A Showcase Of Pride And Creativity

In February of this year, School on Wheels’ Systems Manager, Marie, led a playwriting workshop for middle school students at one of our busiest sites. Four students took part in this two-day workshop, held during regular tutoring hours during winter break.

The first day helped students develop their voices as playwrights by focusing on the building blocks of good plays: characters, conflict, and dialogue. This was an opportunity for students to explore their creativity as well as connect to their English Language Arts classes. They recalled lessons about plot and conflict. Students are accustomed to reading books and answering questions like “Who is the main character?” “What does he want?” “What is preventing him from getting it?”

In this workshop, instead of examining stories written by someone else, students had to write their own answers to those questions. They started by inventing characters, using photos as inspiration for complex traits and desires. Lily used a picture of a man in a hat to create the character of a father with a terrible secret—he is bald! Tiana found inspiration in a picture of an elaborately made up woman, creating a demon with split personalities. They then had to bring these characters to life, giving them goals, putting up obstacles, and telling the story through dialogue. To help the students get started on their final product, a short play, Marie gave them these four lines of dialogue that had to be the beginning of their plays:

A: Did you bring it?

B: Why?

A: Don’t you ever listen to me?

B: Of course I do.

Although their plays all started the same, each went off in wildly creative ways. Secrets were kept and betrayed, friendships made and broken, the cops got involved, and the CEO of a company revealed himself to be a robot! The biggest payoff for both playwrights and workshop leaders came in the second day of the workshop. The kids at the shelter who were too young to participate had been sneaking peeks into the room every chance they had. Now, they were invited in for an informal performance. The staff helped the playwrights make copies so that each actor had their own copy of the script. Playwrights asked other participants, teachers, and even an audience member to bring their characters to life. This was a big moment. Rather than being embarrassed, they took pride in what they had written and were excited to hear their words read out loud to their siblings and friends. One boy playing a part in his own play kept reading his scene partner’s lines, fearing that the words he’d written might be read incorrectly! The day was definitely a showcase of pride and creativity.

The mission of School on Wheels of Massachusetts is to educate children impacted by homelessness by providing academic support and one-on-one mentoring so children can reach their full potential.