May 25, 2011

By Clarissa Pharr

Grier Montgomery has had quite an interesting few weeks. Besides the excitement of the looming summer vacation and his upcoming 13th birthday, the seventh grader has just become an award-winning playwright.

This means that amid the usual challenges of homework and junior high, Grier has had to contend with a little bit of spotlight frenzy as a play written for a school assignment at middle school MS 51, the William Alexander School in Park Slope, has just found its way into the hands of a professional theater team.

The play, titled “The Assignment,” was selected from a pool of 115 works submitted to WritopiaLab's 2011 Best Playwrights’ Festival, funded by David Letterman's World Wide Pants production company. It was performed at Manhattan’s June Havoc Theater on May 22nd.

“It's been an amazing, crazy three weeks!” begins Grier, who lives in Carroll Gardens, shaking his head as if in disbelief on a recent afternoon on Court Street, where he caught up with Patch to discuss his recent success.

No stranger to the creative arts—his father is an actor and his mother is herself a writer—Grier nonetheless never saw himself winning prizes for his work.

“When I got home from school and my mom shouted 'You're being produced!' I was shocked! I thought some genius in Connecticut was going to win it.”

The 12 year old is charismatic and well spoken, and openly admits to pre-show jitters and the surreal circumstances of having a school project that quite literally took on a life of its own. In fact, perhaps the most nerve-wracking moment of this process was the opening night of May 22nd, when the young playwright sat in the front row of the June Havoc Theater.

“I was shivering and shaking in my seat. I'm a big perfectionist, a big tweaker—but it was so amazing. The producer and actors took my idea straight out of my head—it was exactly how I imagined it.”

One could hardly say that the new-found legacy has gone to his head, and he is quick to point out influences and inspiration where credit is due—particularly John McEneny, his MS 51 theater teacher.

“I have to say I owe so much to Mr. McEneny. He totally pushed me, and totally inspired me to take this further than I ever thought it would go.”

As for the piece itself, Grier describes it as somewhat autobiographical. “It's about a boy who's about 12 years old, like me, who is pretty smart but doesn't try very hard, like me. And in writing class he writes an awful play about dodge ball – which I actually did.” After being mocked by fellow classmates, the boy is given a final chance to redeem himself in the class, describing an argument he overhears between his parents—and “The Assignment” is born.

The play soon departs from real life with some very dark turns. Murder and scandal make for a gripping plot, and Grier again credits his teachers for allowing him to explore the sinister side of theater. “My writing teacher Ms. [Felicia] O'Hara, she’s great. She let me go where I wanted to go. She allows us to use language we want to use, and she doesn't repress [the students].”

The piece is effectively a play within a play, where perspectives shift between a boy experiencing serious troubles at home, and watching real life circumstances come to life through a homework assignment. The sophisticated use of the power of perspective lenses, how we cope with emotional troubles, and the changing capacity of the creative arts to alter our own sense of reality are strong themes throughout “The Assignment,” and it is no wonder that the work caught the eyes of WritopiaLab's contest judges.

On how writing has influenced his life so far, Grier admits that he was not always enthusiastic. “I didn't really discover writing stuff until this year—I always grouped it together with school.” And now? “Now writing almost seems like the whole of my's made me look at the world differently. You can fill up thousands of pages about anything—it’s crazy. I feel like I should always have a pen and pad on me, because anything can be an idea. I've learned that if you look into yourself – if you really look, you can find something you are really good at, something you already have.””

The middle schooler reflected on the challenges of writing—dread of deadlines, fear of audiences not understanding, or approving, of his work. But still, he plans to stick with writing for a little while—including an upcoming summer WritopiaLab workshop he plans to attend.

As for the future, Grier Montgomery hopes to one day be “a successful person in theater—wherever I can fit. Moving equipment, editing—anything to do with the with arts.”

It looks like he is well on his way.

May 16, 2011


Dan Kitrosser said the dress rehearsal had gone well.

“I knew because the lighting designer asked how old was the kid who wrote this play, and I got to say, ‘12,’ ” he said. “Every single show we go through, it’s the same question: ‘How old was the person who wrote that?’ ”

Mr. Kitrosser, the artistic director of the Writopia Lab’s Best Playwrights Festival, will be getting that question a lot in the next few days. The festival, a weeklong Off Broadway presentation of more than 40 plays and 8 monologues by writers in grades 1 through 12, begins on Tuesday at the June Havoc Theater, at 312 West 36th Street.


Most of the plays are the work of students in the Writopia Lab, a nonprofit group that runs writing workshops for children and teenagers. But this year, the Writopia Lab reviewed submissions from young writers outside its community and chose seven works that will be presented during the festival.

To stage the plays, Writopia recruited grownup actors and directors, including Terry Berliner, the resident director of “The Lion King,” and Isaac Byrne, the director of the Off Broadway thriller “Fresh Kills.”

