South students are playwrights

A total of 36 students in the 10th and 11th grades will learn how to craft a play in the Youth Ink! residency program.

By Linda Seida, Staff Write
   WEST AMWELL — South Hunterdon Regional High School has been selected as one of five participants in this year’s playwriting residency program at McCarter Theatre.
   A total of 36 students in 10th and 11th grades will learn how to craft a play in the Youth Ink! high school playwriting residency program. The students come from two honors English classes and a new drama class established this year at South.
   Each of the budding writers will craft their own 10-minute play. By the end of the program, at least one play from each participating school will be selected for a professional production in McCarter’s annual Youth Ink! Festival in June.
   ”It’s an amazing opportunity for kids to actually work with professional playwrights, and the actors and actresses are professional as well,” said South Hunterdon Superintendent Nancy Gartenberg.
   When teachers Heather Damron and Susan Laird initially heard about Youth Ink! they thought it could be a unique opportunity for their students. They also figured South Hunterdon didn’t stand much of a chance of getting in, Ms. Damron said.
   On the contrary, South Hunterdon had exactly what is required, and it became immediately apparent to McCarter after a meeting with the two teachers, according to Paula T. Alekson, director of high school programs for McCarter. Youth Ink! begins the selection by looking for “passionate educators,” Ms. Alekson said.
   She explained, “Heather heard about us from a colleague. She contacted us. We invited her down for coffee. She brought Sue, and we knew we were simpatico given our passion for theater and our mutual desire to empower students to express themselves and share their voices through the medium of playwriting.”
   Some of the students already are writing in other disciplines, but plays are a new medium for most of them, Ms. Damron said. Some of them already have ideas brewing.
   ”A big aim of the program is to give students the opportunity to express themselves in their own voice, a chance to grow as human beings and examine their lives and society,” Ms. Damron said.
   The 10 sessions run October through March. A grant from the Lambertville Area Education Foundation covered the $3,250 fee, Ms. Gartenberg said.
   Four to five schools are chosen each year. Along with South Hunterdon, the other schools chosen this year are West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South, New Brunswick High School, Willingboro High School and Princeton Day School.
   In the program’s first phase, McCarter teaching artists introduce basic elements of playwriting through writing exercises, reading assignments and discussions. Guest artists also participate, including professional playwrights and performers. This year’s guests include McCarter Artistic Director and award-winning playwright Emily Mann and performer, playwright and hip hop theater pioneer Will Power.
   In phase two, student work is read aloud and discussed. By this point, students are learning basic dramaturgy skills from McCarter’s professional dramaturge, literary manager Carrie Hughes. Also, professional actors give each student’s script an expert reading, Ms. Alekson said.
   In phase three, revised scripts are submitted to McCarter to be judged by a selection committee comprised of members of the education, literary and artistic departments.