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Playwrights In Our Schools 2012

Posted By Dr. John Newman, AATE Board of Directors & Utah Valley University, Tuesday, April 10, 2012

In March, the AATE Playwriting Network administered two Playwrights In Our Schools residencies in Utah schools, funded by Broadway Across America-Utah. The program brings award-winning writers into schools for three day residencies to rehearse and present a new play and to help students understand the process of developing a new script.

This year’s selected playwrights were Brian Guehring, Playwright in Residence at the Omaha Children’s Theatre, and Claudia Haas, a freelance playwright from Minnesota. The selected Utah host schools were Park City High School in Park City and Meridian School in Orem.

Brian Guehring’s adaptation of The Misfits had its premiere production at the Omaha Children’s Theatre with an ensemble of eight professional adult actors. It received a script-in-hand performance to a packed house in Park City High School’s Little Theater on March 8. To make the script more producible by high school theatre programs, Guehring expanded the cast to allow for more than 20 actors. Against the wishes of the administration, a group of misfit students form a third political party in their school’s partisan student-body elections. Each of the students in the group has been bullied and taunted for different reasons, such as their sexual orientation, weight, or economic status. In the end, they form the "No Name Party” and while they loses the election, the school adopts the party’s proposal to create a day without name-calling.

While the program required only a staged reading, Park City High school director D’Arcy Benincosa and cast decided to undertake a workshop-style, script-in hand performance. Brian was able to present new pages to the actors during each of the three rehearsals. The residency also included classroom visits and playwriting instruction.

Claudia Haas’ play Under a Midsummer Moon premiered at a youth theatre in Minnesota and the revised script received a workshop production by students at Meridian School. The play is set in a park on the eve of the first moon walk in July 1969. Students at Meridian researched the issues of the late sixties with which the young people in the play are wrestling. The young characters perceive the Vietnam War as it affects the lives of their older siblings and are divided between protesting and supporting the war. In the midst of the conflict, a Scottish fairy leads them on a treasure hunt and creates a ritual of healing that brings the young people to a moment of tolerance and understanding.

As with the Park City residency, Meridian School drama teacher Mindy Young and her cast chose to give the play a near full production. The cast, who varied in age from 11 to 17, performed the play in their school’s gymnasium for the older students at the private school. They also presented a public performance in the eXBox Theatre at Utah Valley University on March 7. The public performance included a post-show talkback with the playwright and displays of the set, costume, and prop design created for the script by Meridian students. The residency included rehearsal and classroom sessions with the playwright as well as opportunities to hear feedback on their plays by Claudia Haas.

Playwrights interested in applying for a Playwrights in our Schools residency next year should look for information distributed by email next September or contact John Newman at Utah Valley University, john.newman@uvu.edu.

QUESTIONS (use comments box below):

  • How have other schools partnered with writers in residence to develop new plays?
  • In doing staged readings with young actors, have you found it more useful to do a traditional "music stand” reading or to do a blocked, script-in-hand presentation?
  • During new play development projects in secondary schools, how have the students and writer interacted in formal and informal settings?

Tags:  networks  Omaha Children's Theatre  PIOS  Playwrights  Playwriting  projects 

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