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From Mary – “I’m Zimir and I don’t want to leave.”

October 26, 2012

It was “check-out” time at Young Playwrights’ Lab after the third session at Central Elementary School in Allentown.  “Check-in” and “check-out” are two of the regular activities used in nearly all of Touchstone’s educational work. Participants stand in a circle and simply state their name and how they are feeling. All feelings are valid, and validated, whether its bored, excited, happy, sad, hungry, mad, or frustrated. This not only allows the teachers to get a sense of where the students are at, emotionally, before launching into the lesson plan, but also, hopefully, gives the student permission to begin expressing themselves honestly and in a safe, healthy way. Check out repeats the process at the end of the session.  Students and teachers alike discover what has changed for them during the past hour or so.

Mary, teaching Young Playwrights’ Lab last year at Freemansburg Elementary

The “check-in/check-out” on this particular day at Central framed the rest of a quirky, fun-filled, and exciting session using the idea of objects being interviewed as a writing prompt. The students picked an object that belongs to them that is special to them for more than just monetary value. Through a series of guided prompts, we learn about the object, what it looks like, what kind of condition it’s in, where it’s kept normally, what’s its normal used for, what is might actually be used for, and more. Then we ask the creative leap questions: what does the object want more than anything in the world? Why can’t it get it right now? Without realizing it, the students have begun the process of developing characters, settings, plots. That object might eventually become a character, or the basis of a character, that will appear in one of the young playwright’s original one-acts.

I love teaching this object exercise to the kids. It reminds me of the wild imaginations that children still have – when they are encouraged to let them roam free. A favorite belonging can take a life of its own– can become a famous ballerina, a professional wrestler, a thief, or a president.

I’m caught off-guard sometimes by the moments of real truth and beauty that happen in class. A little girl’s object, a teddy bear that still smells like the Family Dollar store from which it so recently came, let us know during “its” interview  that all it wanted was to have a chance to go back to Family Dollar to let the other lonely toys know what its like to have a roof over your head, food to eat, and someone to love you.

Over the next weeks, we’ll approach writing from a lot of different angles. Most of them begin with the kids on their feet, playing some theatre game, which then leads to the germ of an idea and onwards to the plot of a play. This fall we’re working at Central Elementary in Allentown  and Freemansburg Elementary in Bethlehem. Come Spring, we’ll be at four or five other schools.

On May 18,2013 the best of the best of the wide variety of plays that will be written in this year’s Young Playwrights’ Lab will be featured in the grand Young Playwrights’ Festival – a gala and celebration of the great creative minds and hearts of our youngest of playwrights in the Lehigh Valley.

When you see a play featuring a shoe that wishes it could be worn to dance around the world, you’ll know that Zimir didn’t want to leave class that day.

And neither did I.

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