Area Students Convene At Chautauqua For Young Playwrights Project

Third-graders of Westfield Academy and Central School watch as their plays are read aloud by a team of Chautauqua Institution theater staff and volunteers led by Matt Cragan.
P-J photo by Gavin Paterniti

Third-graders of Westfield Academy and Central School watch as their plays are read aloud by a team of Chautauqua Institution theater staff and volunteers led by Matt Cragan. P-J photo by Gavin Paterniti

CHAUTAUQUA — Students from five Chautauqua County school districts had an opportunity to hear plays of their own creation acted out by members of Chautauqua Institution theater staff and volunteers.

Third- and fourth-graders from Chautauqua Lake, Panama, Westfield, Ripley and Jamestown’s Fletcher Elementary schools visited Chautauqua Institution over the course of two days as part of Chautauqua’s yearly Young Playwrights Project.

The Young Playwrights Project was established a few years ago as a collaboration between the Chautauqua Theater Company and the Florida Studio Theatre of Sarasota, Fla. It was conceived by Chautauqua Institution as a way to expand its educational programming into a year-round format outside of its traditional nine-week season during the summer months, and is funded by Georgia Court, a Chautauqua community member and board member of the Florida Studio Theatre.

The first stage — or “Phase One” — of the project occurred during the fall, when teaching artists from Florida Studio Theatre visited every third- and fourth-grade classroom at each school to guide students through the process of writing a play. In this week’s meeting of the students and facilitators of the Young Playwrights Project, referred to as “Phase Two,” the students visited the institution grounds to have the plays they had written previously as part of Phase One read aloud by adult actors in front of their peers.

“We have about 34 volunteers, who are a combination of staff and community members. So you will literally see someone who is 9 years old sitting by someone who is 90 years old and is reading (that student’s) play out loud,” said Deborah Sunya Moore, Chautauqua Institution’s vice president of performing and visual arts. “This is a really powerful part of the project where we try and celebrate the playwright in everyone, and celebrate the start of an idea and creativity.”

Logan Baum and Seth Zielinski are classmates at Westfield Academy and Central School who collaborated on a play together with another classmate. They said they enjoyed the opportunity to try something a little different from their regularly scheduled course curriculum.

“We had a lot of fun doing this as a team,” said Seth, who indicated he had some interest in doing creative writing outside of the classroom.

There were 428 plays written overall between the students of the five school districts. The plays selected as the best of the bunch will be published online and performed by the Chautauqua Theater Company at the end of June as the third part of the Young Playwrights Project. Those plays will also be presented as the first offering of the institution’s Family Entertainment Series at the commencement of its 2018 season.

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