Students Pen Winning Plays – Bay Weekly

By Susan Nolan

Clara Vallandingham’s dad Bernard is the Shakespeare fan in the family, but it was her friend Marija Currano who inspired her to take up a pen and try her hand at playwriting.

Marija told Clara about the annual Twin Beach Players’ Kids Playwriting Festival and suggested they both enter.

The event is a contest open to students across the state. Entries are submitted in April and winning plays are performed on stage by young thespians in August.

Imagine the excitement when Clara and Marija realized they both had been named winners. “I screamed,” says Clara, “and I texted her right away.”

Maria’s play, Escape through the slotis about people who have lived their entire lives in a library. redwoodClara’s winning entry, is about siblings adjusting to a new stepmother.

The friends live miles apart, Clara in Burtonsville and Marija in La Plata, but they have a lot in common. Both are 12 years old, homeschooled and like to write sci-fi and fantasy.

“The winning playwrights can be as involved with the production as they like,” says Audra Vernier, director. Despite the distance from their homes to North Beach where the Twin Beach Players perform, Clara and Marija have found ways to take part in the production. Both have attended rehearsals virtually and participated as consultants.

On Aug. 6, Clara and her dad joined Twin Beach Players Youth Troupe and their parents for load-in, the act of moving the set, props, lighting and sound equipment from storage to the Southern Maryland Boys & Girls Club in North Beach where they transform the gym into a theater. Twin Beach Players use the club for productions because they do not have theater space of their own.

Winning playwright 10-year-old Khaela Marselas lives close enough to be very involved. The Friendship resident is also homeschooled. She learned of the contest from a Bay Weekly article. Her winning entry, Farm Friends, is, in fact, about friends working on a farm. Her mother, Rachael Rose Poffenberger calls it “a slice of life.”

In addition to seeing her own play brought to life on stage, Khaela will be acting in two of the other plays being performed at the festival. She is interested in theatrical technology and make-up and plans to continue being a part of the theater troupe after the festival ends.

A fourth winning play Fear of Not Feelingwas written by Lindsay Claude, a rising 10th grader at Huntingtown High School.

“The value of KPF is that it gives kids the opportunity to experience theater on a whole different level,” says Terri McKinstry, Twin Beach Players president. She has been involved with the playwriting festival since 2012. “In addition to acting and directing, I write, and I would have loved to have had something like this available to me when I was younger.”

“KFP is about community,” says Melissia Nikolaus, Twin Beach Players board member and tech director. “Twin Beach Players provides an inclusive environment for anyone interested in theater.”

“Not everyone wants to be on stage,” adds McKinstry. “We have opportunities for kids to work backstage, do costumes, lighting, and with KFP, they have the opportunity to write a script.”

Twin Beach Players’ next production is Steel magnolias, opening Sept.16. While there are no acting roles for anyone under 18, Nikolaus says teens interested in assisting with tech or working as stage crew are welcome. in december, A Christmas Carol will have roles for actors of all ages as well as tech and stage crew positions.

All four winning plays, plus Pay that debt by Sadie Storm (a 2020 winner) and The Regulars by Mary Kate Napini (a 2022 winner) will be performed at this year’s Kids Playwriting Festival opening Friday, Aug. 12 and running weekends through Aug. 21, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 pm, Sundays at 3 pm. For more information, visit

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