Philadelphia Young Playwrights has a mission. That mission is to bring the arts into the schools of Philadelphia and to “tap the potential of youth and inspire learning through playwriting.” At Morrison Elementary, they are doing just that.
Ilene Poses is a special education teacher at Morrison and has been working with members of the Young Playwrights organization for the past 10 years. The school sits at 5100 N. Third St. and when asked how the students respond to the program, Poses said, “The kids just love it.”
Not only do the Young Playwrights bring the arts into the classroom, they help to improve literacy as well.
Anjoli Santiago is a teaching artist with the Philadelphia Young Playwrights and has been working with Morrison Elementary for the past three years. Santiago is bilingual, which Poses said is a huge bonus because of the large Spanish-speaking population in the area.
“A few students who are beginning English speakers are able to write because if they run into a problem, she can articulate what they have to say,” Poses said.
The program is also beneficial to Poses’ special education students in terms of literacy. It gives the kids a chance to practice their reading skills in an environment that is welcoming.
“If reading is difficult, they don’t do it,” Poses said. “It is important because they don’t need complete sentences. Their ideas can still come out.”
Morrison Elementary also has a program set up with the Arden Theater that allows students to experience professional theater. Before the school started working with the Young Playwrights, Poses said they would take the plays they saw at the theater and reenact them at school. Ever since their collaboration with the Young Playwrights, the school opened up the playwriting process to the students as well.
“The kids are in the drivers seat in terms of creating something,” Poses said. “You can see some kids grow in their writing skills and some of the kids will already be thinking about their plays for the next year.”
There are many challenges that come along with Santiago’s job at Morrison Elementary. She said that there is a lot of diversity in the area in terms of ethnicity and financial status.
“There is a level of concern but at the same time detachment because being a teaching artist, you go in and then go out,” Santiago said. “We have students writing about real issues and the students can use the writing as a therapy. It is difficult, but at the same time very rewarding.”
Not only is the writing a good release of emotions, it is also a highly creative process. Santiago stresses that the students are playwrights too and can create art and theater right in their own homes.
“It kind of blows their minds sometimes,” Santiago said. “ It’s really awesome just to see that all you have to do is kind of give them permission and say yes, you are an artist and yes, you can do this.”
One of the rewards of the Young Playwrights’ program is that the kids are able to have their plays performed.
Every year the first through third place winners have their plays performed on a stage by professional actors or have a staged reading of their work in the Playwrights’ Saturday Morning Reading Series.
The Saturday Morning Reading Series occurs throughout the year and is an opportunity for the children to have professional actors to take a look at their plays and perform them in front of a small audience.
“We have a ball with that,” Santiago said. “The kids come out and they get to see their words spoken through the mouth of a professional actor and that is always so much fun, for both the actors and the students.”
Plays are often revisited by the students and worked on over the years as well. Young Playwright student Brian Mach wrote his play, “The Question Lover,” which was performed at one of the Saturday Morning Reading Series in February.
When asked what Mach would change about his play, he said, “I wouldn’t change a thing. I like it just the way it is.”
Another important aspect of the program is the sense of community it instills within the students. They write about everything from fantasy to stories that deal with real life issues but the one thing that remains constant is the support they give each other.
“The kids don’t make fun of each others’ plays,” Poses said. “They aren’t critical, they are very accepting.”
Playwriting also allows students to have a goal. Poses said that she has a hard time getting kids to see things through to begin with, but playwriting is something they look forward to and want to finish.
Poses said, “Once they complete it, they are proud of it.”