To the Stage, Young Scribes

Five short plays written and performed by East End middle school students will be presented at Stony Brook Southampton’s Avram Theater on Saturday at 7 p.m. as the culminating event of this year’s Young Artists and Writers Project middle school playwriting program. Playwrights for the festival were drawn from YAWP, as it is known, playwriting classes at Eastport South Manor, the Ross School, the Shelter Island School, and the YAWP summer conference.

The festival represents a collaboration among student playwrights, actors, and theater and writing professionals affiliated with Stony Brook Southampton’s masters program in creative writing and literature, which created and sponsors the YAWP programs. Professional directors stage the plays, which encompass an array of genres — from comedy to drama — with subject matter drawn from the middle schoolers’ own lives.

More than 100 students participated in the YAWP middle school playwriting residency this spring. Over the course of two months, students explored the basic elements of dramatic writing: how to develop ideas, characters, themes, dialogue, and scenes. One play from each participating class was then selected for production in the festival.

Students whose plays were not selected remain immersed in the program as actors, production assistants, and even assistant directors.

“Learning dramatic writing is a great way to improve overall writing skills,” Will Chandler, a screenwriter and YAWP’s program director, said, “but what we’re really teaching them is that each student has a voice, and we want to hear it.”

Mr. Chandler explained that when he works with young people and really listens to what they say, he finds that “they’re really checked in. They’re not as checked out as adults think, but you have to give them a voice and then listen to what they have to say,” he said. “One of the most consistent themes I’ve heard is about people misunderstanding each other.”

Joining Mr. Chandler at the helm of the program, as executive director, is Emma Walton Hamilton, a children’s book author and a co-founder of Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor.

“Dramatic writing and production skills give young people unparalleled lessons in communication and collaboration,” Ms. Hamilton said. “They build confidence and have a direct impact on young people’s abilities to become engaged and compassionate citizens in later life. This project represents a wonderful synergy between all the creative disciplines and values about which we are passionate.”

Saturday’s performance is free. Reservations and more information can be had by emailing william.chandler@stonybrook.edu.