A few months ago I was tapped to be the Lead Artist for YPT’s Special Project with Fannie Mae’s Help the Homeless Program. YPT would partner with five schools and five community organizations to conduct workshops exploring issues of homelessness. The participants would create original writing exploring the topic and also engage in group discussion. My role would be to turn all of this material into a play.
This is a very different kind of playwriting than the kind we usually teach our students. It’s not what most people think of when they hear the word “playwright.” For me, being a playwright in a collaborative process begins with the admission that I do not know everything. (I am a somewhat notorious control freak, so this is harder than you might think!) That admission is what allows me to receive the gift of inspiration, stories, writing, and ideas from others. I got to pull from the memories and thoughts of so many when I cobbled this play together. Collaboration made it that much more rich.
I spent a lot of time at home listening to the audio recording of these workshops. Many of the people who participated had direct experience with homelessness, and the stories they told are compelling and heartbreaking. I was humbled by the generosity these men and women showed by sharing their lives with us. I became overwhelmed by a sense of responsibility to them.
This responsibility made me more creative. I used not only direct quotes, but questions, concepts, and ways of communicating. I listened to YPT Associate Artistic Director Patrick Torres ask, “Why would someone not want to help the homeless?” The reasons suggested by the participants became a character. The text spoken by this character is original, but his way of thinking and seeing the world were created in the workshops. The play reflects the people we met through this process in myriad ways.
The play, The Good Neighbor, will be performed as part of the Express Tour. The performance itself will also be an act of collaboration. You will have the opportunity to contribute your voice to the conversation. I hope you do.