Young Talent Takes Center Stage in Spinning Tree Theatre’s Young Playwrights Festival

Two young people high five in front of a screen that reads "success"

M.J. Bradshaw and Gabe Calvert in Fang You for Coming (Micah Thompson/Spinning Tree Theatre)

Spinning Tree Theatre’s Young Playwrights Festival takes in young writers and actors, both with disabilities and without, with varying levels of experience, and pairs them with professional playwriting mentors, directors, and designers, creating an impressive showcase of exciting young talent.

This year’s festival features three plays running the gamut of genres and tones. Ethereal, by Billie Valdivia (directed by Michael Grayman-Parkhurst with playwright mentor Victor Wishna), centers on a group of 1980s teens reeling from the trauma of one friend’s health crisis. Alexandria Radford’s Fang You for Coming (directed by R.H. Wilhoit, playwright mentor Vicki Vodrey) is a hilarious lesson in survival from two spirited vampire hunters. Emma Andrews’ Dolce far Niente (directed by Amanda Kibler, playwright mentor Sarah Aptilon) follows a group of high schoolers trapped together in a basement during what turns out to be a momentous party.

A group of young people posed for a group photo.
The cast of Young Playwrights Festival 2024 (Micah Thompson/Spinning Tree Theatre)

The plays produced here are wholly enjoyable, especially for younger audience members. Valdivia and Andrews’ works show a curiosity in mining emotional depths and exploring complex relationships, while Radford has created a genuinely laugh-out-loud comedy with hands-down one of the best uses of audience participation I’ve ever seen on stage. But beyond the finished products, the real star of these shows is the environment in which they were created. The writers’ processes are an unseen but entirely evident element of the finished work.

Each play is preceded by a short video, allowing the playwrights and their mentors to speak about their writing process, and it’s striking to hear just how different every student’s approach was. Valdivia’s play was developed from their poetry; Radford came in with heaps of research and deep knowledge of her subject matter; Andrews started with a script close to its final state just needing refinement. Spinning Tree is widely celebrated for fostering an extremely supportive and inclusive environment—the exact kind of environment necessary to so excellently nurture such disparate forms of creativity.

Spinning Tree’s Young Playwrights Festival only runs one weekend but those who miss this year’s performances can keep an eye ahead to next year. The program is a fantastic opportunity for young artists who would benefit from a supportive creative environment, and a fascinating watch for anyone who enjoys seeing a glimpse into the inner workings of a young person’s creative process.

The Young Playwrights Festival’s ensemble of young actors and creatives includes Cameron James, Lucas MacNider, Caleb Mitchell, Hana Obaideen, Lauren Rothhaas, Liam Smith, Bryan Swilor, M.J. Bradshaw, Gabe Calvert, Aubrey May, Frankie Nelson, Cecilia Miller, and Cora Price.

Spinning Tree Theatre’s Young Playwrights Festival runs through February 11 at the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center, 8788 Metcalf Ave, Overland Park. For more information, visit spinningtreetheatre.com.

Vivian Kane

Vivian Kane is a writer living in Kansas City. She covers pop culture and politics for a national audience at The Mary Sue and theatre and film locally, with bylines in The Pitch. She has an MFA in Theatre from CalArts.

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