Friday, April 22, 2011

New Noises: Massachusetts Young Playwrights' Project and Festival

Two weeks ago 45 Boston actors and directors had an incredible two days at Boston Playwrights' Theatre.  I had the good luck to be amongst them.   And so did ten area high schools...

Descriptions by Alessandra Haley, Weston High School
 (Jacob Strautmann and Heather Houston)
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Here's how the program works: 
Every year Kate Snodgrass hooks local playwrights (many of whom are our alumni) with area high schools for the New Noises: Massachusetts Young Playwrights' Project.  The playwright visits the classroom to teach playwriting, supplementing what the students are already learning, and then she follows up with the development of those plays over email.  Finally, the plays are chosen by the classroom teacher and submitted for the two-day festival.  

The Festival goes like this: 
Over two days (it will be expanding to three next year!),  half of the students who had a play submitted will have their plays read on the fly by professional actors and discussed among the 60 students sharing the experience.  The other students (about ten a day) have their works blocked, rehearsed, and discussed by Boston directors and actors.  Those plays are then performed for the larger crowd.   The students get their hands on stagecraft, some of them for the first time, and nearly all of them have their first  theatre experience from the playwright's perspective.  (Cue our blog's intro music.)

The Results: 
Over the eight years of this program, I continually hear our actor friends declare that of all they do with us (from the classroom experiences with Melinda Lopez and Ronan Noone, to our Season of New Plays, The Boston Theater Marathon, the Ground Floor Professional Reading Series) the MYPP Festival holds a very dear place for them.   We've also heard from teachers that the chance for a student to hear her play onstage for the first time can be and is life-changing.   We've seen the students change over the course of the day. 

But Why do We Love it So Much? 
Untitled by Jake Roth, Rivers School
(Alex Morgan and Sam Tilles)
1) It asks the actor to push herself out of her comfort zone.  First time playwrights pay no heed to the conventions veteran actors and directors often play with and against.  It's all new territory.  It's freeing for everyone.  

2) A ten-minute play has never meant so much.  We all know that it is likely this student has never heard her words spoken allowed.  All the weight of future aspiration, the jubilance of youth, and the travails of self-esteem are wrapped up in those first moments. 

3) These aren't skits.  These plays deal with big issues you'd be surprised (if you've never taken part in the MYPP Festival) these high school students want to tackle.  This year's festival included plays about grieving mothers, sexual identity, special needs, connections between fathers and sons along with broad comedic pieces.  Audience and participant alike find the day an emotional workout.  

It's Personal: 
Moments before I went on to read one of the plays at this year's MYPP, I was approached by the playwright.  She asked if she could videotape her play.  Her dad was in Afghanistan, and she wanted to share it with him.  A ten-minute play has never meant so much.