Seeing your own play performed is a big step for would-be playwrights, and an instructive one, Mr. Kitrosser said. “They get to see how many routes actors and directors can take their words and stay true to their text,” he said. “That’s important, because there are the artsy actors in high school who get the applause during their performances and the athletes who get their cheers. But writing is a lonely business. There’s not much of a place for recognition or for socializing.”

The festival’s sponsor is David Letterman’s production company, Worldwide Pants. Mr. Kitrosser said that Steve Young, a writer on the “Late Show With David Letterman,” made the introduction. His daughters, Hannah Young, 14, and Rebecca Shubert, 17, have taken part in Writopia workshops.

“We asked for $45,000,” Mr. Kitrosser said. “When Rebecca called” with word that the money had come through, “she did the joke: ‘They didn’t give us $45,000, they gave us $50,000.’ ”

April 28, 2011

For the first time in 88 years, the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards came to the Washington metropolitan area on Friday, April 15 to acknowledge work by local students. The awards are administered nationally by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers and locally by the new regional affiliate, Writopia Lab, with the help of the DC Area Writing Project.

Works are evaluated according to the following criteria: technical skill, and emergence of a personal voice. This year?s jurors included professional writers and DCPS teachers associated with the DC Writing Area Project. Sponsors for the program include: Eugene Profit, the founder of Profit Investment Management, Busboys and Poets and Charles P. Rogers.

Fourteen local students won National Writing Awards, 48-plus regional winners live or attend school in Alexandria including the two national winners. The regional award winners were chosen from submissions that include the District of Columbia; Montgomery County, Md.; Arlington County; Fairfax County, and the City of Alexandria.

"We are thrilled to bring the Scholastic Writing Awards to Greater Washington," said Kathy Crutcher, director of the Writopia Lab, at the ceremony. "Surprisingly, Washington D.C. had not had a local affiliate for this recognition program since 1990, and even then only for art. This meant that our creative teens had limited opportunities to be honored at a high level for their artistic abilities."

For more information visit

Writing students that were regionally honored include: Noir Abdel-Ghani of Marshall High School, Munawwar Abdulla of Fairfax High School, Nathan Ammons of Oakton High School, Eli Auerhan of Thomas Jefferson High School, Olivia August of H-B Woodlawn, Luisa Banchoff of Washington-Lee High School, Julie Brooks of Washington-Lee High School, Anne Budway of H-B Woodlawn, Emily Cali of Robinson Secondary, Mircea Cernev of Thomas Jefferson High School, Danna Chavez Calvi of Falls Church High School, Samantha Clark of Langley High School, Meghan Coyle of Hayfield High School, Emily Crowe of Thomas Jefferson High School, Michael Crumplar of Thomas Jefferson High School, Jenny Davis of Yorktown High School, Araba Dennis of Lake Braddock Secondary, Samantha DeStefano of Thomas S. Wooton High School, Kateri Gajadhar of Gunston Middle School, Haley Hassell of St. Stephen?s & St. Agnes School, Julie Hirschorn of Edison High School, Lisa Junta of Thomas Jefferson High School, Tiffany Keung of Winston Churchill High School, Sarah Khan and Rachel Kim and Sung jin Kim and Elizabeth King of Thomas Jefferson High School, Hannah Kwon of Herndon High School, Nadia Laher of Lake Braddock Secondary, Nayan Lamba of Thomas Jefferson High School, Anna LeValley of H-B Woodlawn, Hall Libby of Thomas Jefferson High School, Maggie Lin Of Oakton High School, Lucia Liu and Ronit Malka of Thomas Jefferson High School, Marwan Lloyd of Nysmith School for the Gifted, Audrey Michels of The Madeira School, Andrea Mirviss of Winston Churchill High School, Vy-Anh Nguyen of Fairfax High School, Molly Norrbom of H-B Woodlawn, Macara Oshida of Woodson High School, Han Raut of Madison High School, Sierra Sanchez of Yorktown High School, Sara Suarez of Thomas Jefferson High School, Melissa Vasquez of H-B Woodlawn, Katherine Werner of Oakton High School, Amanda Whitehurst of Woodson High School and Amy and Angela Woolsey of Madison High School.

April 18, 2011

On Thursday, April 14th, 122 teen writers from Greater Washington — 19 of whom are from Alexandria, were honored at the Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre as regional winners in the Scholastic Writing Awards, the country's largest, longest-running, and most prestigious writing competition for teens.

14 local writers were also celebrated as National Medalists in the competition, which means that they will be honored at Carnegie Hall in New York City on May 31st.New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has declared this day Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Day, and the top of the Empire State Building will be lit gold in honor of their accomplishments. Of the 185,000 art and writing submissions received across the country, only 1500 (less than 1%) received National Medals.

