Shakespeare contest

5 creative contests challenge Pittsburgh kids in arts and sciences

Five upcoming contests invite kids to get creative and focus their imagination and talent.

Whether they’re writers, musicians, actors, or scientists, the next few months are jammed with events and competitions to inspire Pittsburgh youth.

“We see kids expressing themselves and finding self-confidence through performing,” says Katie Conaway, director of education and outreach for Pittsburgh Public Theater.

The organization’s Shakespeare Monologue and Scene Contest, now in its 23rd year, “introduces students to Shakespeare, instills a lifelong appreciation for his work, and continues to challenge kids,” Conaway says, as they memorize, practice, and perform short dramas in front of an audience.

For science-minded students, the inaugural “Meet the MARS Challenge!” will ask the region’s high schoolers to answer one of the most exciting questions of our time: How do we get ourselves to Mars?

Organized in conjunction with NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and various universities, the challenge will immerse kids in STEAM projects, says Shelly Watson, the contest’s chairperson.

“We wanted to reach out to students and inspire their interest in science,” she says. “We’ve had a wonderful response from school districts so far, and we hope that younger students see what’s happening and will want to participate themselves someday.”

Here’s the lineup:

Shakespeare contast
The Pittsburgh Public Theater Shakespeare contest includes youth from fourth grade to high school seniors. Pictured, Simon Nigam from Falk Laboratory School performs a monologue from “Merchant of Venice.” Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Public Theater

Pittsburgh Public Theater’s Shakespeare Monologue and Scene Contest

Deadline: Rolling

Pittsburgh Public Theater’s annual contest draws thousands of students to the O’Reilly Theater to perform parts of “Othello,” “Macbeth” or other Shakespeare plays. Open to students in grades 4-12, young Shakespeare enthusiasts can enter the monologue contest, the scene contest, or both, where they’ll compete in either the upper division (grades 8-12) or the lower division (grades 4-7).

“Shakespeare has this misconception of being boring,” Conaway says. “But kids bring a fresh take to his work, and they see how timeless it really is. What he wrote about is still so relevant today — being human and experiencing life is something all of us grapple with.”

Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until the competition is full. To sharpen skills, participants can request coaching sessions from local actors and teaching artists. The contest’s preliminary round runs from Feb. 6-16, when students perform their pieces for a panel of judges. The most convincing characters will be invited to the Showcase of Finalists on Feb. 20, where they’ll compete in front of an audience of several hundred. Prizes include a subscription to Pittsburgh Public Theater and a copy of Shakespeare’s complete works.

Fancy yourself a “well-grac’d actor”? Download the contest’s official handbook, choose your 20-50 line monologue or 3-4 minute scene, and start rehearsing!

Duquesne Young Artists National Competition

Deadline: Feb. 3

Duquesne University’s City Music Center works to provide music education for students of all ages. Now in its 26th year, the Center’s Young Artists National Competition invites musicians 18 years of age and younger to compete for cash prizes, awards – and even a chance to perform with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

“It’s a unique and rare opportunity” for participants, says Natasha Snitkovsky, the competition’s director. “We’re able to provide them with the performer’s experience.”

The competition consists of a concerto competition and a soloist competition. Students may enter one or both, though the rules and prizes are somewhat different for each. The concerto competition finalists will audition at Duquesne on March 3, where the first-prize winner will receive $500 and an invitation to perform with the Pittsburgh Symphony during an upcoming outreach concert. The second-prize winner will receive $200, and the third-prize winner will receive $100.

The soloist competition winners will receive a diploma and an invitation to perform at the March 3 Winners’ Recital at Duquesne University. See the contest website for more details.

Help solve the question of interplanetary travel in the Meet the MARS Challenge!

Meet the MARS Challenge!

Deadline: March 1

We celebrated Earth’s New Year a few weeks ago, but the party for Mars is just getting started. On May 4, students, scientists, and as many as 10,000 revelers will descend on Mars, Pa., to celebrate the Martian New Year with food, festivities, and a STEAM competition for the region’s kids. Open to any high school student, the “Meet the MARS Challenge!” asks kids in grades 9-12 to identify and solve the potential problems of sending humans to the Red Planet.

Using the scientific method, students — either individually or in groups of up to 5 — are invited to tackle a problem related to any one of four categories: mechanical, agricultural, relationships, or survival. How will humans travel there? How will they eat once they land? How will these pioneers communicate with one another and their families back home? And how will they take care of themselves on the new frontier?

Students will present their projects to judges and the public on May 6 and 7. Winners in each category will take home awards ranging from $500 to $1,500.

Ready to blast off? Head over to the competition’s website!

City Theatre
“The Magic Pencil” by Julia Garhart and Brenna Sposito included actors Katie Esswein and Becki Toth in its cast. Photo by Kristi Jan Hoover

City Theatre Company’s Young Playwrights Contest

Deadline: March 31

City Theatre’s 18th annual Young Playwrights Contest invites students in grades 7-12 to submit original one-act plays to be read by theater professionals. Each playwright will receive a one-page written evaluation of their script, and a selected few will go a step further — they’ll be invited to develop their script with a director, a professional playwright, and actors for production in the Theatre’s Young Playwrights Festival.

“We teach the craft of playwriting to introduce students to a new artistic outlet that they can express themselves with,” says Kristen Link, City’s director of education and accessibility. “We want them to be able to examine things that are important to them and to the world.”

Upon receiving feedback, students are encouraged to revise their plays and resubmit them the following year. Aspiring playwrights should check out the contest’s website for more details and a submission form.

PBS KIDS Writers Contest

Deadline: March 31

Here’s one for the younger crowd: The PBS KIDS Writers Contest invites kids in grades K-5 to submit original stories. Each story should have at least five clear, colorful illustrations, which can include drawings, collages, photographs, or other media. Resources to help children brainstorm, organize, and draft their stories are available on WQED’s website alongside last year’s winning stories. The rules and requirements differ by grade level, so be sure to read through the complete contest rules. Write on!