When Preuss School eighth-grader Arely Gómez Hernández submitted her play “The Fight for a Dream” for possible inclusion in the Plays by Young Writers Festival, she had no expectation that her manuscript would be anything but part of a class assignment.
But “The Fight for a Dream” was chosen to be one of five plays that will be developed and presented at the 36th annual festival, which will stream online March 11-19.
The story centers on a girl named Lulu who has a dream to sing, said Arely, 13.
“[A] friend gets Lulu to sign up for a singing contest, and when Lulu tells her family, they question why she would do that and say she can’t go,” Arely said.
So who really has Lulu’s best interest at heart — the parents, who encourage her to take singing lessons instead of jumping into the contest, or the friend who seems to support Lulu’s dream?
Arely’s production will be presented at the festival as a staged reading as one of the winners of the 2020 California Young Playwrights Contest. Contest coordinator Rachael VanWormer said the competition drew 243 play submissions from students at 73 schools statewide.
The Preuss School is a charter middle and high school on the UC San Diego campus that serves low-income students who strive to become the first in their families to graduate from college.
Cecelia Kouma, executive director of the Playwrights Project, which produces Plays by Young Writers, read and scored all the entries, and the top 50 were judged by a team of professional theater artists. Besides the five winners, 32 other plays were named semifinalists and finalists in two age categories, 14 and under and 15-18.
“What struck us all about Arely’s script was its nuance, heart and its surprisingly mature command of storytelling,” VanWormer said. “By the end of the play, the audience has a completely different understanding of all the characters than we do at the beginning of the play. The way the characters are introduced and then developed over the short piece demonstrates Arely’s grasp on engaging an audience at the outset and then maintaining their interest throughout.
“We see Lulu, the main character, take a huge risk, learn something about herself, and change her goal and behavior accordingly, which offers a much-needed reminder to anyone watching the play that self-reflection and self-assessment are important qualities for anyone in pursuit of any goal, and that recognizing you’re not quite there yet is not a failure but in fact a step toward success.”
Arely said the message is that “people shouldn’t give up on their dreams, because dreams do come true if you fight for them.”
Inspired by her own passion for singing, Arely wrote the story for a class assignment at The Preuss School. “Our teacher said we had to submit it,” she said with a chuckle. “I never thought my play would get this far or be chosen to be produced. But I feel honored and very excited, and I’m looking forward to seeing it.”
The main difference between Arely and Lulu is that Arely’s family supports her singing endeavors. “I got into a group and am singing with them now,” Arely said. “I feel like I was like Lulu, but I have been able to achieve my dream, and my family supports it.”
Being an accomplished playwright before she enters high school also has opened a new door for Arely.
“I really enjoy that I can express myself and redefine who I am through writing,” she said. “I’m a shy person, but I can be social and broaden my horizons and express myself though my writing. This definitely inspired me to get into writing a bit more.”
For details about the Plays by Young Writers Festival, visit playwrightsproject.org/productions/pbyw.
— San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer Pam Kragen contributed to this report. ◆