Two of these National Medalists live or attend school in Alexandria. Katherine Mitchell, 17, Silver Medalist for her Senior Portfolio of creative writing, lives in Alexandria and goes to the National Cathedral School. Rachel Kim, 17, won a Silver Medal for poetry. Rachel attends Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria and lives in Burke.

Throughout the programs 88 year history, this is the first time that the Scholastic Writing Awards has had a presence in Greater Washington. Writopia Lab, a nonprofit organization that holds creative writing workshops for kids and teens, brought the program to the area, with the help of the DC Area Writing Project.

"We are thrilled to bring this outstanding program to Greater Washington, said Kathy Crutcher, DC Director of Writopia Lab.Students who excel in academics or sports have ample opportunities for recognition.This is the chance for talented, creative kids to show their stuff."

Writopia Lab will hold week-long creative writing workshops in Old Town Alexandria this summer for writers ages 8-18. In these workshops, published writers serve as mentors for small groups of 4-6 writers and help them prepare for competitions like the Scholastic Writing Awards and/or to develop their creativity and writing talents.

At the Regional Awards Ceremony, all writers introduced themselves and their awards on-stage. DC area poet and Book-in-a-Day founder Kwame Alexander gave the keynote address, and author Danielle Evans, American University professor of creative writing and one of the Head Judges for the Regional Awards, honored the top regional winners. To close the program, DC actors Catherine Frels and Kait Manning performed dramatic readings of the National Gold Medal winning works.

Regional Award recipients come from public, private, and home- schools throughout the Greater Washington region, which included the District of Columbia; Montgomery County, MD; Arlington County, VA; and Fairfax County, VA. 122 teen writers won 183 regional awards, including 32 Gold Key winning works, which went on to national adjudication. 16 of these works, by 14 different writers, were selected for national awards.

This years National Award recipients from Greater Washingtonare:

  • Mary Salmonsen (17), Olney, MD — American Voices Medal
  • Sofia Laguarda (12), Washington, DC — Gold Medal
  • Lillie Lainoff (15), Washington, DC — Gold Medal
  • Maria Brescia-Weiler (14), Washington, DC — Gold Medal
  • Andrea Mirviss (18), Potomac, MD — Gold Medal
  • Luisa Banchoff (15), Arlington, VA — Gold Medal
  • Isaac Stanley-Becker (17), Washington, DC — Gold Medal, Silver Medal
  • Annie Rosenthal (13), Washington, DC — Silver Medal
  • Christine Miranda (17), Germantown, MD — Silver Medal
  • Ruthie Prillaman (16), Potomac, MD — Silver Medal
  • Rachel Kim (17), Burke, VA — Silver Medal
  • Olivia August (16), Arlington, VA — Silver Medal
  • Grace McNamee (18), Bethesda, MD — 2 Silver Medals
  • Katherine Mitchell (17), Alexandria, VA (Silver Medal)
Katherine Mitchell

These students join the ranks of some of our countrys most revered artists and writers who have received Scholastic Art & Writing Awards when they were high school, including Robert Redford, Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, John Lithgow, Joyce Carol Oates, John Baldesarri, Philip Pearlstein, Zac Posen, Sylvia Plath, Richard Avedon, Robert Indiana and Abdi Farah(winner of the Bravo reality showWork of Art: The Next Great Artist).

Since 1923, the Awards have recognized more than 13 million students and made available over $25 million in scholarships. They continue to be the nations largest source of scholarships for young artists and writers. The program is generously supported locally by Profit Investment Management, Busboys and Poets, and Charles P. Rogers, and nationally by Scholastic Inc., Maurice R. Robinson Foundation, Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, Command Web Offset, AMD Foundation, The New York Times, Dick Blick Co., Ovation, and New York Life Foundation.

April 13, 2011


Teddy Becker-Jacob speaks quickly and voluminously about writing, hinting at an obvious passion for his craft. He describes a recent play he has writtenabout a middle-aged man, frustrated with his lot in lifein abstract terms that are reminiscent of a young Samuel Beckett or Edward Albee. Although his eloquence is an obvious sign of this playwrights talent and curiosity, there is one fact about this New Yorker that makes his wisdom so surprising: he is 14.

The young Becker-Jacob is one of hundreds of young writers that each year pass through the doors of Writopia Lab, a nonprofit workshop series that offers young people ages eight to 18 the opportunity to practice and share their work. With locations stretching from a brand new facility on Court Street to Washington, D.C., Writopia is helping budding wordsmiths express themselves in ways they wouldnt be able to otherwise.

Kids come to class afraid to express themselves, said Becker-Jacob of his experience at high school. At Writopia Lab, he said, it is different.

