Monday, January 13, 2020


ChiIL Mama's Chi, IL Picks List:
Chicago High School Students’ Scripts are Given 
Professional Productions 
in the Nation’s Second Longest Running Festival 
Celebrating Young Playwrights 

The Winning Playwrights for 2020: Angelina Davila, Reba Brennan and Henry Williams

Catherine Hellmann

Photo by Catherine Hellmann

The process of selecting the winners for this annual theater festival is daunting: 500 submissions, narrowed down to only three finalists. (How can I get on this committee? That sounds really fun going through plays written by teens and being inundated by their creativity.) 

Pegasus Theatre has professional artists work with students throughout Chicago to help them produce their scripts. There are three rounds to the competition. First, 22 students are selected from the original 500 for an intensive “weekend immersion process” under more guidance to help them refine and rewrite their plays. Those new-and-improved scripts are submitted again for the contest, and from there, ten finalists are chosen. From those remaining ten, three one-act plays will be produced, to be directed and performed by professionals. 

The festival has been around for 33 years. (My oldest daughter was a finalist in 2004! I think the process is a lot more involving than it used to be. It’s weird yet cool to hear your kid’s words recited on stage in front of an audience. Even I felt vulnerable, and it wasn’t my play!)  This was the first time the festival was presented in a new venue: the beautiful Courtyard Theatre in The Getz Theater Center at Columbia College. 

One of the cool additions since 2004 is a video interview with each of the three young playwrights before each act to describe the background information on their plays. I really liked hearing their insights on where they got their ideas and what certain aspects of their scripts meant to them. (Frankly, I have seen some shake-my-head performances in my lifetime where I wish this was a prerequisite at every theater!) Each young writer also relayed what they were doing/where they were when they found out that they had won the contest. Those stories were very sweet, honest, and funny.  

Photo by Catherine Hellmann

The first play, Public in Private by Angelina Davila, was actually my personal favorite. Davila is a graduate of Taft High School on the Northwest side. She had just started college (her second day in class!) when she received her notice about the competition. 

(L to R) Peter Gertas and Tina El Gamal in PUBLIC IN PRIVATE

Davila’s play centers on harried, much put-upon Lucie Ochoa, a teenage girl with family issues and high hopes of going to art school. (as I have seen repeatedly in my career as a middle school teacher). Her mother discourages her, her younger brother is making bad choices, and her dad is out of the picture. Lucie’s mother tries to stifle her daughter’s dreams while also giving her a lot of responsibility. I loved the line Lucie delivers to her mom: “Why am I only an adult when it’s convenient for you?” It’s a question and struggle very common in households where exasperated parents try to exert control yet need all the support they can get. I was cheering for Lucie when she presents her portfolio in her big college interview. The young woman deserves a break! Tina El Gamal gives a heartfelt performance as Lucie, torn between her loyalty to family and her own needs. 

(L to R) Izis Mollinedo and Peter Gertas in CLAUSE 42

The second play was a very different change of pace. Clause 42 by Lane Tech student Henry Williams was the most fanciful of the three one-acts. Inspired by his Arkansas grandfather, a Baptist preacher, Williams’ play scrutinizes the hypocrisy and absurdities in a fictitious religion. (although some of it seemed eerily spot-on). Set in an imaginary afterlife, the main character, George, discovers he is dead from a car crash and is horrified. “I never finished the laundry!” “I was supposed to go to Yellowstone!” he declares. 

Our hero has landed in a bizarre bureaucracy that has crazy rules (like an afternoon at the DMV). George’s most egregious sin? He is married to his husband. ( this fiction?) One wonders how George is going to escape this underworld or be stuck there for eternity. 

(L to R)  Destiny Strothers, Austyn Williamson and Sebastian Summers in COBALT

The third play, Cobalt, by Senn High School student Reba Brennan, focuses on a group of misfit young people who band together to protect one another. Each has his or her own issues, domestic problems, family drama, and heartbreak to bear. Part of the message from Brennan seemed to be to warn us to never judge; if you think you have it bad, there is somebody out there who has it worse. (Am I a weirdo because I get along with my own children, even if their favorite hobby is making fun of Mom??) 

YPF by Pegasus Theatre is the nation’s second-longest-running festival featuring young playwrights. We are lucky to have this event in Chicago encouraging young writers and actors. Please add it to your list as a must-see celebration of the next generation’s best talent.      

Catherine Hellmann is a student at DePaul, an avid theater-goer, and a proud mom of a librarian and two future teachers. 

Pegasus Theatre Chicago is proud to announce the authors and plays presented at the 33rd Young Playwrights Festival, January 8 - 25, 2020 at The Courtyard Theatre in The Getz Theater Center at Columbia College, 72 E. 11th St. The productions are performed in tandem Wednesdays - Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 2 p.m. Additional matinee performances will be added for groups, call the box office for best schedule of group matinee and school performances. Opening night is Friday, Jan. 10 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $18 for students, $25 for seniors and $30 for general admission and are available at or by phone at 773.878.8864. 

The Young Playwrights Festival (YPF) celebrates the 33rd year of the program that inspires Chicago students to explore their histories, research their communities and mine their personal journeys to write dynamic one-act plays for the stage. The competition enhances language arts, encourages independent, high-level thinking, strong personal values and influences career development for Chicago’s teens.

The 2020 Festival includes full productions of winning plays from the annual playwriting competition for high-school-age scribes in Chicago. Three one-act plays are professionally produced by  Pegasus Theatre Chicago. The second oldest such festival in the country, this annual tradition regularly receives more than 500 submissions from Chicago area teens. From those, the winning playwrights are chosen to connect, workshop and produce their production with professional artists.

