After-School Playwriting Program
For participants in an after-school program run by Young Playwrights’ Theater (YPT), there’s always a golden moment that arrives near the end of the term. After students have spent time discussing drama, learning about acting, and collaborating on their own short play, there’s an afternoon when a troupe of professional actors arrives, picks up the students’ script, and starts to act it out. And, for many participants, that’s a “revelatory” moment, says David Snider, YPT’s producing artistic director.
“With actors bringing to life what they’ve written on the page, students start to learn the power of language. They learn, ‘What I do on the page can say something very specific about myself and my ideas, my hopes, my dreams, and my fears,’” he explains.
The actors also provide a vivid demonstration of the value of grammar and punctuation rules: “The students learn, ‘If I put a period there, and somebody stops, that stops the thought. If I put a comma there, that slows it down.’ They realize that by shaping language on the page in a certain way, they’re able to express themselves more clearly.”
Through partnerships with elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as with community centers, YPT’s After-School Playwriting Program reaches 100 students a year, most of whom are from lower-income, inner-city neighborhoods in the Washington, DC, area. YPT also offers a more in-depth Young Playwrights Workshop for middle and high school students that meets twice a week at the organization’s headquarters and that stresses both writing and performance.
In both the after-school and workshop programs, playwriting offers students a way to explore issues of concern in their lives. Plays have dealt with such topics as gang violence, drugs, immigration, teen pregnancy, and family struggles. One benefit of being the play’s author is that you actually have the power to “change the ending,” notes Karen Zacarías, YPT’s founder and a playwright herself. By using their imaginations to “try on” different approaches to their problems, kids “realize they have choices in their own lives,” she points out.
The After-School Playwriting Program has had measurable, positive impacts on participants’ in-school performance: Truancy drops, homework completion rises, and students’ literacy and communication skills improve.
Students are treated as masters of their own writing process, and the results are honest, uncensored responses to the world around them. Students learn that writers can be agents of change and that although they are children, they are not powerless.David Snider Producing Artistic Director, Young Playwrights’ Theater