Middle school students in Astoria will see their plays come to life on March 2 when actors perform their works at the Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC).
The Playmaking Program, headed by Playmaking Teaching Artist Susan Willerman, teaches students at Horace Greeley Middle School the fundamentals of playwriting. The 10-week after-school program teaches the fundamentals by focusing on the creation of characters, improvisation and sharing plays with fellow playwrights.
Willerman, along with her teaching assistant Jamie Roach, visit the school from 3 to 5 p.m. for 10 weeks and use the book “Playmaking: Children Writing and Performing Their Own Plays” by Daniel Judah Sklar as their guide.
“They do a lot of improv,” Willerman said. “They learn the basics of what elements go into a play. It’s like building blocks; little by little they then start writing their plays, having been well prepared.”
The program has been around for more than 10 years and five students, Kimberly, Isabelle, James, Zanab and Shyhiem, participated in this month’s program. The students are in the sixth and eighth grade and each play is about nine to 15 minutes long.
The premise of each play varies wildly – there’s a story about a female veterinarian who loses her dog and the audience hears from both of the characters’ perspectives; a play about a block of ice that wants to go back home to Antarctica; a story that stars a female scientist and a wolf; and more.
“They’re fun. They’re completely unique and you won’t get this kind of imagination and the opportunity for the students to express and explore their dreams and wishes and fears,” Willerman said. “You don’t get this on television. You don’t get this in regular adult theater sometimes. These [plays] are so much less censored in a way so they’re really coming from the heart and a wild imagination.”
On Feb. 25, the actors will meet up to rehearse the play before the staged reading. Willerman said the students love using their imagination and some prefer improvisation while others love the writing process. One student told Willerman that she could say things in her play that she couldn’t say anywhere else.
“When people hear children’s theater that doesn’t appeal so much,” she said. “These kids are so funny; they’re very, very funny and that adults really find that the nuances of the humor and the pathos if you will, they’re very satisfying as plays even though they’re staged readings.”
Titled “Uh-Oh, The Plays Are Coming!” the staged readings will take place at 34-12 36th St. at 6 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.