Hundreds of young bards gathered in the auditorium at Skirball Cultural Center on Monday for a reading of their first works by professional actors.
Funded by the Skirball Foundation and sponsored by the Audrey Skirball-Kenis Theater Project, the program is free to participating schools.
Monday’s all-day event--which included readings of 10 student plays, as well as an actors’ workshop sponsored by the Hollywood-based Actors’ Gang--was the culmination of this semester’s Playwrights in the Schools program.
“I think a lot of students think theater is very elitist. We want them to discover theater is something they can use to tell their stories,” said Playwright Outreach and Education Coordinator Bryan Davidson.
Launched in 1996, the program is currently underway at five Los Angeles high schools, including Canoga Park High School and Valley Alternative Magnet School in Van Nuys.
Over 12 weeks, professional playwrights use a variety of activities to expand high school students’ awareness of the dramatic arts.
“I think for me, working mostly with black and Latino students, the majority of my kids have never even seen a play,” said Monica Palacios, a playwright in residence at the Mark Taper Forum’s Latino Theater Initiative. “They have no concept of a play, or how powerful it is.”
Canoga Park ninth-grader Jose Adrian Gonzalez, whose play “Heaven and Hell” was read by professional actors Monday morning, seemed quietly elated during lunch.
“I was feeling nervous. I didn’t know what the audience was going to think about my play,” said the shy 17-year-old with a shaved head and baggy pants. “I thought they wouldn’t like it, but I guess they did.”
Playwright-teacher Leon Martell said he was gratified to see students falling in love with writing. He had one student who was so uninterested in writing, he said, that she sat behind him during class so she could do homework for other classes.
“Now she loves writing,” he said. “She turned in a 58-page play, she quit the track team and she is taking another writing class.”