Playwright Discovery Call for Scripts Now Open!

A girl with long braids and glasses, wearing a pink shirt, looks at the script she is holding while a man in a gray baseball hat and gray sweatshirt looks on.

A past VSA Playwright Discovery Award winner works on her script.

Do you know a budding creative writer? The annual VSA Playwright Discovery Program, a Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability Program, is accepting scripts for its 2018 competition through January 17, 2018.

The Playwright Discovery Program invites young writers with disabilities and collaborative groups that include students with disabilities, in U.S. grades 6-12 (or equivalents) or ages 11-18 for non-U.S. students, to explore the disability experience through the art of writing for performance: plays, screenplays, spoken word poetry (for single performer or a group), or music theater. Writers are encouraged to craft short works from their own experiences and observations, create fictional characters and settings, or choose to write metaphorically or abstractly about the disability experience.

Six students stand on a black box stage floor holding glass awards, along with a seventh student whose face appears on a screen; audience members are applauding.

Past VSA Playwright Discovery Award winners are recognized for their writing at the Kennedy Center.

Selected winners in the Senior Division (grades 10-12 / ages 15-18) will receive exclusive access to participate in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in Washington, D.C., and the opportunity to participate in staged readings and workshops alongside the nation’s premier collegiate playwrights as well as participate in the festival’s award ceremony.

Before you or your students apply online, consider the following six tips for creating a winning script.

  1. Address the topic of disability in a meaningful way. Be thoughtful about how you incorporate disability into your script, and try to avoid clichés. Check out the playwriting resources available on the Kennedy Center’s website, including a series of short essays on the disability experience written by theater professionals with disabilities.
  2. Thoroughly develop the plot. Vary the stakes throughout your story to increase the sense of mystery and interest. Incorporate plot twists and subplots, but remember to resolve them.
  3. Pace the action well and sustain interest throughout. Many scripts have promising starts, but convenient or rushed conclusions. If the plot unfolds throughout your script, you will keep the audience on the edge of their seats.
  4. Make your characters believable and compelling. The characters in your play should elicit an emotional or intellectual response from your audience. Work on making them relatable and give them opportunities to learn and grow throughout the story.
  5. Use dialogue effectively. Dialogue is the playwright’s tool to further character development and express a range of human emotions. It should also reflect the writer’s language skills and a sense of natural speech patterns.
  6. Make your script your own. Tell a story that is unique, complex, and surprising, and your script will stand out!

The 2018 VSA Playwright Discovery Program is accepting applications until 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, January 17. Applications must be submitted online.

Advertisements

NTID Program Encourages Students’ Creativity and Literacy Skills

A photograph of eight students in a room with a desk, table, and chairs, holding notebooks and smiling.

Participants work together at one of the NTID playwriting workshops in Florida.

From May to August, 2017, theater professionals from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) presented a theatrical script writing program to students who are deaf and hearing students closely connected to deafness. The ten-hour program, held at five sites in Maryland, New York, and Florida, offered students a creative way to explore their feelings of identity, disability, isolation, community involvement, and aspirations.

Aaron Kelstone, director of NTID’s performing arts program, and Fred Beam, coordinator of NTID’s performing arts outreach program, said the participating students were ages 13-21. Kelstone and Beam answered questions about the program in an email interview, sharing insights into the students’ experience learning about theatrical script writing.

 

VSA: Tell us about what the students enjoyed the most in your script writing program.

Kelstone and Beam: The students enjoyed creating a play, especially when they were about to make a story as a group. For example, a student will start one part of the story and leave the next part for the next student. Everyone took turns in creating a scene, and it helps them see their ability to create a play.

The students also enjoyed the pre-writing theater workshop session. The workshop began with a warm-up, or icebreaker, which teaches recognition and awareness of facial expressions, body language, and body movement. The next section was the “clay” activity, which allows students to create a prop with their hands and show action with their body; this helped students understand how props can play an integral part in the development of their play. Finally, the students participated in a “mask” activity, which allowed them to change their character and show their feelings after their mask was put on, then return to normal after the mask was taken off.

 

A young man with light wavy hair and a green t-shirt signs, holding his right hand near his face.

A student signs to a video camera during an NTID playwriting class.

VSA: What playwriting lessons were particularly well received?

Kelstone and Beam: The introduction of playwriting vocabulary words, like script, acts, scene, character, setting, dialogue, and conflict, offered interactive activities for each word. We defined the word, offered an image that reflected the word, and then modeled how it was structured.

