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all for One Brings 14th Young Playwrights Festival Back to ArtsLab This Weekend


Having just wrapped their 2021-22 season with a stellar production of The Princess and the Goblin, all for One moves immediately into their educational mission, hosting their 14th annual Young Playwrights Festival. With workshops for aspiring writers, the faith-based theatre company encourages young hopefuls to begin the work necessary to be a writer, and then with their annual competition provide a path for them to continue to hone their craft.

The result is a weekend of performances with eight one-act plays sharing the winning entries and providing these talented young writers and chance to put their work on a stage. Among the directors for these plays are Stacey Kuster and Jen Netting, both of whom have a rich history with Fort Wayne theatre and all for One specifically. Kuster, who is also the executive director of the company, returns to direct one of the plays, one written by Cherish Kiteck (Why Books Are Better) who won in the 3rd-5th Grade Division. Her connection to all for One has seen her involved with all 14 of these projects, but it’s only been in recent years that she has taken a hands-on role in the event.

“I had four years ago dipped my toes into directing Young Playwrights,” Kuster said. “So I told them ‘If you can’t fill the roster with other volunteers, I’d be willing to direct one.’ I let them pick which one because I didn’t have a preference. I read the script for Why Books Are Better about a week after and was delighted by what Cherish had written.”

The story revolves around two kids – a young brother and sister – who are tasked with cleaning the attic and stumble upon a mystery which can be solved through the reading of books. The story may be delightful, but given that the writer is 10 years old, it isn’t necessarily written to be easily staged.

“They fall asleep in the attic and wake up in a castle,” Kuster said. “These kids are just writing and not worried about stage production so it becomes a fun challenge to figure out how to do a short 12-page script with period costumes and a castle for maybe a 10 minute scene. But it’s a fun challenge. This is her first time writing a play so it’s very impressive storytelling. She did a fantastic job.”

This is the first time since 2019 that the Young Playwrights Festival has returned to the stage at the all for One home, the ArtsLab at Auer Center. Canceled in 2020 and moved to Zoom last year, the program is finally coming back to the public forum. Returning for another directorial stint is Jen Netting, a veteran of local productions (including all for One) and a director who has worked with young performers before, tackling two shows for Young Playwrights in 2019. Her experience in this project has been rewarding for her as she watches these kids navigate some new experiences and interactions.

“What makes this group really interesting is that we’re pulling a lot of kids from Fire & Light,” Netting said. “That’s a more educational-based program, and now they’re transitioning to community theatre. Many of them are home-schooled, and they’re now working with kids who are from public schools and private schools so they’re all working together and seeing what they each bring to the experience. They get to be on stage and see these stories come to life. It’s been interesting to be directing students who have different perspectives come together and work well.”

Netting also had to navigate and accommodate some issues her actors had with physical contact, adjusting moments of stage combat to work with understandable discomfort with slapping or otherwise injuring fellow performers, even in a fictional way.”

Netting is looking forward to seeing the full performance as all eight plays come together into a whole. Having focused for a few weeks on just one of the winning entries, she’s anxious to see what the other directors are doing. And Kuster, having seen the joy of staging these plays for 14 years, said that one highlight has been seeing what these young writers have to say about what happens in their interactions with adults.

“How these kids write is really interesting,” Kuster said. “They aren’t just writing about kids – they’re writing for all age ranges – and it’s fun to see what they write about adults and what adults have to say or will do in any situation. It’s fun to see their take on the world.”


This year's winners include:

Division 1: K-2nd Grade

WINNER: Ashley Lawson (Angels)

RUNNER UP: Paisley Kiteck (Courageous vs. Evil)


Division 2: 3rd-5th Grade

WINNER: Cherish Kiteck (Why Books Are Better)

RUNNER UP: Madelyn (Maddie Jo) Cwanek (The Two Kings)


Division 3: 6th-9th Grade

WINNER: Ezekiel (Zeke) Reynolds (The Time Crypt)

RUNNER UP: Jude Parks (The Hidden Deed)


Division 4: 10th-12th Grade

WINNER: Allison Cwanek (Writer's Block)

RUNNER UP: Alexis Keysor (A Bewitching Song)


Directors: Stacey Kuster, Julia Maxwell, Jen Netting, Lydia Scott, Whitnie Twigg

Stage Manager: Laura Maxwell

Actors: Tomax Apfel, Kate Agler, Ainsley Bendele, Kaiya Bendele, Julia Dluzak, Josh Keysor, Kali Keysor, Kelsey Keysor, John Lusk, Austen McGlothlin, Josiah Rice, Aria Richwine, Lydia Scott, Hudson Smith, Marshall Turner


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