Young Playwrights Literary Manager and Stoney Brook theater professor Elizabeth Bojsza, along with her mother Joan Bojsza, a child educator with 35 years of experience, held three playwriting sessions for all five third grade classes. They also held a session for third and fourth grade teachers focusing on classroom tools that empower students to write.
The day-long visit was a prize won by Helen Jarvi’s third grade class for placing ninth in the Community-Wide Dialogue Duck Race at Syracuse’s Inner Harbor last June.
Founded by composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim in 1981, the New York City-based organization supports aspiring young playwrights nationwide through teacher training, classroom workshops, and playwriting contests.
Ms. Bojsza began the student workshop with the question “What does a playwright do?”
“It’s a person who writes a story that they turn into a play. Now how do you do that? By developing the characters,” she said.
She asked students to pair up their first name with a new last name. Using their personal writer notebooks for inspiration, names were chosen like — Andrew Lego, Louisa Hightops, Jacob X-Box, Sadie Cheetah, Kylie Family — and the process of developing the characters could begin.
“It you’ve never met the character before, what would you want to know about them?” Ms. Bojsza asked.
They wondered how that person might look, what they would be wearing, what they might do, and what makes that person different.
“The name tells us a lot about who the character is and that gives us lots of ideas. It all starts with the invention of a character.” Ms. Bojsza said. “Once we can see the character we invented, we can picture the person meeting somebody else, and they start talking and then we have a play.”
Mrs. Jarvi said the students have been studying character traits through literature and learning to describe their appearance, actions, and relationships with other characters.
“The work the students did with Ms. Bojsza was a nice springboard activity to get them excited about character study,” she said. “They wanted to continue what they learned and thought it was great fun creating their own unique characters.”
Her students created a new character and crafted dialogue to say “thank you” in a note they sent to Ms. Bojsza.
“The students loved this experience,” said Mrs. Jarvi. “Many returned to class that day and asked for information about the competition Young Playwrights offers.”