Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Starting Year Two!

There is so much to talk about as we start year two of our Northlight On Campus education program at Fairview South School.  We have done a ton of analysis on the first year of programming including student surveys, teaching artist surveys, analyzing assessment forms from the year, discussions with the school principal, etc.  Many of the structural components we implemented worked well last year, but there are still some that need adjusting. But more on that next month!

In this post, I want to focus on one of the most exciting NEW components of Year Two…a playwright commission! This year, we will be producing a fully-staged show at Fairview with students who have never had a school play.  Not only that, but it will be a World Premiere commissioned for our Fairview students.  We decided to do a city-wide search for a play/playwright. Here is the call we sent out:

Northlight Theatre’s Education Department is seeking commission proposals for a play for young actors.  Northlight, in collaboration with Fairview South School, is embarking on its second year of the new Northlight On Campus program which engages middle school students in theatre arts after school.  We are seeking proposals from playwrights to adapt a classic story for young adults into a stage play for performance at Fairview South School in spring 2012.  We are seeking a playwright who is interested not just in writing a script for students, but also interested in working with those students and actively participating with them on developing the play.

Playwrights should have some familiarity with teaching, though no previous experience writing for young actors is necessary. Playwrights must be willing to work with Northlight Education Director and Northlight Teaching Artists on script revisions as well as spend time with students in rehearsals on occasion. 

Project Description:
Northlight On Campus brings theatre to Fairview South Middle School for the first time in fifteen years.  Northlight’s mission is to expose students to theatre arts through a variety of programs that allow students to see professional theatre, perform in theatre on campus, study theatre in academic classes and work behind the scenes.  In its second year, Northlight On Campus will add a full production for middle school students to its roster of activities.  Students will audition for the production that will be commissioned expressly for the students.  Students will be able to interact with the playwright and perform the world premiere of the play in April 2012.

We are looking for playwrights to suggest a novel, legend, or fairytale that can be adapted freely by the playwright. Please consider that the play should be no longer than 60 minutes in performance, will have only minimal design elements (mostly built by students) and should be able to accommodate 20-25 student actors.

We received a number of thoughtful and engaging proposals.  Clearly, the playwrights who put their name in the hat were serious about the idea of getting to write for students who had never done theatre before.  Here is the proposal we chose!

Show Description:
In RODEO, a young, spunky girl, Cody, wants to ride rodeo with the fellas.  Of course, she's laughed out of the ring.  No one knows she can ride just as swell as any boy cowpoke.  She doesn't quite fit in with all the young ladies of the town, and the cowboys hardly see her as a girl.  This makes it difficult for Cody since she is madly head over spurs smitten with Cab, the lead bull rider in the ring. But Cab is already smitten with the lovely Maimie who teaches first through sixth grade at the local make-shift school house.  So, Cody sets out to win the respect of the town and the affections of Cab by winning the major events in the county Rodeo, sponsored by her town.   She'll have to do it disguised as a boy, which makes it a mite difficult to flirt with Cab, but she finds unexpected encouragement from her family, good friends, her mule, and even Maimie.  What happens when the best cowboy in town .. is a cowgirl?

Playwright Bio:
Philip Dawkins is a Chicago playwright and educator. His play Yes To Everything! has been performed in Chicago, California, DC, New York, and Arkansas. Philip Dawkins’s previous plays for Northlight Theatre’s Education programming, EDGAR AND ELLEN:  BAD SEEDS and THE SKOKIE DETECTIVE CHARTER SCHOOL have both been published by Playscripts Inc (www.playscripts.com) and have now been performed all over Illinois, The United States, Canada, and Niagara Falls! Other plays include: You Gonna Eat That? (Healthworks), Ugly Baby (Chicago Vanguard / Strawdog Theatre Company), A Still Life in Color (T.U.T.A. Company), The Man with a Shattered World (Ethington Theatre), Saguaro(Estrogen Fest, Chicago; Estrogenius Festival, NY; 16th Street Theatre, Berwyn, Illinois; Painted Filly, Dublin); Perfect (The Side Project, Chicago), and Cast of Characters (Theatre III, Long Island),Dead Letter Office (Dog and Pony Theatre Co.), and The Homosexuals (About Face Theater). Mr. Dawkins is a Fellow of Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers in Scotland and was a fall 2009 Playwright in Residence at the William Inge Arts Center. He is a founding member with Eric C. Reda of Chicago Opera Vanguard, and he teaches playwriting at Northwestern University and Victory Gardens. He also teaches Kung Fu to little, tiny, Chicago children. Hi-YAH!

We are so thrilled to work with Philip. I love this proposal because it is an underdog story, has great pre-teen themes, is a comedy, has a strong sense of genre, and has high theatrical potential.  In two weeks, we will head to campus with our playwright Philip and the teaching artists who will teach/direct this year to recruit students.  I look forward to hearing what the students think of the play. I will report back on that soon!
Devon de Mayo, Director of Arts Education, Northlight Theatre

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