Tuesday, August 5, 2014

An update from our current Playwriting Workshop for grades 6-12

The following was originally published on the personal blog of Jim DeVivo, PTNJ's Director of Education. It is reprinted here with his permission. You can follow Jim's blog here.
After teaching young playwrights for twelve years, I knew it was high time to evaluate my curriculum and consider some fresh ways to get my playwriting students started this summer. I have changed things consistently throughout those years, but the time felt ripe for something completely new. I browsed through my old plans and revisited my young playwrights bibliography and decided to try a few new things during Full Day Theatre Camp. In the process of that program last week, I discovered a tendency to model different steps in the process using examples that were independent of the others.

Today we began the class with a neutral scene of four lines between unspecified characters that I borrowed from CenterStage’s Teaching Playwriting in Schools: Teacher’s Handbook and set up the students with a scene between characters A and B. Students copied the dialogue and then continued the scene for three minutes. The difference between their stories was vast and best exemplified by two: one that involved an evil Lord commanding one of his servants and the other a more informal argument between friends about breakfast foods. This sparked a discussion of how dialogue can change depending upon the characters who speak them, the conflict between characters, and the location in which the conversation occurs. Students wrote a bit about their own characters using this information and then we moved on to an activity for outlining a story using the main character’s wants, the actions that character would be comfortable (and uncomfortable) taking to get what they want, and the obstacles that might stand in their way. Typically I start this exercise by referring to a common story with which everyone in the class (myself included) is at least casually familiar. However, finding such a story has become more difficult in recent years. My original reference (Star Wars) had become complicated by time and prequels. After a brief attempt at Harry Potter – of which I haven’t read enough of the series to keep up with the students – I moved to Cinderella. This has worked well given the variety of versions found in different cultures and the resulting discussions we’ve had about point of view and theme. The problem is that Cinderella works well with elementary students and adults (I love discussing Disney princesses with adults), but teens tend to tune out when I mention her name. So, without a strong common story to use with this group I planned to launch into the old Cinderellaroutine when I realized that we had just discussed a handful of perfectly good story ideas that developed from the neutral scene. Why not choose one of them?

I choose the story of the evil Lord and his servant and the class was immediately energized by the prospect of creating a new story. Actually, I was surprised by how quickly they jumped into the process – none of the usual prodding questions and encouragements needed here! In fact, I think using an example from the students’ writing may have deepened their understanding of the Want-Action-Obstacle model as they were applying it to a new story much as they would when they set off to outline their individual plays. They’ve been so involved that I’ve been able to write this post as they continue to work well beyond when I told them I would first interrupt! Can’t wait to see where their stories take them next.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Writing prompts

We're four weeks in to summer with only six weeks left before school begins again! At some point in those six weeks we will be announcing the procedural changes to the NJ Young Playwrights Festival, but you shouldn't wait for that announcement to start working on your play.

Picture found on wonderlanddrift.tumblr.com
Head on over to our Pinterest page to find a wealth of links to writing prompts that may spark your imagination. I suggest free-writing based on a few of those prompts to see where your imagination might take you. You may just find yourself with a head start on your script submission!

Happy writing!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Building a national young playwrights database

Since the fall, Jim DeVivo (PTNJ's Director of Education) has led a small team of interns to compile a list of young playwrights programs across the United States as a first step in Playwrights Theatre's initiative to build a national database of these programs. We will collect information through a form on SurveyMonkey, which was sent to about 56 organizations who run contests, festivals, workshops, publications, or other opportunities for young playwrights (typically aged 18/19 or younger). We look forward to compiling the results and sharing a first draft of this database on the NJ Young Playwrights Festival website by the end of 2014.

If you are the administrator for a young playwrights program and did not receive this link, please contact Jim at jdevivo@ptnj.org.

You can follow the action on social media as we've asked those who share their information to announce the news of their participation under the hashtag #youngplaywrights.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Summer playwriting classes at Playwrights Theatre of NJ

This summer, prepare your play for the 2015 NJ Young Playwrights Contest & Festival (NJYPF) by attending one of our Playwriting Workshops for students entering grades 6-12. Classes will be taught by our Director of Education, Jim DeVivo who has 20 years experience mentoring young artists including 12 years as the program director for the NJYPF. Details on our website!