Tooele High School senior Christian Harvey has wanted to be an actor since he was in third grade.
He didn’t expect to become an award-winning playwright along the way.
Harvey recently took first place in the competitive Young Playwrights Festival organized by the Utah Theatre Association. He originally wrote his play, “The Burden,” for the THS Drama Club to perform in the One Act play contest at the Utah High School Activities Association regional competition this year.
“I wrote the play because … I was just annoyed with the already-made one acts,” Harvey said. “I was like, ‘There’s nothing good enough to win,’ so I decided to write my own.”
After he finished writing the play, Harvey heard about the Utah Theatre Association’s playwriting contest.
“I thought I may as well enter and I ended up winning,” he said. “I was actually surprised that I won anything because I couldn’t find the rules on the website and I wasn’t sure my play was written in the right way, but then I won.”
In fact, Harvey’s play was about three times longer than the allowed limit, and as a result, the judges only read his final scene, said Wendy Oltmanns, Utah Theatre Association playwriting board member.
“They’re only allowed to submit a 10-minute play, which is usually 10-12 pages,” she said. “He (Harvey) had submitted 30 pages, so we only read the last scene of his show and that’s all that we judged it off of so that it was fair for the others.”
Oltmanns remembered being impressed by Harvey’s show.
“Christian’s show was … beautiful,” she said. “It was very well written.”
The plays are reviewed by a panel of judges who are typically published authors themselves. The judges give each play a set of scores and specific feedback on certain points, such as its format, character development, and plot, Oltmanns said.
“The judges go through a sheet; they go through and give feedback on every question,” she said. “They can rate them from one to 10, and they don’t get to look at each other’s scores.”
After the top six plays have been identified, Oltmanns notifies the winning students.
Harvey learned about his first-place finish about two weeks before the Utah Theatre Association annual conference in January.
“They wanted us to know beforehand because they do readings of them,” he said.
Actors read the top six plays in a reader’s theatre during the conference. The top three also received cash prizes, Oltmanns said. The first-place winner is awarded $150, second place earns $100, and third place gets $50.
“We had 45 submissions this year,” she said. “He (Harvey) took first place.”
Unfortunately, Harvey wasn’t able to watch when his play was read because he was in a scholarship interview at the same time.
“I did get to see some videos of it,” he said. “I thought it was pretty good. They mostly accomplished what I was trying to go for when I wrote the script.”
THS drama teacher Scott Henrie watched the rendition live, and he loved watching the reader’s theatre actors read Harvey’s play.
“I’m watching them read this play, and it really is a very emotional play — I mean, at the end it’s hard not to get a lump in your throat,” he said. “I’d already had that reaction — but I was very impressed to hear their voices kind of crack when they read it.”
Henrie recalled the first time he read Harvey’s play.
“He’s done original scenes before and original monologues, but as far as I know this is his first play,” he said. “I was quite surprised when he said, ‘By the way, I’ve entered the Utah Young Playwrights Festival.’ I went, ‘Wow, cool,’ and then he sent it to me and I knew it would do well.”
Henrie continued, “That’s usually a pretty stiff competition; I’ve had kids get third place over the years but this is the first first place. … It’s quite the accomplishment.”
The first time Harvey knew he wanted to be an actor was in third grade when he went to see a touring Broadway production of “The Lion King.”
“I remember I fell in love with how beautiful the show was, and I was also jealous of the kid that played Simba,” he said. “I actually said that to my mom, ‘Why does he get to be Simba and not me?’ That’s when I started doing theatre at my school, and taking voice lessons.”
In eighth grade, while his dad was battling cancer, Harvey tried out for a Tooele High School production of “Sweeney Todd” and was cast as Tobias Ragg.
As his dad’s condition grew worse, rehearsal became Harvey’s refuge.
“I got the part of Toby; he’s a supporting lead so I had like two solos,” he said. “It was a great experience for me and a good way to cope — that was the time my dad was dying from cancer; he passed on later that summer. It was just nice to have that outlet during the time he was, you know. I’d go to rehearsal and then have to come home and drain blood from his lungs. Rehearsal was my safe place.”
Ultimately, Harvey’s dream is to perform on Broadway. He’s already been offered scholarships to Utah State University and Westminster College — but if he could go anywhere, he would go through the musical theatre program at the University of Utah.
He’s already applied, and is waiting to hear whether he got in, according to Henrie.
“They (the U) have a good way set up for kids to help them get to Broadway,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see where he goes.”
Henrie continued, “You know, I’ve had a few students over the years that have gone to Broadway for different things, whether it be an internship or whatever, and this is the kid that I wouldn’t be surprised if he, quote-unquote, ‘makes it.’ Time will tell. He’s very, very talented, very enthusiastic, very energetic, very disciplined, and very committed.”
The Young Playwrights Festival is only one of several events at the Utah Theatre Association conference.
The annual conference is a three-day event. Participating students have an opportunity to audition for college theatre programs, interview for drama scholarships, hone their acting skills, and perform for each other, Oltmanns said.
“Every year we bring someone in from Broadway who works with these students,” Oltmanns said. “We rotate between colleges so the students have an opportunity to visit a different campus. This year we were at Weber State (University).”
Around 2,000 students and teachers from all over Utah participate in the conference each year, according to its website.
Representatives and recruiters from at least 30 different colleges with performing arts programs attend as well, Oltmanns said.
“It is an amazing opportunity for them (the students),” she said. “They come from all over for an opportunity to train and improve their skills and, of course, an opportunity to get scholarships.”
Although the playwriting contest isn’t new, this was the first year some college recruiters came searching specifically for playwrights.
“I was pretty excited that they were looking for playwrights, not just actors and technicians,” she said. “They didn’t come last year, but this year they let me know for sure, ‘We are interested; we do need playwrights and we do have (scholarship) money for them.”