young playwrights festival

Employing the signature “O’Neill process,” the festival provides professional-level support to develop original one-act plays written by middle and high school students.

Applications Coming 2023!

Festival Dates

May 2023

Specific Dates TBA

Each year, Young Playwrights spend a weekend at the O'Neill with a dedicated creative team - director, dramaturg, and actors - comprised of National Theater Institute alumni helping them stage their plays. The development process draws on principles and techniques used during the O'Neill's renowned National Playwrights Conference. With these methods, the young playwrights hone their work, furthering it from the initial isolation of writing to the collaborative process involved in making their script into a living, breathing play. Students receive a rigorous exploration of their work guided by professional artists as well as a script-in-hand public reading of their new play.

In addition to the featured plays selected for development, the O'Neill invites a number of students to attend as guest playwrights. Guest playwrights will observe the development processes and hear their script read aloud.

Applications for the 2023 Festival will open in early 2023!


  • Are between the ages of 12-18 and currently enrolled in middle or high school

  • Reside in the United States

  • Have permission from your parent or guardian to submit

  • Have written an original 10-15 page play

  • Are the only writer of the play

  • Are interested in seeing a play of yours workshopped at the world-renowned Eugene O’Neill Theater Center


  • Include your name and the title of your play on the front page of the script.

  • Include a listing of character names and descriptions.

  • Number every page of your script.

  • Submit only one play for consideration.

  • Submit play as PDFs or Word documents. We do not accept Google Docs.


  • Application materials will not be returned or archived.

  • Plays will be selected on a competitive basis.

  • The O'Neill only accepts digital submissions.

  • Early submissions are strongly encouraged.

  • The O'Neill does not provide housing or travel for festival attendees.


Sophia Chapadjiev is the Artistic Director of the Young Playwrights Festival and the O’Neill’s Director of Education. With nearly two decades of experience as an arts educator, Sophia has worked with a number of leading theater organizations in teaching students and teachers alike. Sophia is also a playwright and librettist whose work has been performed in New York, London, Toronto and Sydney. Her play, Over the Moon won Best Play, plus Audience Favorite at the American Globe Theater and In This House was selected as part of London’s inaugural Dark Horse Festival. Selected musical works of hers include: the one-act opera Aloha Flight 243 (music: A. Leyton-Brown) at HERE Arts Center, NY; Tobias Bentley’s World Cello Tour: of the Lesser-Known Nether Regions (music: N. Barstow) at The St. James (nka Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Other Palace), London; and the bijou opera, The Bone Keepers (music: C. O’Neil), a co-production of NYU and American Opera Projects which was highlighted in Broadway World’s opera review and described as “a kind of creep show meets Laverne and Shirley." Sophia is also the author of Teaching Playwriting: A Step-by-Step Guide to Fostering Creativity in Your Classroom. BFA, Emerson; MFA, NYU's Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program.

Dramatic writing is visual writing: A play is different from a novel or a short story in that it is meant to be performed. A playwright must always focus on what the stage will look like once it is live. This can be a point of real creativity: if you want to set it in a kitchen, set it in a kitchen. If you prefer the moon, set it on the moon.


Drama is conflict: Somebody has a desire, and something stands in their way. It sounds vague, but it's the essence of drama.


Don't over-explain: Once you lose an audience, it's almost impossible to get them back. So keep things going forward, and don't pause to explain. The audience may get confused, but a little confusion can be fun. And exposition is never dramatic.


Strange events permit themselves the luxury of occurring: You've probably been exposed to Realism, with a big R. Realism was a movement that sought to represent "real life" on stage. When it debuted in the late 1800s, it caused riots. It's been the American formula for over 60 years.




You don't have to follow that. You can have a hover-car chase, swap characters faces, and stage a gunfight in a field of pineapples. In fact, in Len Jenkin's Careless Love, all of that happens. If you have an idea, any idea, no matter how crazy it may seem, write it. Somebody will find a way to do it.


Have fun: Writing a play is hard and it takes a lot of work. But seeing something you wrote live on the stage is unbelievably rewarding.

Script Sample YPF-page-001.jpg

We've compiled a list of our most frequently asked questions for your convenience. If you don't see your questions answered below, please contact Sophia at sophia@theoneill.org


What is the Young Playwrights Festival?

The Young Playwrights Festival (YPF) is the O'Neill's program for middle school and high school students. The festival's mission is to provide young artists an opportunity to improve their writing and give them experience with playwriting as a craft and discipline. The festival begins with two days of rehearsal and culminates with a script-in-hand reading.


Who can submit a play to YPF?

Anybody between the ages of 12 and 18 who is enrolled in school or is home-schooled.


How do I submit a play to YPF?

After you’ve written your 10-15 page play and made sure it is properly formatted (see script format), navigate to the O'Neill's online application, complete the questions, and upload your script.


What kind of plays does YPF want?

YPF is looking for all sorts of plays. They can be serious, they can be funny. They can be about real situations or imagined ones. Most of all, YPF is looking for original plays that come from you!


What does YPF offer students?

YPF is an opportunity for students interested in playwriting to get experience with the development process at a truly world class institution. Participants will gain an understanding of dramatic form and structure, work with experienced theater artists, and most importantly, see their creative vision brought to life on the stage. Students will have an entire creative staff to work with, and will be given ample opportunity to re-write heading into the staged reading. They will then see their play performed before a live audience.


What does the Young Playwrights Festival not offer?

Housing and travel for festival attendees are not provided (although meals are).


