A Testing Ground for Humanity

Leah Shaeffer is Gulfshore Playhouse’s Director of Education. She will be blogging every Thursday throughout the 2014-2015 season. 

By now, I’m sure you’ve all heard that the New Works Festival is over.  The artists have come and (mostly) gone, hearts and minds were touched, and amazing art was made.  But never fear, ladies and gentlemen, for there is a new “ovation of playwrights” in town:  Gulfshore Playhouse’s new STARwrights have arrived, and they are spectacular.

unnamedSeven of our young playwrights met for the first time last Saturday.  Some are new to the Playhouse, while some are delightfully familiar faces.  They range a spectrum from “almost 13” to “16 going on 17”, and hail from Bonita Springs to right around the corner here in Naples.  They are a diverse bunch, but they all have three important things in common:  They adore writing, they’re intensely intelligent, and they are all young women.

We began our session with some “getting to know you” time.  I had planned some ice breakers, but they were rendered unnecessary as our STARwrights opened up to one another like old friends.  Their energy and high spirits filled our conference room as they shared their hopes and goals for the year, talked about where they had come from, and of course, what they wanted to write about.  One STARwright seemed to speak for them all when she said:

“I just want to write something… substantive.  Something with magnitude.  Something that stays… you know?”

As they all nodded their heads and murmured agreement, it was clear that they did indeed know.  That’s why they had come.

Luckily, we had four amazing playwrights on hand who could speak about this from experience.  Our STARwrights met with the playwrights of our New Works Festival, and though some seemed star-struck at first, their eagerness to learn—and the playwrights’ eagerness to share—was thrilling to watch.  The STARwrights furiously scribbled notes on the playwrights’ tidbits of wisdom and advice, such as how they overcome the dreaded “writer’s block”, and what books and resources they have used.

They all smiled broadly and scribbled even more furiously upon hearing about the movement to make the voices of female playwrights heard.  They made notes reminding themselves to Google the Kilroys, a group of female theatre artists in Los Angeles who are mobilizing to support female playwrights.  The two female playwrights in our New Works Festival, Bianca Sams and Jenny Lane, encouraged the STARwrights in particular: “You are a part of this!”  And they are.

Afterwards, I asked one STARwright what had impacted her the most. She sifted through her copious notes to find a quote from Doublewide playwright Stephen Spotswood:

“The stage is a testing ground for humanity.”

She had underlined these words a dozen times.  “That’s why I’m here,” she said.  “I want to learn how to write real people in real situations, making choices people really have to make – not like, boring-real, but just… true.  I want to show how we deal with things in life, but also how we could deal with them if we made different choices.”

Wow.  Wow, right?  Just wow.

I hope that the STARwrights program is a “testing ground” for these young women as well; a place where they can feel supported and empowered to let their voices be heard, and to take the risks they need to take in order to grow as artists and as people.  Judging by last Saturday, I think we’ve taken a giant step in the right direction.

I will see this outstanding group again in October, and I honestly can’t wait.  I promise to update you all on their journeys, and who knows; maybe you’ll be lucky enough to hear their works on our stage during the 2015 New Works Festival!

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