Each workshop at Writopia has a maximum of six students and is taught by a published author; their accomplishments range from Off-Broadway productions to bohemian fiction journals in Brooklyn. The personalized attention given to Writopia students is designed to provide them with an experience unavailable in the mainstream educational system. And the effort has paid off from 2008 to 2011, Writopia students have won more Scholastic Art & Writing awards on both regional and national levels than any other organization.

Its incredible to see the sense of community that develops here, said Jeremy Wallace-Segall, director of operations at Writopia Lab.

The non-profit organization has offered creative writing workshops to budding Shakespeares since 2007, when Writopia was started by Wallace-Segalls wife, Rebecca Wallace-Segall, then a New York-based journalist for theVillage Voice. The program grew out of a small group of New York City students who showed talent and an urge to further their writing skills outside of the mainstream educational system.

This year, Writopia Lab invited both current students and other young people to submit works to Best Playwrights' Festival, a contest that very well might uncover the next Tennessee Williams. Best Playwrights' Festival challenged young writers from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to submit a work for consideration. After a rigorous judging process by a panel of published authors, six pieces will be produced professionally and shown onstage in May. Twelve other pieces will receive recognition, and an established writer will critique each submitted work. The categories for submission included Monologues, Short Plays, and Full-Length plays. Musicals and screenplays were accepted in all categories.

A grant from Worldwide Pants, the television and film production company owned by David Letterman, allowed Writopia Lab to expand the contest to include over 100 submissions and provide professional production to the winners.

This summer, budding literary-types in Park Slope will have the chance to check out the program for themselves when the brand new Brooklyn location opens shop, in the Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation's building on Court Street.

In each class, students spend their time writing very diligently. A teacher helps the youngsters with proper story structure and doles out advice the pedagogy is designed to ensure the kids produce finished pieces. When they are done, they get to write the name of their story/play/poem, with their name, on a wall with a bookcase painted on it. The name of the story goes on the "spine" of a faux book in the faux bookcase.

Students leave the program not only having sharpened their literary skills, but having produced an impressive body of work.

Writopia fills a gap left by a lack of public availability of creative writing education," said Wallace-Segall.

This years Best Playwrights' Festival celebration will be held May 17-22 at the Abingdon Theatre in Midtown Manhattan. Plays will be performed each night of the festival, along with an awards ceremony recognizing all of the Best Playwrights' Festival participants. For more information on Best Playwrights' Festival and Writopia Lab, or call 212-222-4088.

Febuary 10, 2011

Time Out New York

By Raven Snook

We've written about Writopia Lab before we highlighted the spot as a great place for after-school classes just last year. Launched by seasoned journalist and Upper West Side mom Rebecca Wallace-Segall back in 2007, the nonprofit runs creative writing programs for kids ages 8 to 18 in Manhattan and, as of this month, in Brooklyn, too. In addition to its intimate workshops (in fiction, nonfiction, film scripts, plays, poetry and even college essays), Writopia also curates live performances, like its second annual Best Playwrights' Festival, which showcases the work of young playwrights and screenwriters. Last year, only Writopia students could submit their work for consideration.

This year, the contest which is being sponsored by David Letterman's production company, World Wide Pants is open to all Big Apple writers in grades one through twelve. Eighteen finalists will be chosen, and six talented winners will see their scripts performed onstage by working actors at an-as-yet-to-be-determined Off Broadway theater on May 22 and 23. Any kind of "play" can qualify monologues, one acts, full-lengths, musicals and screenplays and hopefuls may enter multiple works. Entries can be e-mailed or sent via USPS, and must be received by April 5. Click here for details or call 212-222-4088. And if your aspiring author needs a little inspiration or feedback, bring him to the free Best Playwrights' Festival Open House (155 W 81 St between Columbus and Amsterdam Aves, suite A)on March 12 from 2 to 5pm, where he can have his work reviewed by pros or craft a brand-new piece in three hours. To secure your child's spot, e-mail Break a leg or a pencil!

August 2010


July 10, 2007

Contrary to popular trend pieces, not all urban parents dream of their tween joining a punk band. Some of them would rather raise a little novelist and should probably be introduced to WritopiaLab founders Rebecca Segall and Dan Kitrosser. This journalist and playwright lead a workshop tomorrow as part of Bryant Park's summer outdoor literary program, teaching the elements of storytelling to both kids and curious parents.

May 20, 2010


Writopia Lab's Best Playwrights' Festival, which featured plays by Writopia Lab students produced and performed by professionals, was mentioned in the New York Times!


April 28, 2010

Cornwall Senior Wins National Writing Award

Writopia student Lena Beckenstein was congratulated in the Cornwall-on-Hudson News for her accomplishments in receiving a 2010 Scholastic Art & Writing Gold Medal Award and a Creativity and Citizenship Award. Congratulations, Lena!

Writopia Lab in the News

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Writopia Lab fosters joy, literacy, and critical thinking in children and teens from all backgrounds through creative writing.

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