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Seven Devils Student Playwright Program

id Theater

Seven Devils Playwrights Conference has partnered with McCall Donnelly High School since its inception in 2001 developing the work of over 80 students. Students begin the process of learning to write, incorporate feedback and revise their work as part of their classwork. By the time the Seven Devils Playwrights Conference begins, the students have written full drafts of their plays and are ready to go into the rehearsal process as full and active members of the development process. Students are paired with a mentor and director and a cast from our company of professional actors for rehearsal. They are able to rewrite based on what they learn in rehearsal and from conversation with their mentor. Rewrites are incorporated into the readings. At the end of the process, the plays are presented to the public free of charge at McCall’s Alpine Playhouse the reading is followed by a moderated talk back.

The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:

How do theatre artists transform and edit their initial ideas?

Theatre artists transform, edit and refine their initial ideas through a rehearsal process that offers them the feedback and inspiration they need to clarify and strengthen their scripts. The ability to embrace and incorporate both feedback and inspiration with creativity, and in a way that celebrates the voice and vision of the artist, can be challenging; it requires determination as well as patience with the process.

At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:

After their work was presented, the students came up on stage and had a discussion with the audience about the work. We asked them what did they discovered about the rehearsal process? What did you learn hearing and seeing your play with an audience?

  • I was surprised there was so much laughing. I wanted the play to be serious – or at least I wanted the subject to be serious even though it was kind of funny. (We asked the audience if they felt like the play was about something serious, and the audience responded that yes they got that it was serious and that they liked it even better because it was a funny play that made them think about something serious.)
  • I knew that some of the play was in the present and some of it was in the past, but I had to really figure out which parts – we tried it some different ways and that really helped me figure out which parts were which. Like it was actually pretty clear when we were just doing it. I knew when I saw it.
  • Sometimes it was like just what was in my head, but sometimes the actors came up with different things – better things sometimes – but still what I wrote, which was cool.
  • At first writing the play was an assignment. It was just schoolwork. But then in the rehearsal it’s not schoolwork anymore. It made the schoolwork part make sense in the real world.

Impact

Having been through the process, students reported:

  • More confidence in their writing and ability to express themselves
  • More openness to what their collaborators brought to the process (i.e., feeling more interested in and curious about how other people were interpreted their plays, and less attached to how they thought it would go in their head.)
  • Curious about how people responded (even though they were still nervous), and how things they did – like the style of the play, the word choices and the title – affected how people responded.
  • Left feeling like it was work, but they were excited to do it because they could see the results.

Reflection

This year, due to a senior trip, a few students in the Drama class were unable to participate in the program. This allowed us to re-structure our time with the students so that mentors and playwrights had more time to work together (most importantly, each team had a nearly an hour to meet prior to their rehearsal time, in addition to an hour of time in which they could watch and discuss other student rehearsals or work on re-writes as a team.) This helped to strengthen the bond between mentor and student, making revisions smoother and more effective.

Being able to do this is less about the number of students, and more about the number of company members needed to both mentor and serve as actors. In the future, we will work with the classroom teach to continue to encourage students to write plays with smaller casts (2-3 characters, rather than 4-6) so that even with a larger group of playwrights, we’ll be able to focus more company members on direct student mentorship. It has also been our experience that plays with smaller casts get more work done in rehearsal, and are able to work more deeply. This opportunity allowed the classroom teacher to experience both of these things powerfully, which we think will be helpful for her in encouraging future students to focus on deepening, rather than expanding, their plays in preparation for the development process.

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