This blog post was written by mentee Janiah Taylor on our April period playwriting workshop with The Associate’s Theater members, Peregrine Teng-Heard and Lauren LaRocca.
I remember last year for one of the workshops, we did something similar to playwriting. The task seemed challenging at first because – me being a first year mentee then – I had no experience with writing anything like a play with stage directions or cues. I immediately wanted to resent it, but as it turned out, I’ve grown quite fond of it. I wanted to know what the challenge would be this year with playwriting and to see if I would hit another stumble. Walking into the Girls Write Now office with papers in one hand and a refreshing drink in the other, I was ready to take on my task.
It’s not often we get two craft talk speakers who run the workshop. You could immediately tell that they were theater people. The only way I could describe Peregrine Teng-Heard and Lauren LaRocca is that they were colorful and full of life and energy, like they were ready to put on a Broadway show. Our ice breaker was way out of our usual ‘talk to someone you don’t know’ random question chats. Within our group, we had to create a chant in specific way – we would say out-loud the first word that came to our head, everyone would repeat it, and then it would rotate to the next person. It seemed so awkward and confusing at first, but hearing the random thoughts that came to people’s minds would surprise you.
Me becoming a playwriting/Broadway fanatic with productions like Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen, I could only imagine the work that has to be put into making a production. One of the plays they read aloud to us from their production, Sheila, was truly inspiring. I learned that playwriting is much more than just the writing, there is expression and emotion put into every word. I think that captivated me the most about them – the way they spoke could put me in the place and time they wrote about. We focused on period playwriting which is a play not set in the present. This reminded me somewhat of historical fiction, just in play format. The only catch was we had to focus on a specific picture and write something about that, which tossed my idea of a 60s young activist out the window. It was still great to step out of my comfort zone in having to create a story from a picture we couldn’t deeply analyze.
The picture was not what I was expecting. It was a young girl who looked like she was from the country south, standing in front of a tree. I took a wild guess and set my story during the Vietnam War in the 70s. The biggest challenge for me as a fictional writer is to immediately take an idea and translate it into story form. It was like mentally training myself for a playwriting marathon; having to write narration, stage directions and different characters. After about 30 minutes of writing, I took the bold initiative to share my play with the room, which is unlikely for a introvert like me. Having different people speak for different characters in the weird, southern, 70s accent was actually pretty funny. It felt great to see my writing expand in different ways and to have actual playwrights critique and enjoy my writing. Knowing I can write outside my genre comfort is a great thing, because who knows? Maybe I could become the next major Broadway playwright for my generation.