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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 22, 2002

Young people's creativity takes center stage in 'Theatrefest '02'

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Joel Matsunaga and Duncan Dalzell in a scene from "Capsized Romance," by young playwright Emily Lau. "Capsized" and three other plays will be featured in "Theatrefest 2002" this weekend.

Brad Goda

'Theatrefest 2002'

Featuring four plays by teenage playwrights

7:30 p.m. today and Saturday, Tenney Theatre, St. Andrew's Cathedral

$12 general, $6 for 18 and younger, 61 and older


Following in her sister's footsteps, Emily Lau, 15, has written her first play, which the Honolulu Theatre for Youth will unveil in its "Theatrefest 2002" production this weekend at Tenney Theatre.

"I sort of wanted to try play writing, too," said Emily, a home-schooled sophomore. Her older sister, Kate Lau, 18, last year participated in HTY's Pacific Young Playwrights Workshop, where youths exchange ideas, shape and write their plays, and if they're lucky, see them produced.

"These playwrights give you a really good window to what's on teenagers' minds," said Daniel A. Kelin II, HTY's education director, who has nurtured the playwrights program since its inception 17 years ago. "The plays give you a sense of the writer; if it's their first piece of writing, they usually write about what they know and understand, often giving you a sense of where they are in their own lives, like dating for the first time."

The playwrights, he said, generally have a year to write, hone and cast their plays — if selected for Theatrefest — so they experience the process from start to finish, Kelin said.

Playwrights can't be in their own shows; they are instructed to sit back and enjoy their creativity.

It's usually hard work, however. "We're shaping and molding right down to the wire," said Kelin.

Emily's play, a comedy set in a summer camp, evolved as she started to get a handle on playwriting.

"It's not really autobiographical, but when you write, you give a little of yourself to some of the characters," she said. "I can relate to all of the characters."

Although she neither paddles canoes nor dances, Emily utilized these elements to further her story.

"They sounded good," she said.

Naming her characters was fun, too.

"I don't know how they really developed, but one name, Sargent, has some military bearing — the character is military-like," she said.

Sister Kate's play, "Alone Together," was produced at last year's "Theatrefest."

"I guess it was an inspiration to try to do one, too," said Emily.

Kelin said it's uncommon for siblings to create plays in successive years.

"Only the second time," he said.

Students meet most Saturdays for two to three hours, Kelin said. Attendance has soared to 18 after a low of eight or nine participants last year.

"We produce the works of students who are dedicated to getting their plays done," said Kelin. "No excuses, no delays."

In addition, chosen works need to have continuity — a beginning, a middle, an end. A complete story, in other words, with characters with something to say.

"I'm a procrastinator," said Emily. "It was easy for me, once I started writing. But it was hard to sit down at the computer; once I got it going, the play seemed to write itself."

Kelin said the plays that are most touching are the ones that are often most revealing, reflecting the personal turmoil of the writer. "These are the ones about the deterioration of family; the divorce of parents often is reflected in a play."