If you’ve been around Virginia Stage Company for any length of time, you are likely familiar with our student matinee series that brings students from all over Hampton Roads to the Wells Theatre. You may not be familiar with our in-school initiatives. Over the last two seasons, our Education and Community Engagement department has begun offering new programs, including our Playwright Residency.
The Playwright Residency is a week-long, intensive master class that teaches students how to create a one to five minute play. I got to sit down with Grace Davis, Virginia Stage’s resident artist that heads the in-school program, and learn a little more. Grace breaks down the parts of writing a play into bite-size pieces that are easily digestible by middle and high school students.
On day one, they learn that a play is really about ‘people who want things’. Then they develop two different characters through various exercises (Grace told me that these are secret so you’ll have to take the class to learn!). On day two, she introduces plot and how to use a storyboard to create and frame the plot. The focus is how to relate the plot to the character’s wants and objectives that they created the previous day. Grace also reminds students that plays are active and about people going after what they want; the plot simply helps move the story forward.
By the middle of the week, students learn to write dialogue and finish the day with a first draft. Dialogue for a play is much more to the point than in other forms of writing. In fact, most scenes of a play tend to start in the middle of the scene. On day four, students have the opportunity to go through the workshop process via “speed date” editing. Every play that makes it to the stage has been through at least one workshop. This is a crucial step to playwriting, because unlike books and movies, you only have a captive audience for a short period of time. It is crucial to “trim the fat” and to keep the audience’s attention.
On the last day, student’s plays are presented anonymously by our education team to the class. The playwright has the choice to take credit for their work or not. They wrap up the week talking about what they learned from the process and discussing their fellow classmates’ plays. The best part about this master class is that Grace makes herself available to each student after the workshop is over to help as they refine their plays. Students are encouraged to enter their work into a staged reading night that will be held at the Wells at the end of the school year! Their work will be performed by professional actors from our education team for the public.
The playwright residency is a great way to help students learn a different approach to writing. It is also a great public speaking exercise. If you are interested in bringing this master class to your school, please contact us!