Thank you for everything you do for young writers. The work you do—supporting your young writers and respecting and listening to their voices (and perhaps reminding them to send us their plays!)—is the most important work you can do to further our mission.
But perhaps you’d like to do more with playwriting in your class? Hurray! We are 100% in favor of this idea. Playwriting, in our humble opinion, is one of the most fun and accessible forms of creative writing. It can enrich any theater or language arts class. Putting the voice and story of a young person on a stage or in front of a classroom is amplifying and empowering. And did we mention fun?
Not sure where to begin? Here are a few tips from the Young Playwrights Inc. staff, including a selection of exercises from our Write a Play! Curriculum. We hope you’ll find them useful. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know what’s working in your classroom!
FIRST, READ PLAYS
Read a play together as a class. Read parts of it aloud. There are hundreds of wonderful plays to choose from. For beginning playwrights, consider assigning short plays that model what a writer can accomplish in just a few pages. Winning plays in our National Playwriting Competition and Write a Play! NYC have ranged from 10 to 100 pages. Look for collections of one-act or ten-minute plays—the Actors Theatre of Louisville has published several collections of the winners of its ten-minute play competition that are a good place to begin.
Ask students what the plays tell them about the characters, setting, and what might be happening on stage. How do they know? What do the characters say about themselves and each other? How do they say it? What is revealed about place, time, class and relationships in the language or action? Why did the playwright choose the moment of the play to portray on stage?
Using the exercises below your students can create a character, write a short scene, expand it in to a complete play, and revise it. Feel free to repeat exercises as a tool for revision, and rearrange the order! (For example, students might write a one-minute play, and then a need-to-tell monologue from one of the characters that appears in the one-minute play.)
When learning to write plays it is vital that the work be read aloud as you go. Plays don’t live on the page—they need to be heard! Students can read to themselves, in small groups, or in front of the class. Detailed techniques for feedback are covered the final three exercises, but students should read aloud and respond to each other’s work from the first exercise. Keep it positive, and ask listeners what stuck with them, what moments were particularly vivid. Ask the writers what surprised them about hearing their work out loud.
Click on the titles below to get to the exercise!
In this exercise you’ll ask students to create a character and write a monologue for that character based on an image. You could also use a piece of music, a historical figure, or an object in the classroom to get your students started!
Remind students that a character is anyone or anything (doesn’t have to be a person!) with something to say in words or actions. As students build their plays, they will think about what each character wants, what stands his or her or its way, and what he or she or it can do to overcome those obstacles.
If you are working with younger students, you may wish to scaffold writing exercises with pre-writing worksheets. For this exercise, for example, before they write ask students: What does this character want, need, dream about? What is stopping him or her from getting it? What does she need to tell? Why does she need to tell? What makes today different from other days? Why tell today?
In these exercises students will learn to format their writing for theater, and write a short scene.
Variations on the one-minute play prompt are endless. Ask students to eavesdrop on the bus or in the cafeteria and select one or two lines from their fieldwork to begin the scene. Find strange or interesting quotes in newspaper articles. Ask for suggestions. Whatever works!
Your students have written a scene! That’s amazing, and maybe that scene is a draft of a complete short play. But maybe that scene is just a start and you’d like them to expand their plays. This exercise will help them structure a longer play. You will also find techniques to adapt for expanding a short play.
These exercises offer suggestions and structures for responding to and developing drafts. Use them throughout the writing process!
FINALLY, REMIND STUDENTS TO ENTER YPI’s NATIONAL PLAYWRITING COMPETITION!
Their plays are already written—all they have to do is add a cover sheet and attach it to an email or pop it in a classic mailbox. We can’t wait to read what they’ve created.
CAN’T GET ENOUGH PLAYWRITING IN THE CLASSROOM?
Our Teacher Training Institute includes practice and discussion of exercises like these and much more, under the direction of experienced teaching artists and theater professionals. Consider joining us in NYC next summer to learn more!