Young Playwrights Festival brings student works to the stage

June 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

By Hilary Nelson

Imagine yourself in 8th grade. You are sitting in English or Drama class and you’ve just written the first scene of a play. It is an accomplished feeling. But then you wonder what it would look like on stage. How might an actor perform this scene? How would the audience respond to it? One group of students was lucky enough to have this experience as part of their education.

The Metropolis Performing Arts Centre was filled with these aspiring playwrights and their friends as they watched six actors read from select scripts on stage. As part of the Young Playwright Festival on May 27, students from Carl Sandburg Jr. High School in Rolling Meadows were awed as they saw professional actors breathe life into their one-act plays.

Scott Woldman, a teacher at Carl Sandburg Jr. High and Metropolis resident playwright, first started the Young Playwright Festival in 2000. It began as an education tool to teach writing in his classroom. Now, it’s composed of 300 students in the entire 8th grade class, including a group of special needs students who also wrote plays in the festival. Woldman and five other actors volunteered their time to perform the plays the kids had written so they could see their work brought to life. They were originally performed in the school’s auditorium, but with the help and partnership of Jim Jarvis, Executive Director at Metropolis, the festival was eventually moved to Metropolis.

The process of preparing for the festival begins with the 8th grade students writing the plays in their English classes. Woldman then selected about 50 plays and passed them onto Metropolis, where 15 of them were selected for performances. Finally, the entire 8th grade class took a field trip to Metropolis, where they watched professional actors perform the works of their peers. For some students, it was their first time in a theater. Most of the plays were comedies that reflected topics teenagers face in their every day lives. They and their peers laughed and applauded as they heard and saw their words come to life before them.

After the performances finished, Woldman and the actors conducted a Q&A with the students. The students asked questions about acting and writing and took advice from the actors. One of those pieces of advice about writing came from Woldman. He told them, “Read everything. Read as much as you possibly can.” One student raised his hand, and upon being called on, he stood up and yelled “We love you Mr. Woldman!” and everyone applauded for their teacher.

“This is important to the kids because it allows them to see their work performed on stage. It’s really empowering for them and it adds some legitimacy and credibility to the experience,” said Woldman.

The festival provides an exciting experience for all types of students. It’s not necessarily the straight-A students whose plays are chosen. It may be the class clown, or the shy kid who sits in the back of the class. With this activity, “it gives a voice to those students who might not necessarily have one at this stage in their life,” Woldman said.

“It promotes writing, it’s educational, and it motivates them to see their work performed,” added Julia Leamanczyk, a 7th grade teacher who was a chaperone at the event. “This event shows the student there is a real purpose in writing.”

As the students left Metropolis and boarded the school bus, they did so with smiles on their faces, excitedly chatting about the performances they just witnessed.

Who knows? Perhaps we’ll see the work one of those students on the stage again someday.

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