Still thinking about hosting a regional Young Playwrights for Change competition (the deadline for host sign-up is tomorrow, October 8th)?
Or are you already planning your regional Young Playwrights for Change competition?
Meg Greene, a recent graduate with an MFA in Drama and Theatre for Youth and Communities from the University of Texas, shares some of the most exciting and some of the challenging aspects of hosting a regional competition.
When I took on hosting the Young Playwrights for Change Competition at the University of Texas (UT), I had no idea what to expect. I had coordinated other competitions, sat on reading committees, taught playwriting for years – but I had never organized these things from the ground up.
I was excited. I was nervous. And I was, a bit, terrified. I worried there wouldn’t be any submissions. I wondered if the community would show up to our events, or want to participate. But mostly, I was ecstatic to bring my love of playwriting and youth-driven social justice to Austin youth.
Hosting a regional youth playwriting competition as a third year MFA candidate at a university was a challenging task, but since I was surrounded by amazing colleagues, it became an exciting opportunity for us to work together to imagine new ways of engaging with our community – both at UT, in Austin, and beyond as we submitted to the national competition.
I learned a lot from the first year – and without pretending to have ALL the answers – I would love to share some thoughts.
One of the first things I did was reach out to all of my Austin theatre networks to find interested youth. As a university, it was a challenge for us to find youth since we don’t have a consistent pool of young artists we engage with. I reached out to the Paramount Theatre, ZACH Theatre, and Creative Action in Austin, and many of my colleagues at those organizations passed along flyers and information about our community workshops. I also approached organizations I have never worked with, specifically Badgerdog, which is a creative writing program for youth. They enthusiastically promoted the competition through email blasts and sharing our flyer on Facebook, sending many excited young writers our way.
With a group of UT teaching artists, we hosted a community workshop on a Saturday at the university. We sent out an email blast to our community partners and they passed it along to their youth. In total, we had about 12 youth come to the workshop – and one surprise English teacher, Dorothy, who was referred to us by a community partner. She came to the workshop interested in learning new ways of teaching playwriting and became our biggest advocate and supporter. While we didn’t see plays from any of the other youth attendees, we were excited that they attended and participated in an interactive playwriting workshop that interrogated the dynamics of bullying. Dorothy returned to her middle school and led a playwriting unit with her English classes, which resulted in her students submitting 24 plays to our competition. Without offering a community workshop, we might never have met Dorothy and established a passionate advocate in our community.
As a university host, I was reliant on my cohort of Drama and Theatre for Youth and Communities graduate students to help collaborate as teaching artists, reading committee members, and eventually as directors and actors. I could have not done any of the work without them, and it was an invaluable experience where everyone got to try on new hats – playwriting teaching artist, dramaturg, director, reading committee member, advocate for youth writers. Having more voices in the room was vital to us as we began reading and evaluating the plays we received. The conversations around our regional play submissions were thoughtful, challenging, and incredibly rewarding. We held their plays to a professional standard and took the time to consider the strength of storytelling, innovation, and playwriting structure in the many of the same ways we also evaluate adult playwrights’ work.
After we submitted our regional winner, we were left feeling like we needed something more to celebrate both our regional winner and the other exciting plays that we spent so much time debating over. As a group, we came up with a pool of our top five honorable mentions. Then we collaborated with our school partner, Dorothy, to organize an event at her school which would celebrate our honorable mention plays with a community staged reading. We were excited to not only bring the plays to life on a stage, but create an intergenerational space where the playwrights’ peers could work alongside theatre professionals in a rehearsal and performance process. Over the course of one (long!) day, we paired each play with a UT director and held 2 hour rehearsals for each of the plays. As the culmination of our day of rehearsal, we performed the five plays in a staged reading for an audience of parents, siblings, teachers, administrators, and community members. Our partner teacher even bought a cake to celebrate the young playwrights work. A program detailed their accomplishments, along with the playwrights’ bios and headshots. As an alternative to the traditional talk back, we honored the playwrights’ work by inviting audience members to write their thoughts, feelings, and appreciations on slips of paper and put them in a manila envelopes marked with the playwrights’ names. The playwrights left the performance with envelopes stuffed with appreciations of their plays, extra programs, and bellies full of cake.
The most exciting part of being a host site for Young Playwright’s for Change was the individual input and autonomy we had to craft our regional competition. This encouraged my graduate cohort to dream big, to imagine new ways of engaging in our communities, and to deeply consider how to celebrate youth artistry in a way that holistically involves the greater community.
University of Texas (Drama and Theatre for Youth and Communities) Nationally recognized as a leading graduate program in the field, the M.F.A. in Drama & Theatre for Youth & Communities (DTYC) focuses on the interdependence of theatre artistry, pedagogy, and scholarship. The DTYC program is inherently interdisciplinary in nature, drawing on practice and scholarship from many fields such as theatre/drama with youth, education, cultural studies, performance studies, health and wellness, youth development, and visual arts. Throughout their program of study, students in DTYC participate in socially engaged and culturally responsible coursework, fieldwork, performance-making and research activities. Through drama-based pedagogy, youth-focused artistry, and rigorous scholarship, students and faculty in this area demonstrate a strong commitment to leadership, community, diversity, innovation, and social justice. This M.F.A. program also responds to contemporary issues in the field and contributes to local and global discourses related to drama and theatre with/for youth and communities.