How much does it cost to participate in the Festival?

Currently, there is no cost to be involved in the festival. 


When did YPF begin?

YPF began in 2006 with only a handful of playwrights submitting from a single school. It has now grown to include hundreds of submissions from scores of schools - both local and national. Sophia Chapadjiev, Director of Education, has been running the festival and teaching in-school playwriting workshops since 2008.


What is the rehearsal schedule for the Festival?

Typically on the first day, Friday, from 6-10pm you will meet the other young playwrights and your artistic team (director, actors, dramaturg, designer). You will also hear the first read-through of the selected plays. On Saturday, rehearsals take place starting at around 9am and go until around 6pm. On Sunday, rehearsals start in the morning again, followed by an afternoon technical rehearsal and the public performance in the early evening. If your play is selected, you will be required to be there for all rehearsals and for the presentation.

"A GREAT EVENT! Those students were beaming from the experience, as they should have been. What a learning event for them. They will never forget it, I know. Those seeds we planted will flower, I can practically guarantee it. We at the high school are very grateful to you for extending this opportunity to our students." ~ Gay Collins, English Teacher, Waterford High School


“I was surprised by the amount of excitement and joy I had during the weekend and during the performance. I thought being a Select Playwright would be serious—and it was—but it was also really fun and exciting. Every aspect of the process was so enjoyable and interesting, and all the people involved were nice and supportive. My favorite part was the actual performance because I got to see my final play in front of the audience and see how everyone reacted. And it was great seeing the other playwrights’ plays. Being a part of a group of people who were all collaborating and helping each other was so one of my best experiences of my life.” ~ William Palmer, age 12, Achilles’ Dilemma; YPF 2017


“Working with actors in rehearsal was especially helpful for me… a play is meant to live onstage, not merely on a page. Just hearing the speech patterns of each of my characters read by these amazingly talented performers gave me inspiration to strengthen my characters. The actors asked me interesting questions about their roles, which allowed me to think more deeply about each set of objectives and tactics. It was thrilling to watch the actors come into each rehearsal with so much positive energy and respect for the work being done.” ~ Lucy Sydel, age 16, Saving Grace (The Human Experiment); YPF 2017


“My time a YPF was truly a life changing experience. Given that I had never even met another playwright before, I really had no idea what to expect. I was really surprised that I had my own creative team: my own director and actors and dramaturg. It’s very easy for adults to talk down to teenagers who write. I think the thing that most surprised me was how respectful all the adults were in the program. They truly treated the playwrights as writers first and teenagers second, rather than the other way around. This is always very encouraging for young artists; to feel like someone respects you and your work can make all the difference.” ~ Isabelle Pierce, age 15, The Bedroom; YPF 2016


“Georgia attended YPF the first year as a runner-up, and the second year as one of the winners. The encouragement she received first time--being selected, and having her work taken seriously by professionals--gave her the confidence to try again. And then the reward of learning, from the inside, the hard work that goes into developing a play, combined with seeing her play performed by professionals was worth more than I can describe. The whole experience was enormously confidence-building. It confirmed for her that her individual ideas mattered.” ~ Ruth, mother of Georgia White, age 17, Deliverance; YPF 2016


"Good Guy, Bad Guy, Bad Guy, Bad Guy was my first play, ever. So you can only imagine my surprise when I was chosen to be a part of the Young Playwrights Festival. I try to avoid big events and spotlights as much as possible. Friday, May 9th rolled around quicker than I hoped it would, and this is where the fun began. I was nervous [but] something about the place felt like I belonged there. I just had to get used to the crowd of people. Turns out that it wasn’t that hard. Every person I met and spoke to during the weekend was friendly. Everyone just slipped right into comfortable conversation. As if we all knew each other beforehand. I stopped feeling like a stranger. The butterflies in my stomach never left, they just calmed down a tad bit. I’m not too good with names but I’ll remember everyone's faces forever. Being with playwrights and actors for a weekend gave me a whole new love for theatre. I got in the car to go home Sunday May 11th with a new sense of the person I am. I learned to use my voice and share the thoughts I have. I learned that you have to step up and make what you want happen. I still don’t enjoy the spotlight but putting on a show people like and want more of made me so proud of myself. I hope to do it again. The Young Playwrights Festival will stay on the list of Top 5 Life Changing Events for me. I wish that all aspiring Playwrights can experience the weekend I experienced. It was truly worth it." ~ Sasha Volkerts, age 17, Good Guy, Bad Guy, Bad Guy, Bad Guy; YPF 2014


“Before YPF I was always kind of skeptical [of] plays. Why act something out live when you can make a movie with special effects and stuff? That’s all changed now. I think I actually prefer plays over movies. You get to see real, live people performing, reading lines that they aren’t just reading off a teleprompter. As for collaborations, I love them. I was always the sort of person to work alone, but by working with the actors and my director, I was able to get SO much more out of my play than I ever thought was even possible. And… it really exposed me to all the things I never even knew went on, such as lighting, character development, and blocking. Altogether, I think YPF was an amazing experience for both me and the other attending playwrights.” ~ Owen Seltzer, age 13, Warehouse Whereabouts; YPF 2016


“It was simply incredible to see something that had once been only an idea in my head come to life even brighter than I had ever pictured and none of it would have been possible without the Young Playwrights Festival." ~ Carin Estey, age 16, A World with Three Sides; YPF 2013

Funding for the Young Playwrights Festival provided by: Chelsea Groton Foundation, Jack and Gail Feinberg, Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, and Eversource Energy.