Tom Hyatt remembers vividly the day a thin envelope from the California Young Playwrights Competition arrived at his house in Whittier.
The La Serna High School senior had entered his first play in the contest without much hope of winning, and when the envelope arrived, he was sure he had lost.
"I figured it was a short letter telling me thanks for trying," he said. "So I stared at it for an hour. It was terrible; I was crying. Finally, I ripped it open. I was shocked!"
From more than 150 entries, Hyatt's play was selected as one of four winners statewide for contestants 18 and younger. Hyatt, now 19 and a student at Fullerton College, saw his play produced Nov. 11-21 at The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, where it was well received by audiences and critics, said competition director Nonnie Vishner.
Anne Marie Walsh, writing for the San Diego Union-Tribune, called Hyatt "wise beyond his years." The play, a "pop-art version of surrealism," according to Walsh, focuses on surviving childhood.
The 29-year-old protagonist tries to reconcile the death of his father with the help of a psychiatrist and his boyhood Little League team.
The protagonist "blames himself for his father's death because he hated him so much," Hyatt explained. "The underlying message is that you could take your entire life to survive your childhood."
Despite the play's serious center, Hyatt describes it as a comedy. "What I try to do is give the audience the funnest way possible to solve problems," he said.
"Nobody knows what's reality and what's a dream. I can't really explain it. You have to see it."
Hyatt has had no formal training as a playwright, he said, just a few high school English classes and four years acting in student and community theater. "I want to write what I don't know so I can learn something," he said. "I wrote about family members I didn't have. My dad's not like the dad in the play. My dad's wonderful."
His father, a lighting technician in the movie industry, and his mother, owner of a small business, have not encouraged Hyatt to pursue a career in the theater. "They were afraid I'd never be able to support myself," he said. "Theater was not on anyone's Top 10 list. A business degree was more on the top of the list."
Now, though, "They're very supportive," he said.
Hyatt, who describes himself as shy, said the spotlights attracted him to the theater. "I really liked being on stage, being accepted. I really wanted all the attention." Last spring, after Hyatt heard about the contest from friends, he and a classmate decided to enter it.
"She wrote her play in two weeks. Mine took me a month a and half, working every day. It got to be an obsession." The friend, who did not win the contest, is now attending New York University.
Hyatt counts as his greatest influences playwrights Wendy Wasserstein and David Mamet. "I just love to read," he said. "I read, read and read, and I guess it soaks in."
In the next few years, Hyatt hopes to save enough money to transfer to UC Berkeley or UCLA, where he would continue acting and writing. "I don't think that winning this contest makes me a writer," he said. "It seems I did something right. Now I have to figure out what I did and how to do it again."
Long Beach City Councilman Alan S. Lowenthal was among the national and local leaders honored in November for their commitment to lesbian and gay civil rights by Long Beach Lambda Democratic Club. Also winning local awards were community activists Kelly Butler, David Martin, Mary Martinez, Jack Castiglione, and Betty Whiteker. In addition, the First Congregational Church of Long Beach and the social service organization CORE (Community Outreach and Education) were honored. The human rights awards are a tradition of the Long Beach lesbian and gay community.
The National Library of Poetry selected a poem by Long Beach resident Jerry Benedict for its most recent anthology. The poem, "Will Work for Food," is about the homeless and unemployed. Benedict has been writing poetry for 10 years, often focusing on current events and history.
Long Beach resident Maria Silberberg will serve on a national committee formed to evaluate President Bill Clinton's health care program. Silberberg, an antiques dealer, was one of 24 Americans selected for the committee.
High school seniors Maria del Rio and Clint Herrera were awarded $1,000 scholarships by the El Rancho High School Alumni Assn. in Pico Rivera. Del Rio plans to attend Whittier College after graduation; Herrera plans to attend Loyola Marymount.
The Public Corporation for the Arts' Long Beach Regional Arts Council named Robin Tole head of the steering committee for the Long Beach community cultural plan. The plan provides a five-year blueprint for arts and culture in Long Beach. Tole, a public affairs manager for GTE who has long been active in community affairs, will attempt to build a stronger relationship between businesses and local arts organizations.