Dramatists Guild National Conference: #writechange – Writing Wrongs

by Robin Byrd

Writing Wrongs – Part 1 (Teaching Playwriting to Underserved Communities, Overview)

Panelists:

Sia Amma Celebrating the clitoris / Sia Amma, Liberian native, uses humor and drama to educate about female genital mutilation

Ruby Berryman Englewood Boys: A Play on Portraiture

Cheryl Coons Storycatchers Theatre

“In this new national Dramatists Guild (DG) initiative, artists share ways they’ve given voice to others who would most benefit from self-expression. They’ve worked with victims of genital mutilation, adults in prison, incarcerated and court-involved youth, respectively. They’ll share how this work has been life-changing for everyone involved.” This is the description of the Writing Wrongs session one from the conference program book.

The men, the women, the children…

There were black and white pictures placed in the seats; not all of the seats but a few here and there. During her talk on her performance piece created in a prison, Ruby Berryman’s strategically placed portraits of inmates helped to create moments of intrigue for the audience. Impact: the visual portraits along with the description of how the project came to be and how it worked put us in the shoes of the inmates, if ever so briefly. As writers, we know what triggers story and to hear Ruby discuss how she was able to pull stories out of – non-writers /new to writing – men who before she gave them a place to create had never told their stories, was inspiring. At the end of her talk she had the audience bring the portraits to the front of the room and display them. Impact: we became the exhibit. Imagine an inmate with newly formed skills to tell his story, realizing his words could have…impact.

Sia Amma is a comedienne; her talk was peppered with jokes and laughter. Her subject matter was in no way funny beyond her comedic timing and hilarious take on how to make the most horrible thing speak-able. To utter it, to say it out loud, to hear it hit the air, female genital mutilation must be stopped! Impact: every person in the room was acutely aware of the atrocity of cutting off any part of the clitoris and/or vulva. It is unimaginable… We are changed forever…

Poet Nikky Finney has a poem titled “The Clitoris” from her book HEAD OFF & SPLIT “…New studies show the shy curl to be longer than the penis, but like Africa, the continent, it is never drawn to size…” the poem starts at 5:48.

Cheryl Coons works with the children; her Storycatchers Theatre teaches them a new way to navigate the world. She discussed her program with court-involved and at-risk youth and her process of getting the youth to open up and to participate in the program. Her program has received national recognition for its track record with this program. Impact: we remember the children. We imagine the change.

The theme for the 2015 National Conference was Writing the Changing World or the abbreviated form #writechange. The top of the handout for this session and the workshop session asks for playwrights to share their projects with the Dramatists Guild in an effort to connect and share information with other playwrights doing the same sort of thing. This session was also a call to action.

Impact: we see theater as a great resource to effect change in the environment, lives, and life choices of our communities; we simply must re-imagine the uses of the stage.

Starting or participate in a Writing Wrongs program, please contact Faye Sholiton fsholiton@dramatistsguild.com with a description of your project and some of the challenges you’re facing.  Please tell about your project(s) and link us to your website.  In that way, we can share your information with teaching artists embarking on similar projects.  The Dramatists Guild hopes to offer a Writing Wrongs idea exchange on the Dramatists Guild website in the near future.

Writing Wrongs – Part 2 (Teaching Playwriting to Underserved Communities, Workshop)

Panelists:

Suze Allen 3 Girls Theatre

Melissa Denton The Unusual Suspects Theatre Company

Francesca Piantadosi From Prisoners to Playwrights: Why youth at MacLaren are learning to write plays

“This session features practical techniques to work with reluctant and often traumatized writers. Coaches will take you through initial trust-building steps, using group and individual exercises. An introduction to what it takes to open hearts and minds – and the potential for small triumphs along the way.” This is the description of the Writing Wrongs session two from the conference program book.

The playwrights (Suze Allen, Melissa Denton, and Francesca Piantadosi) in this session were a great follow-up for the previous session. Once you have a call to action, what do you do next? These playwrights answered those questions.  Each gave pointers on how to interact with the group participants.

 

The sessions were hosted by Larry Dean Harris, our Southern California Regional Representative.

 

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