Student Playwrights Participate in Theater Festival
In Juliet Bailey’s playwriting class, the play is definitely the thing. This hands-on workshop has students creating 10-minute plays that are performed and critiqued by other members of the class. And as a kind of capstone experience, the students travel to Boston University to participate in New Noises, the Massachusetts Young Playwrights’ Project festival of works by high-school students.
There, two plays from each participating school, selected beforehand by the program director, are staged and performed by theater professionals at Boston Playwrights’ Theater. One play from each school is also chosen to be part of a “cold reading session,” with professionals reading the script and leading a group feedback session.
It's a rare and exciting chance for students to see an actual staging of their work. “It was a really cool experience,” reported Adrienne Correia ’22, one of the students whose work was selected for performance at the festival, which took place in late March. “I didn’t even know how to write a play six weeks ago, and now here it is, being performed by real actors.”
The festival itself is the culmination of the New Noises program, but at the heart of the program is the opportunity to spend several weeks prior to the festival working with a professional playwright. This year, the visiting writer was Samantha Noble, a Boston-based playwright and educator. Bailey was thrilled by Noble’s contributions in the classroom.
“She brought a level of feedback to student scripts that I hadn’t seen before,” said Bailey, who’s been bringing her classes to the festival for more than 10 years. “She would write up two pages of notes, in a beautiful way that was so affirming. Like the best teachers, she would ask questions, allowing the playwrights to do the thinking.”
As might be expected, the class attracts its share of “theater kids”—Correia is a stalwart of the Rivers stage—but it also includes students who are nervously dipping a toe into this type of work for the first time. “Going into the playwriting workshop, I was a little nervous,” says Haley Hatten ’22. “It was something completely out of my comfort zone.” Hatten says that working with Noble was “super helpful,” and despite her lack of theater experience, Hatten’s play was among those chosen for performance at BU.
And though Correia has done plenty of acting, the thought of writing a play was initially “terrifying,” she said. “Writing pure dialogue is unknown and really intimidating,” she said.
Correia and Hatten were both thrilled by the experience of seeing their words brought to life. “It’s one of the only ways that creative writing can be manifested on a stage,” said Correia. The director and professional actors spent time with the playwrights, exchanging feedback and ideas that, in some cases, brought new dimensions to the authors’ works. “A change in emphasis can change the meaning of the entire show,” said Correia.
Hatten said the chosen actors for her comedy, a two-hander about airplane seatmates who discover they are dating the same woman, “reflected what I had envisioned. I had the opportunity to weigh in with my ideas, and working with them was a great experience.”
Gracie Fruhan ’22 was among those whose work was given a cold read. She said that “watching these really talented professionals read my play was definitely a highlight. It was hard to imagine how my play would come to life being cold read by actors, but they delivered the lines exactly how I had envisioned and exceeded my expectations.” Fruhan’s play, a conversation between a woman dying of cancer and her daughter, had one of the actors in tears, which, Fruhan said, “underscored for me how powerful playwriting can be.”
The BU program is a day of give-and-take between playwrights, actors, and directors, and the Rivers playwriting class leaves students well-prepared for the experience. “We do a lot of workshopping, with the kids giving each other feedback,” said Bailey. “The kids take agency and ownership of their process.”
The next half of the class will see the students penning, workshopping, and revising a second 10-minute play, perhaps with a new level of self-assurance. “I have a confidence I didn’t have before,” said Hatten. “I don’t know where I’m going to go with that next play, but I’m excited to see.”