We have just finished our second-ever attempt at writing plays and, while I know I’m biased, I think they came out pretty good. Playwriting with children can be a little daunting, partly because the results can be so bad: stiff, surreal, melodramatic. Yet playwriting can also be a great exercise in collaboration, storytelling, character-building, plot, humor, and revision. It can also be seriously satisfying.
We began our projects this January, by making field guide entries of local plants and animals (more about this another time). Each student picked a plant or animal to write about. When we had researched them academically, we shifted to thinking about them creatively and did a character-building exercise. I asked them questions like: What is this creature’s secret fear? Who are its friends? What does it really want? Using the characters that formed out of this brainstorm, we began to write our plays.
We started by looking for points of conflict. Fox wants friends, but Bleeding Heart wants to be left alone. Hmm — what would happen if they ran into each other? I showed them how scripts are written and we started writing as a whole class, with my prompts. So Bleeding Heart just said “leave me alone.” What does the Fox say? Hilarity already.
As soon as possible, we break out into small groups to write different scenes. One child is usually the scribe, with the other kids giving creative input. The directions for the scenes are usually pretty loose. So Frog just got betrayed, and Fox comes along and wants to be his friend — what do you think happens? Eventually, we try to wrap up the loose ends. Then I type it up, and we practice reading it, revising as we go. Last year, we made masks and did a staged reading. This year, we’re going with puppets.
By usually having the people in the scene write the scene, everyone gets at least a relatively equal amount of airtime, since people tend to think up the best (and most) lines for themselves. By starting from characters, the personalities of the different characters come through better than they might otherwise. By writing it collectively, many perspectives come into the story.
The best thing about it all is the excitement and authorship the classes both feel about their plays. They laugh at their own jokes. They quote their own play. That in itself makes it a success.
Curious about our plays? Curious about Frog Hollow? What to watch treachery and betrayal among woodland animals? Come to our puppet show, Thursday, May 15th, 1919 E Prospect St. Seattle, 98112. Doors open at 6:45, performance starts at 7:00. Free and great for all ages.