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Middle School Playwriting Program inspires adolescents' self-expression

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L-R: Sharon Lawrence, York Walker, Mae Whitman and David Pittu in “The Mystery of Love & Sex” at the Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum. Written by Bathsheba Doran and directed by Robert Egan, “The Mystery of Love & Sex” plays February 10 – March 20, 2016, at the Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum. For tickets and information, please visit CenterTheatreGroup.org or call (213) 628-2772. .Contact: CTG Media and Communications/ (213) 972-7376/CTGMedia@ctgla.org.Photo by Craig Schwartz.

All Uses © 2016 Craig Schwartz

In spring, middle school students from eight diverse schools in the Burbank, Inglewood, Los Angeles and Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School Districts worked in small groups to write 10-minute plays rooted in their experience. This was their final project for Center Theatre Group’s Middle School Playwriting Program.

Established in 2009, this three-year pilot program aimed to improve and inspire the students’ writing and creative thinking skills. CTG teaching artists partnered with middle school English teachers and local actors to teach playwriting techniques to students as they progressed from sixth to eighth grade. Students wrote both independently and collaboratively, and fortified their work through theatre games, ensemble-building activities, periodic readings with professional actors, and editing sessions where they served as dramaturgs for each other.

Final professional readings of the student plays took place at each school’s culmination ceremony before peers and family members.

“It felt great,” said a Pacoima Middle School student at his culmination ceremony. “I’ve been doing this for three years, and I’m actually showing these skills to my mom, showing her what I got.”

The Middle School Playwriting program aimed to enhance students’ literacy skills, to encourage students to express themselves in original stories, and to add to the body of research showing the benefits of integrating arts instruction across academic disciplines.

“At its heart, Center Theatre Group’s Middle School Playwriting Program is about giving adolescents avenues to explore different writing styles and to develop dexterity with complex ideas,” said Leslie K. Johnson, director of education and community partnerships at CTG. “This helps them build confidence in their own writing and the willingness to take creative risks.”

The Middle School Playwriting Program will relaunch with new students in the 2013 – 2014 school year.

A version of this article appeared in the July 2012 issue of Performances.

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