By MARK BLANKENSHIP
Last month, the Jerry Orbach Theater was more than just a place to see The Fantasticks. It was also a hotbed of young new playwrights.
Throughout June, high school students from TDF’s Residency Arts Project (RAP) came to the Orbach to hear their original plays given staged readings by professional actors. The readings were the culmination of RAP’s curriculum, which unites TDF teaching artists with teachers and students who are interested in playwriting. Students take part in twelve workshops per semester, where they learn the basics of playwriting and write and revise a ten-minute script. A select number of plays from the seven RAP schools are then chosen to be read in the year-end graduation ceremonies.
These readings deliver a powerful message: Playwriting isn’t a rarefied profession that’s reserved for trained professionals, but a vital form of expression that’s available to anyone with something to say.
Marianna Houston, TDF’s education director, notes that a staged reading can be incredibly meaningful for a young person. “It gives you an understanding of the scope of what can happen with the theatre,” she says. “You sit alone in your room and finish your play, but then the actors breathe life into it. The audience is moved. Your personal story is making other people say, ‘Yeah, I know about that, too.’”
She adds, “It just hurtles kids out of this little silo of being a teenager.”
And for some young writers, the RAP program just isn’t enough. That’s why this week, TDF launches the RAP Summer Intensive Scholarship (RSIS).
Select students who excelled in at least one semester of the RAP program were invited by their teachers to apply for RSIS, and out of thirty-five applicants, thirteen were chosen. For the next three weeks, they’ll attend playwriting workshops at TDF, speak with professional playwrights about the process of working in the theatre, and of course, create their own new work.
The program’s curriculum will focus on introducing students to different genres of playwriting. After they study magical realism, comedy, solo shows, and documentary theatre, they’ll be encouraged to try their hand at all four.
Noelle Ghoussani, one of two TDF teaching artists overseeing the program, hopes it will address a crucial need. “The students at a lot of public high schools have these arts and enrichment programs for a semester, and then it’s done,” she says. “They get inspired, but they don’t get a chance to grow. So we’re taking students who are really interested in playwriting and giving them a chance to develop.”
At the end of RSIS, the students’ will get another staged reading, echoing their experience at the Orbach. With any luck, that will just mark the beginning of their long and fruitful careers in the theatre.
Mark Blankenship is TDF’s online content editor