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Seven Devils Student Playwright Project

id Theatre Inc.

Seven Devils Playwrights Conference has partnered with McCall Donnelly High School since its inception in 2001 developing the work of over 80 students.

Due to the Coronavirus, in consultation with the High School, we moved our programming (normally concurrent with the Conference) to May so it could be incorporated into the abbreviated online school year. For students, whose routines had been thrown into disarray, with extracurriculars and end of year celebrations cancelled, the opportunity to work with professional mentors offered much needed support and an invitation for creative outlet.

We created video workshops, including exercises and assignments, for the drama class, and those interested in developing their work further were matched with professional mentors for one-to-one sessions. At the end of the school year, 5 students selected to have their work read live, online by a group including local, professional and fellow student actors. Seven Devils staff attended and offered students feedback on their work.

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 process that offers them the feedback 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:

From a multi year participant:
The Conference has given me the chance to explore three distinctly different ideas and not only workshop them, but workshop them with professional supervision and support.

There is pressure to do your best, but if its not great its okay.

It’s so wonderful to have a relationship with a real professional, with someone who’s actually doing this stuff in real life.

It’s on of the coolest opportunities I can possibly be given as a high school student.

I am confident I will find time for theater both in my college career and for the rest of my life.

Impact

When we reached out to the high school, our assumption was that they would want us to provide live programming for the students, so we were surprised when they specifically asked for pre-recorded material. With students having to share computer time and bandwidth with siblings and parents working from home, and teachers scheduling their own class time, many students found themselves unable to attend online classes in real time. For students, this created stress and concern. Creating content that could be viewed at the student’s convenience was more valuable and inviting, and because the workshops we created are recorded they can be used in the future.

In working with the high school, we also learned that teachers felt inundated by individual messages and questions from students – as many as 7 or 8 per student per day. Providing one-to-one mentors for students not only gave students the kind of personal connection and attention they craved, it also offered teachers relief and time to focus on the overall challenge of moving their work online.

Reflection

While we supplied direct support for the drama class as a whole, many students were overwhelmed by online classes and having to share computers and bandwidth with family members. That 5 students presented work in a final reading is not a measure of our impact or engagement – which was actually greater than usual in many ways – nor is it a measure of student interest. Viewed holistically, it reflects an effort on our part to meet the students where they were in the midst of a difficult time.

Being able to offer students one-on-one mentorship was useful to both students and teachers. If due to Coronavirus we are unable to be in person next year we would direct our attention to starting this direct mentorship even sooner.

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