The next lesson was the brainstorming session. We gave students a worksheet that asked for information like title of their play, characters in the play, character descriptions, setting, conflict, and scene summaries. Then students had a choice if they wanted to write in a word, write in a sentence, or draw a picture on the worksheet. After that, we guided students through making a storyboard and encouraged them to edit their storyline. We wanted students to be able to see their scenes in a specific order and add a necessary element if anything was missing.

Deaf students signed their stories; we had them tell it to the audience or record it on videotape. They then used that process to support themselves while doing further writing. Students also received sample scripts written by others as a reference.

 

VSA: Your program also explores the students’ feelings about deafness and Deaf culture. Did the plays spur a helpful conversation within the classroom?  

Kelstone and Beam: Yes, it allowed the students to express their experiences with barriers. They were able to identify frustrations about their feelings and relate to each other when they have similar experiences by sharing their stories. A main theme that emerged from the students’ work was communication in a different language (American Sign Language, or ASL).

 

A photograph of white posterboard with six handdrawn pictures, each with captions underneath. Together, they tell a story with the title, "Almost Died...".

A student story board created in an NTID class.

VSA: How did literacy skills improve within the participating students?

Kelstone and Beam: Many of the students we worked with use ASL as their dominant language, and needed some support writing in English; others did their writing independently. Everyone worked on literacy skills, and it happened in several different ways.

For instance, we had students who drew a picture and asked us, “What is the word for that action?” Then we introduced new vocabulary words, and they used them in their storyboard or script. Other students had their story all mixed up, and organizing it on a storyboard really helped them learn how to structure and write in ways that created order or put information in the proper places.

Some students were not comfortable with only writing, and they had the freedom to sign their script and put it on video, draw a storyboard, and explain what happened in each scene. By watching the video of themselves, writing what they saw, and asking others for help, they were able to learn new words, sentences, and phrases. It also helped them develop a richer story because the video taught them how their facial expressions and body language contain a depth of meaning. It was similar to the growth one gains from translating from one language to another.

One teacher told us that one of her students would not write a paragraph when given a written assignment. After participating in our program and learning about playwriting and storyboards, she wrote a whole script!

Announcing the Winners of the 2017 VSA Playwright Discovery Competition

The Kennedy Center’s Office of VSA and Accessibility is pleased to announce the winners of the 2017 VSA Playwright Discovery Competition, a Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability Program. This annual competition invites young writers with disabilities and collaborative groups that include students with disabilities to examine the disability experience and express their views through the art of writing for performance.

The winner in the Primary Division (grades 6-7) is The Lesson Taught by a Slice of Pizza by Lucas Correal from Baltimore Lab School in Baltimore, Maryland. The winner in the Junior Division (grades 8-9) is The Beauty of Roses by Courtney Brown from Derby High School in Derby, Kansas. The winners in these divisions will be featured on the VSA blog in the coming weeks.

Selected winners in the Senior Division (grades 10-12/ages 15-18) receive exclusive access to participate in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in Washington, D.C., and the opportunity to participate in staged readings and workshops alongside the nation’s premier collegiate playwrights. The young playwrights also participate in the festival’s award ceremony.

The winning Senior Division plays include: A Change of Heart by Cicely Henderson; The Forgotten by Anna Hiestand; Silent Thank Yous by Dana Langston; What Now? by Lissette Lendeborg and Angeles Parada; The Pain of Scoliosis by Jacob Radford; and Dimples and Diabetes by Elle Shaheen.

Photo of Ciecely Henderson, a girl with light brown braided hair and a blue sleeveless top.Cicely Henderson (A Change of Heart) is a sophomore in the San Francisco School of the Arts Theatre Department. During her two years there, she has developed a love of both Shakespeare and playwriting. She especially enjoys playwriting because it allows her to express and discover new perspectives. Cicely is currently in recovery for an eating disorder. She is honored to be participating in the 2017 VSA Playwright Discovery Program.

A photo of Anna Hiestand, a girl with reddish brown hair and bangs, wearing a dark blue dress.Anna Hiestand (The Forgotten) is a high school senior from Blue Springs, Missouri. Anna, who has post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety, has a deep passion for writing, fueled by her desire to bring comfort and healing to others. She cites her disability experience as providing the empathy, emotional insight, and sensitivity necessary to make her a better writer. Anna believes we can accomplish things not only in spite of our disabilities, but also because of them!

