
Blank Theatre Company is opening the West Coast premiere of THE
WILD PARTY, a musical by Michael John LaChiusa and George C.
Wolfe in mid-September. It is a thrilling musical set in the
decadence of Manhattan in the 1920s. I will be directing that.
It is set to star Valarie Pettiford, Tony nominee for FOSSE.
that I will be choosing our 2006 season to begin in February of
next year. I am also heavily engaged in developing our Board of
Directors. I have set a goal for The Blank to become a Regional
Theatre in Hollywood. It is a long road the get there and I need
dedicated Board members who are willing to help us with that
journey. If any of your readers wants to help with that goal,
send them along. We need all the help we can get. And as you
probably got from the Fest, I sincerely believe we are all in
this together. And when I say “this” I mean improving the
quality of life; all of our lives, through art.
What advice or words of wisdom could you share to our
readers who are also pursuing their dreams and goals?
Daniel Henning : Listen to your soul. Don’t let others dissuade you from your dreams. You are the only one who can tell you whether something is “right” or “wrong”. When I started The Blank Theatre Company at 24, people thought I was crazy to start a theatre company in a town filled with “movie people”. Maybe they were right. I didn’t listen. I did what I had to do. I followed my own dream and worked hard to make it a reality. I don’t make a lot of money doing this, it is a constant struggle to pay the rent, but I am happy most of the time at work. And ultimately, if I hadn’t followed my dream I wouldn’t be in a position to help other people follow theirs.
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