Deadline approaching for playwright contest

Published 8:00 am Thursday, January 7, 2016

Time is running out for young playwrights to submit their works to this year’s Emerging Playwright Award.

The Feb. 1 deadline for submissions to the contest, which is co-sponsored by the Beckwith Theatre Company and Dogwood Fine Arts Festival, is fast approaching. Emerging playwrights between the ages 18-30 who are living or studying in Michigan or northern Indiana are eligible to submit an entry to the contest, which concludes during the annual Dowagiac arts festival in May.

The amount of money up for grabs in this year’s award is larger than ever — the top three entries will receive a combined $2,250. The first place winner will receive the The Don and Dorothy Frantz Memorial Award, worth $1,500; second place will receive the Karen Pugh Memorial Award, worth $1,000; and third place the Warren and Lillian Walshleger Memorial Award, worth $250.

A panel of four judges — all associated with the local community theater company — will handle the initial reading of the submitted scripts. Spending around a week going through submissions, the judges score each manuscript on a variety of different criteria, said organizer Rich Frantz.

“We base our scores mainly on the quality of the play, but we also base it on other criteria, such as staging — the ability to actually bring the play to life on stage,” Frantz said.

Other elements the judges will look at include how believable the play’s characters are, how realistic is the dialog and how well the play conveys its themes, Frantz said.

The judges will then meet to determine the three best scripts, which will be read on-stage at the local theater in April. Each play will be read by performers with a different theater company; one by actors with Beckwith, another with those from the South Bend Civic Theatre and a third by students with Southwestern Michigan College.

The public is invited to see all three reading free of charge. Audience members will have a chance to judge each script as well, which will help the judges determine the winners, Frantz said.

“People who come really like it,” Frantz said. “We have some people who come to each reading.”

The winning play will receive one final reading during the Dogwood Festival, on Monday, May 9.

Now in it’s third iteration, the playwright contest has not only helped give young playwrights exposure, but it has helped out Beckwith as well. In addition to increasing collaboration between the Dowagiac theater and the South Bend Civic and SMC, the contest has given the Beckwith a new play — in August, the theater hosted a production of “Nantucket Sleighride,” the winning script from the inaugural Emerging Playwright Contest in 2014.

“It’s been good for Beckwith, and it’s rejuvenated us to some degree,” Frantz said.

Last year, the contest received more than a dozen submissions from playwrights across the state — winning the top prize was Elizabeth Frankel, with her period piece, “A German Party.”

With only a few weeks left before deadline, Frantz encourages eligible playwrights to get their works into organizers’ hands before time runs out.

“It’s a chance to see your play read seriously — and a chance to earn some beer money,” Frantz said.

Applications may be submitted in PDF form by email at or by hard copy to Dowagiac Dogwood Fine Arts Festival, Emerging Playwright Award, PO Box 526, Dowagiac, MI 49047.