Around this time two years ago, I was finishing my first semester as a freelance teaching artist, and my first semester with YPT’s In-School Playwriting Program. I had spent the fall semester with a class of eighth graders at Swanson Middle School, teaching them about character and conflict, structure and stage directions, but mostly being awed over and over by their creativity, maturity and intelligence. One particularly wonderful play, Love Math and Martians Don’t Mix by Cassidy Boomsma, went on to be produced in the 2010 New Play Festival, and then went out on the Express Tour the following season. As I worked with Cassidy to dramaturge her play and watched her grow as a student and a playwright, I was amazed at how far she had come.
Now, as the new year begins, I am YPT’s Program Associate, and have just completed another semester at Swanson, in addition to overseeing our other in-school programming. This fall, we reached more students than ever before, with 24 workshops in eight schools. 898 students, led by eight fearless teaching artists, dove headfirst into the art of playwriting. Over the past few weeks, from the hundreds of plays produced by these students, YPT has narrowed the pool down to 26 finalists to be considered for the 2012 New Play Festival. For the first time, we were aided in this selection by our Company, which was created just this year. This diverse collection of students, directors, teacher, actors and writers will continue to assist us as we choose the final ten to twelve plays that will be performed in this year’s festival.
While I am now a full-time employee at YPT, with much more responsibility than I had two years ago, setting foot back in the first school where I taught our curriculum brought back for me many of the core reasons why I wanted to work here in the first place. Because of our curriculum, which challenges our students, makes them think, makes them laugh, and takes them on a twelve week journey, at the end of which they have a finished play. Because of wonderful classroom teachers like Karen Biggs-Leeds, who keeps her classes perfectly in line, while at the same time making obvious how much she cares for them. But, most of all, because of the young playwrights: their ideas, their silliness, their perceptions of the world, their willingness to tackle something completely new and their determination to get it just right. The joy and pride in bringing out of them an incredible story that they had all along, but never shared, or didn’t even realize was there.
And while the process for choosing the plays to feature in the New Play Festival is different, just like two years ago I find myself eagerly waiting to see which plays will be produced, wondering what the rest of the reading committee thinks about the plays that I nominated, and looking forward to working with a young playwright during the dramaturgy process.
As we enter the spring semester, we are preparing to serve four more schools, bringing us to all eight wards of the district this school year. Five teaching artists are preparing to help bring to life the stories of an entirely new group of students. And while YPT has undergone changes upon changes since the first class I taught, and so have I, returning to Swanson reminded me that the creativity of our students and the quality of their work, as well as our reasons for teaching them, remains the same.