The Winning Playwrights for 2020

Reba Brennan

Henry Williams

Angelina Davila


(L to R) Sarah Rachel Schol and Tina El Gamal in PUBLIC IN PRIVATE, one of three new plays in the 33rd ANNUAL YOUNG PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL from Pegasus Theatre Chicago. Production Photos by Michael Courier unless otherwise noted.

Public In Private by Angelina Davila - Taft High School 
directed by Juan Ramirez
Lucie is struggling to get into an art college, but is sidetracked by her brother’s problems and her mother’s lack of support.

Lisean ‘Ling Ling’ McElrath in CLAUSE 42, one of three new plays in the 33rd ANNUAL YOUNG PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL from Pegasus Theatre Chicago. 

Clause 42 by Henry Williams - Lane Tech Academy
directed by Jason Fleece
George dies and is wrongly sent to the afterlife of a weird cult-like religion and is faced with the prospect of being judged by their ridiculous rules.

(L to R) Izis Mollinedo and Destiny Struthers in COBALT, one of three new plays in the 33rd ANNUAL YOUNG PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL from Pegasus Theatre Chicago

Cobalt by Reba Brennan - Senn High School
directed by Ilesa Duncan
Vee, a shy 18-year old, seeks solace and adventure on a friend’s couch as an escape from family dysfunction.

The cast for the productions includes Tina El Gamal, Peter Gertas, Lisean Mcelrath, Izis Mollinedo, Sarah Schol, Destiny Strothers and Austyn Williamson.

The production team includes Alyssa Mohn, scenic design;  Josh Wroblewski, lighting design; Rebecca Holcomb, costume design; Steve Labedz, sound design; Dominique Zaragoza, props design; Manny Ortiz, technical director;  Kevin Rolfs, scenic charge; Liz Gomez, master electrician and Kelly Butler, production manager.

ABOUT JUAN RAMIREZ, director Public in Private
Juan Ramírez has been active in film, theater and television for more than 35 years. As an actor, he has been featured in over 60 productions and was a series regular on ABC's detective drama "Missing Persons." As a director, Ramirez has written, directed and/or produced over 30 stage productions and two full length films. His first film, “Israel in Exile,” was a 2002 Slamdance Film Festival Competition Selection that has been screened in France, England, Spain, Cuba, Mexico and across the U.S. After a brief stretch in Los Angeles, he resettled in his native Chicago and became executive director of PanAmerica Performance Works, formerly Latino Chicago Theater Company at The Firehouse (a company which he co-founded). He also works with high school students at The Boys and Girls Club in South Lawndale through After School Matters; and the rest of his time developing potential film projects, and helping create community theater spaces.

ABOUT JASON A. FLEECE, director, Clause 42
Jason A. Fleece is a theatre artist and educator, Fleece returns to the Young Playwrights Festival, having directed The Adventures of FeRb for YPF 29. Some other favorite directing credits include The Body of an American (Stage Left Theatre), Ordinary Days (BoHo Theatre), and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (Oakton Performing Arts Center). Fleece was formerly co-artistic director at Stage Left Theatre, one of the oldest ensemble storefront theatres in Chicago.  He’s currently an Oakton Community College professor and holds an MFA in directing from the Theatre School at DePaul University.

ABOUT ILESA DUNCAN, director Cobalt
Ilesa Duncan is the executive/producing director at Pegasus Theatre Chicago and the artistic director at Lifeline Theater. She recently directed for Pegasus the Jeff-Recommended, Eclipsed, including its remount at Theatre on the Lake in the summer 2019, and the Jeff-Nominated, sold-out Shakin the Mess Outta Misery (BTAA-award, Ensemble), the world premiere of Jeff-Recommended Rutherford’s Travels and For Her as a Piano.  Other recent credits include Neverwhere at Lifeline Theatre (Jeff-Recommended), Broken Fences at 16th Street Theater, Jeff Award-nominated The Nativity with Congo Square and the Jeff Award-winning Jar the Floor at ETA Creative Arts. Duncan has also worked with The Goodman, Writers Theatre, Victory Gardens Theater, Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, Lifeline Theater, Stage Left and Chicago Dramatists, as well as Contemporary American Theatre Company (Ohio). The Alliance Theatre (Atlanta), Arena Stage (Washington DC) and Lincoln Center Theater (New York). Duncan’s creative nonfiction short stories have been published (Columbia College Chicago) and she’s written poems and screenplays.  For the stage, she co-adapted Rutherford’s Travels from the National Book Award-winning novel Middle Passage, co-wrote and directed Blakk Love: Stoeez of A Darker Hue and facilitated the devised project Do You See What I’m Saying for Chameleon. 

Pegasus Theatre Chicago has been a mainstay in the Chicago theater community for more than four decades. Its mission is to produce boldly imaginative theatre, champion new and authentic voices and illuminate the human journey. The theatre adheres to the core values of community engagement, social relevance, boldness, adventure and excellence.

Pegasus is also committed to initiating important conversations through the arts with strong community engagement and socially relevant programming, including the Young Playwrights Festival for high school-age scribes, which celebrates its 33rd year this season. Pegasus Theatre Chicago has received 77 Joseph Jefferson Awards since its inception.

The 33rd Young Playwrights Festival is made possible with the generous support of The MacArthur Fund at the Richard Driehaus Foundation, the Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, The David & Reva Logan Foundation, the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, Polk Bros. Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Illinois Arts Council Agency. 

Destiny Strothers in COBALT, one of three new plays in the 33rd ANNUAL YOUNG PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL from Pegasus Theatre Chicago

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