Theater Notebook: Plays by Young Writers festival, delayed by COVID, opens May 7 in a streaming production

Ana Cabrera is one of four winning writers in Playwrights Projects' 37th annual Plays By Young Writers festival.
Ana Cabrera of Cardiff is one of four young playwrights whose winning script, “Petunia,” will be presented in Playwrights Projects’ 37th annual Plays By Young Writers festival in May.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Also in this week’s San Diego theater news: Lamb’s Players Theatre’s ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ has been extended


After a three-month, COVID-related delay, San Diego’s Playwrights Project will finally present its 37th annual Plays by Young Writer festival in May. This year the performances of the youth-penned plays have been filmed for streaming.

Originally scheduled to take place in late January, the festival was postponed at the height of the Omicron surge. Although the plays won’t receive any live stage performances, Playwrights Project is hosting an open-night screening event on May 7 at the Joan B. Kroc Theater in the Salvation Army’s Kroc Center in San Diego.

This year’s contest drew nearly 300 scripts from writers who were ages 11 to 18 when they entered the contest last year. Three of the winning plays were fully produced with costumes and scenery. A fourth play was filmed as a staged reading.

Cardiff resident Ana Cabrera, a sophomore at San Dieguito Academy in Encinitas, wrote one of the fully produced plays, “Petunia.” Petunia is a flower, but her character represents a child of mixed heritage growing up with her mother on one side of the border while her father is on the other side. Petunia’s struggle with her ethnicity and identity leads her to go in search of her heritage in order to establish deeper roots and thrive.

Cabrera is also of mixed heritage. Her father was born and raised in Puerto Rico and came to the continental U.S. to attend college. Her mother, who is from New York, is White. Cabrera is very proud of her Puerto Rican heritage and is a member of the Spanish Honors Club at SDA. But because of her light skin tone, people usually presume Cabrera is White rather than Latina.

The other California students who won this year’s Plays By Young Writers Contest are Declan Kallberg, 13, of Temecula; Jacqueline Vellandi, 17, of Orange County; and co-writers Yaseen Issa and Ahmed Al Hashimi, both 13, of East County.

Kallberg, who also earned a production in the 2021 contest with his pandemic-themed play “Dub Thee Fear,” won again with his new script “Boxed In.” It’s set decades after the pandemic where people still isolate themselves in their homes, where two friends struggle to connect via virtual chats.

Vellandi’s play “Reverie” is about three students who escape their mundane reality through a collective daydream.

Issa and Hashimi’s play “The Jealous Soccer Ball” is about a schoolyard soccer ball that feels jealous and lonely when kids ignore him in favor of his friend, a basketball. It was filmed as a staged reading.

The 37th annual contest drew 276 play submissions from writers statewide. The top 43 scripts were chosen by contest coordinator Rachael VanWormer. Then she and Playwrights Project executive producer Cecelia Kouma narrowed that list to 10 finalists that were critiqued by the final judges, including Peter Cirino (founder of TuYo Theatre), Ahmed Kenyatta Dents (director of venue experience and artistic associate at San Diego Repertory Theatre), Josefina López and Annie Weisman (award-winning playwrights and Plays by Young Writers alumnae), and George Yé (Mesa College Theatre faculty and creative artist). The winners were then selected by VanWormer, Kouma and Yé.

The opening night screening is at 7 p.m. May 7 at 6611 University Ave, San Diego. Tickets are $50. There will also be a hosted online-only screening at 7 p.m. May 14. Tickets are $20 per household. On-demand screening will be available anytime from May 15 through 31, also priced at $20 per household. Tickets are available at

A scene from Lamb's Players Theatre's "Million Dollar Quartet."
(Ken Jacques)

Lamb’s extends ‘Million Dollar Quartet’

Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado has announced an extension for its recently opened production of the musical “Million Dollar Quartet.”

Originally set for a May closing, the fast-selling rock ‘n’ roll musical will now run through June 26. Written by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, “Million Dollar Quartet” is based on the real life, one-night-only jam session that took place on Dec. 4, 1956, at Sun Records studio in Memphis, Tenn.

On that night, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis visited Sam Phillips’ famous recording studio and, without any plans or rehearsal, started playing and singing together. Phillips recorded the raw session for a record, and the gathering of stars came to be known as the “Million Dollar Quartet.”

The Lamb’s production was first mounted in 2019 at the Avo Playhouse in Vista. It was schedule for a 2020 summer run at Lamb’s home theater in Coronado before the pandemic hit. The new production features virtually all of the original 2019 cast.

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Kragen writes about theater for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Email her at