Area students win Young Playwrights Awards from The Theater Project

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

UNION, NJ — Nutley resident Brennan Columbia-Walsh, a 16-year-old junior from Montclair Kimberley Academy, and Alejandro Espinal, a 17-year-old senior at the Academy for Performing Arts in Scotch Plains, have been selected to share first prize in The Theater Project’s prestigious annual Young Playwrights Competition.

Ryan Rosenthal, a 16-year-old junior at Cranford High School, and Julian Martin, a 17-year-old senior at Scotch Plains–Fanwood High School, captured second and third places, respectively.

Ava Chickering from MKA, Christiana Gabor from Holmdel High School, Lucille O’Donnell from Thomas Jefferson Arts Academy, Emily Hammond from the Lawrenceville School, Maddie Pritchet from Ocean County Vocational Technical School’s Performing Arts Academy, Tierney Maurer from Holmdel High School and Veronica Vogelman from Princeton Day School received honorable mention.

“We invited 800 public and private high schools in New Jersey to participate, and, despite the challenges COVID presented, we still got terrific, qualified entries,” said Theater Project board President Kevin Carver, who coordinates the statewide competition. “It just shows that these talented, young playwrights want to create and are willing to overcome the hurdles the pandemic presented.”

The top four finishers share the Theater Project’s Joseph Curka Award for Young Playwrights. The competition is made possible in part by a grant from Investors Bank Foundation, and the event itself is supported by the New Jersey Theatre Alliance 2021 Stages Festival.

In addition to cash awards, certificates and recognition, the four playwrights will get the opportunity to see their one-act plays recorded and performed virtually by professional actors on March 22. The two-hour performance will include a live award presentation and interaction with the winners. Registration for the free Zoom performance/ceremony is open to the public via

All the high school students who entered the 19th annual Young Playwrights Competition will also have the opportunity to have a one-on-one session with a professional playwright.

Columbia-Walsh, author of the winning play, “The Opossum,” a story about three gunslingers set in the Old West, has written several plays while taking part in introductory and advanced independent studies in playwriting at MKA. His radio play “Schadenfreude” was produced in New York City by professional actors under the direction of playwright Rob Gelberg.

“I am thrilled to even be considered for this opportunity, let alone to have my play considered worthy of first place,” said Columbia-Walsh, who plans to continue to pursue playwriting in college. “The opportunities that accompany this award are extremely compelling. I am very excited to have my work performed at the awards ceremony.”

Espinal, an aspiring actor and writer whose winning entry, “Proscenium Delirium,” is a quick-moving comedy centered on a quirky cast of characters attending a performance of a community theater play, was equally enthusiastic.

“Thank you very much for this tremendous opportunity,” the young playwright said. “I’m excited for what’s ahead.”