Monday, April 22, 2019

Young Playwrights for Change Competition : What Is Family (Ideas for the New Theme)

The evolution of the family structure is anything but what may be considered “traditional.” Families are multilayered, and rarely do family trees grow in one predictable direction. More than ever, we are noticing diversity in the family landscape that spans ethnicity, race, religion, gender and design. Furthermore, who we consider to be part of our family is expanding; church groups, sports teams, school communities, neighborhoods and other organizations or groups are also regarded as being a family to its members. It is because of these reasons that FAMILY was chosen for this year’s Young Playwrights for Change theme.

What do you mean “family”?

Good question! What do you mean when you say “family”? Family means something different to each of us, and our definition and how we relate to family may change throughout our lives. We are interested in hearing what Family means to middle school students – what they consider to be a family, how they relate to family, why family is important, and what they value about family.

When introducing this theme to my middle school students, there seemed to be a unanimous pause. Then one student asked, “You mean we have to make a play about our family?” My response was, “Maybe…or maybe not – but every family has a story to tell, and no two family stories are alike.” My class needed to explore this theme from a variety of perspectives so that each student felt they had the tools to fully uncover the theme in a way that was meaningful to them.

  • A great starting point is to brainstorm FAMILY by asking students either individually or in partners to come up with their definition of family – why is family important, how does family support each other, and what makes family so special? From here, share these definitions and come up with one all-inclusive definition of family for students to refer back and add to throughout their playwriting process.
  • Once this definition is compiled, begin brainstorming the “who” in family – who do you consider your family, and what other groups encompass the unique characteristics of “family”?
  • When the who and what of family have been examined, students can begin reflecting on what challenges, pursuits or experiences a family goes through together…or how family can be found through a challenge, pursuit or experience.
  • Students do not have to write about their family, but it’s a great starting point! Use story circles or journal writing to brainstorm family experiences and events, and help inspire students to recall or re-envision their own family memories. Family prompts may include:
    • share an embarrassing moment you had with a brother or sister;
    • tell about your most memorable holiday experience;
    • tell a story from your mom or dad’s perspective when they were your age;
    • recall the day your little brother, sister or cousin was born;
    • share a story your grandma or grandpa told you about their youth;
    • recount an experience you have had with a group of people that acted like a family;
    • share how your family supported one another to overcome a challenge.
  • From here, encourage students to think about writing their play from different genres, including fantasy, sci-fi, mystery and historical fiction.

Young Playwrights for Change is a collaborative national middle school playwriting competition run by Theatre for Young Audiences/USA (TYA/USA) and the American Alliance for Theatre and Education (AATE)  .  The mission of Young Playwrights for Change is to produce meaningful conversations that will ripple across our nation to provoke change. Our goal is to spark conversation and discussion throughout classrooms, schools and communities about the chosen topic.  This year’s competition is underway, with over 30 regional hosts participating.  Registration to host a regional contest for next year’s Young Playwrights for Change competition will open in late Summer 2015.

You can find additional information and curricular resources for you to use with your students on the Dramatic Change website:

FIRST STAGE firstStageLogoSince 1987, First Stage has grown to become one of the nation’s most acclaimed children’s theaters and the second largest theater company in Milwaukee. First Stage touches hearts and transforms lives through professional theater productions that engage, enlighten and entertain.  Committed to new play development, First Stage has presented nearly 50 world premieres in its history and has collaborated with renowned artists including Harry Connick Jr. and Stephen Schwartz, and award-winning authors Lois Lowry and Cornelia Funke. Its Theater Academy, teaching life skills through stage skills, is the largest theater training program of its kind in the nation.  As Wisconsin’s leader in arts-in-education programming, First Stage’s dynamic Theater in Education programs promote active learning in our schools and our community, serving over 20,000 children each year.

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