Merideth Maddox  photo

Merideth Maddox

Clocktower Players, the resident theater company of the Irvington Theater, can’t stage productions in its historic auditorium anytime soon. But the pandemic isn’t stopping the company from engaging the community through online acting classes, dance and vocal lessons and improvisation workshops. Its latest idea might even become a tradition: a playwriting contest, with the promise of the winning script being professionally produced and presented live on Zoom.

Submissions to the 2020 “Amaze Short Play Competition” will be divided into four categories according to the ages of the performers that the scripts are geared to: 7-9, 10-12, 13-17, and adults. Running time limits are 10 minutes for the two groups of younger performers, and 10-20 minutes for the others. There’s one $200 grand prize, and three $50 cash prizes for the runners-up. The winning play will be presented live on Zoom in August, and the runners-up will be performed during Clocktower’s 2020/21 season.

Each entry should be emailed to clocktowertroupes@gmail.com by Sun- day, July 12, and must be accompanied by a separate page with the play’s title, the playwright’s name and contact data. The script itself must include the name of the play, a brief synopsis and list of characters, but omit the name of the playwright. Blind submissions will be given to the judges.

“People can submit as many as they want,” Clocktower’s artistic director and executive producer Cagle McDonald said. Although she wasn’t ready to identify the panel of judges, she said it would include professionals, such as agents, producers and writers.

The age of each contestant will not be considered. “I don’t really have any reason to,” McDonald said. “It’s going to be judged and, if it’s good, it doesn’t matter if it’s a 10-year-old.” But this could be an opportunity for writers to stretch their horizons. For example, she said, “A teenager could have something important to say about racism or gay rights, and would like to see it performed by adults.”

When the live play is streamed, each actor will be in a separate location. McDonald said the contestants should keep that in mind when constructing their scripts.

Clocktower was forced to cancel its spring show, “Matilda, the Musical,” on the eve of its March 14 opening, disappointing the cast and crew and inspiring some members to seek other ways to support the theater company.

The contest was suggested by Annika Martens, a Dobbs Ferry High School senior and a Clocktower student since she was 4.

Martens, who plans to major in musical theater at Marymount Manhattan College in the fall, said the idea for a playwriting contest came to her after she and her friends had been reading a play together on Zoom. She thought using Zoom might be an opportunity for Clocktower. “Writing is not my specialty, but I admire people who do it so much,” Martens said. “I realized that some of the people I knew were such great writers and didn’t have a place to produce their work... and it’s also an opportunity for the performers and workers. So I brought [the idea] to Cagle, and I was really glad we are able to do it.”

Plays can be in any genre except for musicals (because of the possibility of technical glitches such as lags, which could cause problems syncing up the performers).

Scripts should feature casts of from two to nine actors, and writers should keep in mind the online format when including stage directions. The physical limitations make it important for writers to create strong characters and dialogue, and to suit the material to the age of the performers.

McDonald said, “Once we know what play wins, then I will select a director, and we’ll decide whether we’re going to have auditions, or whether the director will just invite actors he or she knows.” She said that some of the actors might be recruited from among Clocktower’s students and veteran performers.

For those who are new to playwriting, McDonald suggested watching some of the works on a website called “Play at Home” for inspiration. It features 10-minute plays by established young playwrights, commissioned by Manhattan’s Public Theater and other not-for-profit companies.

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