It’s the spark, the moment of recognition. That moment where “I can’t” turns into something different—a “why not?” moment. It’s that moment when characters leap off of the page and start living their own lives and surprising the young playwright along the way. The moment when young writers discover their voices. That’s why I teach for YPT.
I tell my students, “There are no wrong answers.” And that’s when I see it—the confusion on their faces. Uh-oh. She’s asking us to use our imaginations. That’s for kids. For pre-school. We’re grown-ups. High school students. And we don’t have time for that. We need deadlines, we need page counts, we need strict guidelines for success. Tell us what is wrong. Tell us what is right. Just tell us what to do.
But, what I love about playwriting, what I love about working with YPT is that we challenge our students to pave their own courses, we teach them to nurture and trust their imaginations. We teach them to use candy bars as characters, the moon as a setting, to share the secret they’ve been holding in—to discover and create according to their own experiences and realities. For YPT students, there are no wrong answers.
It was in this spirit that I started teaching at Wakefield High School in Ms. Stotland’s ESOL classroom. A classroom where students spoke Spanish, Swahili, Arabic and more. A classroom where I was trying to teach playwriting. Some of the vocabulary we were learning they had never even heard in their own languages, and here I was trying to teach it to them in English.
It was there that I met Mariana Pavon Sanchez, an excellent student who knew all of the answers. But, she was afraid to speak in English to me unless her tenses were correct and her word choice was impeccable. Mariana’s first language was Spanish.
She wrote a play about her own life experience—trying to convince her father to let her fly alone to Nicaragua to visit her sick mother over Christmas break. She was chosen by YPT to have her play produced and performed by professionals. I spent a lot of time with Mariana dramaturging her play—helping her choose the exact words to communicate her story, adding some Spanish flair and learning about her family and experience along the way. Finally, after six months of working with her, Mariana became more comfortable speaking English to me.
It was almost a year ago when Mariana wrote her first play. In October, Mariana was chosen from many students to represent YPT when the company won the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award. Mariana even read a part of her play at the White House.
Mariana’s experience is a perfect example of the freedom and voice playwriting can give to students. Her story came alive on stage—the story of immigrants to this country and the family they’ve left behind. YPT did that. YPT does this for all of its students. At the end of every In-School Playwriting Program residency, student work is celebrated by being performed by professional actors. YPT genuinely values and delights in hearing the voices of its students, in raising their voices to a crescendo, when once, there was only a whisper.
YPT Teaching Artist
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