The Camp Shepard Playwrights Project, a partnership established by the Chester Theatre Company, Westfield State College and the Westfield YMCA will co-produce an after-school play-writing program modeled on the acclaimed 52nd Street Project in New York.
The program is for students in grades 6-8, who will be teamed with a professional director who will act as mentor through the play writing process. When the one act plays are complete, the director/playwright duo will be joined by a team of actors, designers, stage managers and technicians from Westfield State College to mount full productions of the works, for public performances at Westfield State College’s Ely Studio Theatre on the evenings of October 23rd and 24th.
Chester Theatre Company Artistic Director Byam Stevens, winner of the Massachusetts Alliance of Arts Educators Award, will oversee the program. The after-school classes began on September 14th at the Westfield YMCA when Robin Tilghman a professional actress and educator, greeted her aspiring playwrights. Under her tutelage, the students will learn about characterization, plot, conflict and setting.
According to Stevens, The Camp Shepard Project stands the paradigm of the young playwrights’ experience on its head, “Usually the kids are in a classroom where they are one of many kids matched with a single adult – in this program they are a single kid matched with a team of adults. The results are amazing, in terms of the product the kids produce and in terms of their increased self esteem. ”
At the last class of the course, the young playwrights will be matched with a professional director who will guide them through the weekend play-writing retreat at the YMCA Goyette Camp Shepard Outdoor Center, set for the weekend of October 10-11. Rosann Scalise, Program Operations Director at the Westfield YMCA, will coordinate the classes and retreat.
“This program is fabulous,” said Scalise, “Not only does this have a huge impact on the playwrights’ writing skills, it also has a unique intergenerational aspect — fostering in-depth mentoring relationships and putting the kids side by side with positive role models.”
Once the plays are complete, Stevens will work in collaboration with Jack Shea, Coordinator of the Westfield State College Theatre Arts Program, to cast, rehearse and produce the plays with actors, designers, stage managers and technicians from Westfield State College.
“We are very pleased to be working on this project with Chester Theatre Company and the Westfield YMCA,” said Professor Shea, “In addition to helping these aspiring playwrights, the process will provide an important opportunity for our students to collaborate with a playwright and a professional director on the production of an original piece — a valuable educational experience for everyone involved.”
The Camp Shepard Playwrights Project is funded through the generous support of Shurtleff Children’s Services of Westfield.