A photo of Dana Langston, a girl with chin length, dark brown hair, wearing dark round glasses and a gray shirt.Dana Langston (Silent Thank Yous), age 17, hails from Pensacola, Florida. She is a senior at West Florida High School of Advanced Technology. Dana has severe depression and anxiety, which inspires much of her work. She is a published author, as well as the founder of Defective Dynamic, an organization that helps those with mental illness. She will be attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago after high school.

A photo of Lissette Lendeborg, a girl with black, braided hair wearing dark rim glasses and a black jacket.Lissette Lendeborg (What Now?) is a junior in the Creative Writing program at Miami Arts Charter School. Her work has been published in Orange Island Review, Poetry Matters, and di-verse-city Youth Anthology. Lissette has major depressive disorder, which she cites as the biggest obstacle she faces in producing work. She spends agonizing nights hovering over taunting blank pages, but rejoices when she takes part in the production of art.

Angeles ParadaPhoto of Angeles Parada, a girl with long, blonde hair and reddish rimmed glasses, wearing a pint shirt. (What Now?) is an eleventh grade student at Miami Arts Charter School. Angeles has migraine headaches; she aims to create art that helps others understand the disability experience.  She has been published by Poetry Matters and received two Silver Keys from the prestigious Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.

A photo of Jacob Radford, a young man with short brown hair wearing a collared shirt and blue tie.Jacob Radford (The Pain of Scoliosis) is a 19-year-old senior at Seneca High School in Louisville, Kentucky. He enjoys listening to music on his headphones and playing basketball with his friends. His bowling team recently finished 4th in the state. Jacob, who has multiple disabilities, says his favorite assignment in his academic career has been writing this play; it is one of his most accomplished pieces.

A photo of Elle Shaheen, a girl with long, dark brown hair, wearing a blue shirt.Elle Shaheen (Dimples and Diabetes) is a 12th grade student at Portsmouth High School in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Elle, who has type 1 diabetes, uses her talents and passion for the performing arts to be an effective advocate for people with diabetes. The story of her life became the New York Times bestseller Elle and Coach. Elle has served as Co-Chair of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Children’s Congress, campaigned for the restoration of stem cell research, and founded a production company to produce and perform The Diary of Anne Frank along with new works while raising money for diabetes research.

Excerpts from the winning scripts will be performed on April 22 at 10 a.m. in the Kennedy Center’s Theater Lab. To reserve a free ticket, email Megan Bailey at mebailey@kennedy-center.org before April 17.

Six Tips for Submitting a Winning Playwright Discovery Script

1617_vsa_playwrightdiscovery_email
Do you know a budding playwright or screenwriter? The annual VSA Playwright Discovery Program invites young writers with disabilities and collaborative groups that include students with disabilities, in U.S. grades 6-12 (or equivalents) or ages 11-18 for non-U.S. students, are invited to explore the disability experience through the art of  writing for performance: plays, screenplays, spoken word poetry (for single performer or a group), or music theater. Writers are encouraged to craft short works from their own experiences and observations, create fictional characters and settings, or choose to write metaphorically or abstractly about the disability experience.

Selected winners in the Senior Division (grades 10-12 / ages 15-18) will receive exclusive access to participate in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in Washington, D.C., and the opportunity to participate in staged readings and workshops alongside the nation’s premier collegiate playwrights as well as participate in the festival’s award ceremony.

Before your students apply online at www.kennedy-center.org/PDP, encourage them to consider the following tips for creating a winning script.

  1. Address the topic of disability in a meaningful way. Be thoughtful about how you incorporate disability into your script, and try to avoid clichés. Check out the playwriting resources available on the Kennedy Center’s website, including a series of short essays on the disability experience written by theater professionals with disabilities.
  2. Thoroughly develop the plot. Vary the stakes throughout your story to increase the sense of mystery and interest. Incorporate plot twists and subplots, but remember to resolve them.
  3. Pace the action well and sustain interest throughout. Many scripts have promising starts, but convenient or rushed conclusions. If the plot unfolds throughout your script, you will keep the audience on the edge of their seats.
  4. Make your characters believable and compelling. The characters in your play should elicit an emotional or intellectual response from your audience. Work on making them relatable and give them opportunities to learn and grow throughout the story.
  5. Use dialogue effectively. Dialogue is the playwright’s tool to further character development and express a range of human emotions. It should also reflect the writer’s language skills and a sense of natural speech patterns.
  6. Make your script your own. Tell a story that is unique, complex, and surprising, and your script will stand out!

The 2017 VSA Playwright Discovery Program is accepting applications until 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, February 1. For more information or to apply, visit www.kennedy-center.org/PDP.