Every year the Middle School Monologue Festival pulls new young writers into the Philly Young Playwrights community.
This year, as the community continues to grow, two playwrights are not only part of the Philly Young Playwrights family, but are also experiencing their literal families becoming involved in Philly Young Playwrights. We spoke to previous winning playwrights Hannah McGrath and Emma O’Neill-Dietel (also a current Youth Council member). Both of their younger sisters have pieces in the Middle School Monologue Festival this year (this Saturday the 14th and Sunday the 15th at 2pm). Hannah is also the daughter of veteran teaching artist Kate McGrath.
We pulled together advice from both Hannah and Emma to bring you the Top Six Tips from a playwright to her younger sister.
Emma: I have always believed that my love of writing stems directly from my sister. When we were younger (and even now) we played constantly. We made up ridiculous scenarios and outrageous characters with the most complicated plots imaginable... My sister has always been the funnier of the two of us, and I’ve watched her taste in humor grow as her characters came up with witty remarks and found themselves in hilarious situations. I know that her monologue contains a few terms from a beauty pageant game we played and the concept of beauty pageants is something we often mock and make parodies of.
Hannah: My sister and I constantly influence each other. Its evident most in how we talk, our similar sarcastic humor and funny sayings are definitely really similar and I think that’s something Sarah got from me, and I got from both my mom and by watching too many Disney Channel sitcoms as a child. From reading some of her writing, I know that she puts a lot of our humor into her stories and characters and I love reading it out loud because I can imagine she or I saying it.
Have you read your sister’s winning monologue this year?
Emma: I did indeed read my sister’s monologue. She asked for feedback before she sent it in and my mom and I critiqued it for her... Giving and receiving feedback is one of my favorite parts of the writing process, which is one of my favorite things about PYP; the amount of feedback it gives writers. I was with her monologue all the way, which makes me all the more excited to see it performed.
Hannah: I only recently read my sister’s finished monologue... but I’m actually happy I wasn’t super invested in her monologue because I was really pleasantly surprised how much her writing had improved when I was finally able to read it. Since this is actually Sarah’s second winning monologue, I’m excited to see the differences in how her writing is performed on stage. As part of a crazy theatre household where everyone is constantly editing and advising each other, its nice to step away from a project and just enjoy the final result once and a while.
What does being part of the Philly Young Playwrights family mean to you? What are your hopes for your sister continuing to be involved in PYP?
Emma: PYP means the world to me and my sister means the world to me, so to have the two together is incredible. PYP welcomed me with open arms and I don’t know how it is for my sister now to have had that door wide open in front of her and only now stepping through it. I hope she can learn as much about herself through PYP as I did and that it will become a safe haven for her to create and explore her imagination. When I go to college my sister will just be entering high school, so I hope she takes my place in PYP if she would like to.
Hannah: My PYP experience is one I really appreciated as a middle schooler. It was so rewarding to combine my love of acting and my love of writing and to be in a room full of people who were all so passionate about playwriting. Going through the revision process not only improved my monologue and my writing skills, but my acting. It was so helpful to be on the other side of the table as the playwright and to understand how characters and ideas develop. I think this is a part of the process that my mom, and now my sister, have benefited from as well. Having almost my entire family involved in PYP is really exciting and I admire my mom and sister for having so much dedication. My sister is now a second time winner; she really inspires me to start writing another play or monologue and hopefully get to become a more involved member of the PYP community.
Top Six Tips from a winning playwright to her younger sister:
- Practice writing constantly: Everyone says this and it’s true. Don’t just write at school. Write at home. Write down every single idea, no matter how stupid you think it is. Like anything else, improvement takes practice, and not only will writing constantly improve your skills, it will provide you with a ton of ideas that you can choose to continue developing.
- Step outside of your comfort zone. Write about everything. Becoming well-rounded as a writer is important, not only because it gives you experience in many different fields, but because it will help you decide what topics you are truly passionate about. The more you write, the more you discover what works for you. It takes a long time to grow your writing style.
- Choose to write what you are passionate about. Part of your play is drawing deep into the subject, pulling out new ideas, and developing your characters. This part of the process becomes much easier if you have strong feelings or a strong idea of what your play is really about. If there is one message/plot/theme you’re trying to get across in a piece of writing, stick to it. Its surprising how big an impact your play can have on someone so choose to write about what’s important to you.
- Be open to feedback. People have wonderful ideas and the more you talk about your writing the better it will become. Get to know your revision team so that you can be confident in your choices as a playwright while still respectful and mindful of the feedback you are given. To be comfortable with the other people working with you, you have to be comfortable with yourself. Don’t jump to every change someone suggests. Keep your mind open but at the end of the day it’s your writing and your vision. Everybody is always okay if you say “no, I don’t want to make that change.
- Get to know your characters. Even the minor ones. Let them tell you their story. If a character seems like he or she isn’t fitting into the story and is turning into someone else, don’t make him or her conform to the character description you set out at the beginning, change the description, not the character. I usually start with no character description at all. I start with an event and a relationship between the characters. The characters grow into themselves as I write.
- Be yourself. Everyone is different. Everyone writes differently. Everyone has a different way of writing that feels comfortable. Basically, take most of what I said with a grain of salt.