Our Playwrights Fear Nothing (Not Even Peanut Butter): Reflections on the New Play Festival

Last week, on April 11-13, YPT presented the 2011 New Play Festival. It was an inspiring experience for YPT’s young playwrights, artists, staff and the hundreds of community members who came out to GALA Hispanic Theatre to celebrate with us (we had overflowing houses all three nights!).

As YPT’s Program Assistant and a New Play Festival dramaturge, I was particularly inspired to watch a play written by one of my students make its way from the page to the stage over the past few months.

When I sat down to read Flatworm’s Courageous Act for YPT’s 2011 New Play Festival reading committee in January, I immediately remembered the student who wrote it.

I taught Lauren White’s 4th grade class at Lafayette Elementary School in the spring of 2010 through YPT’s In-School Playwriting Program, and though I hadn’t seen her in more than 6 months, Lauren stuck in my mind as a student who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind and was always eager to write. As I read her play again for the reading committee, I was  reminded of why I nominated it for the festival last year. Lauren’s imaginative and hilarious play about a flatworm-turned-superhero who must overcome his fear of peanut butter to save the girl of his dreams (she’s held captive by a Peanut Butter Monster, naturally) left me in awe of her intelligence and creativity. The play’s silliness keeps the laughs coming, but also reads as a staged coming-of-age graphic novel, drawing upon the style and themes of classic comic books.

When YPT decided to produce Flatworm’s Courageous Act in the 2011 New Play Festival, I was excited to learn that I would have the opportunity to help bring Lauren’s vision to life as its dramaturge. After our first meeting, the blend of smart writing and wackiness in the play made total sense: while Lauren took copious notes and had an immediate idea for every suggestion I made, she also demonstrated her “Billy Bob Thorton as an Australian” impression for me while we waited for her mom to pick her up. I also learned where the mature stylistic elements in Flatworm’s Courageous Act came from. Lauren showed me some of the impressive cartoons she has drawn, including one of Flatworm himself, and told me that her mom is a professional artist.

After hearing Lauren’s play read by professional actors at the first New Play Festival read-through on March 12, I grew even more impressed with her playwriting expertise. The characters, style, and tone of her play were so clearly written that the actors immediately picked up on it and created a world of flawed but brave superheroes, gruff villains and shrieking damsels in distress.

Following Lauren through this entire process – from her first workshop in the Lafayette Library to the performance of Flatworm’s Courageous Act which took place last week – has been an amazing experience. It embodies what we aim to do at YPT: foster talented young writers and guide them through the playwriting process from their first monologue to their final round of applause.

To read Lauren’s take on the process, click here.

To see photos from last week’s New Play Festival, click here.

Laurie Ascoli
Program Assistant

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