Sarasota’s Florida Studio Theatre encourages the creativity of young playwrights from around the world with Write a Play program.
Adults have a way of underestimating what children know. But Florida Studio Theatre recognizes that whether children have a simplified or complex understanding of how the world works, they deserve to have their voices heard.
For nearly three decades, FST has looked for ways to cultivate creativity in children ages 5-18 by encouraging them to write through the Write a Play program. The culmination of the program took place at the 28th annual Young Playwrights Festival on May 18.
“The idea of it is to get kids writing and to inspire creativity,” said Lydia Baxter, a spokeswoman for FST. “Typically, writing is not fun for kids these days, and through this program we found that so many kids explore their creativity and gain self esteem.”
Write a Play is broken into the categories Under Six, which are grades kindergarten through sixth, and Seven Up, which are grades seventh through 12th.
This year the program received 6,000 entries from students and classes around the country along with Israel, Russia, Italy and Scotland. Of the entries, 12 plays were chosen for each category to be performed by FST acting apprentices at the Young Playwright Festival.
For the 2019 season, the Seven Up category focused on Making History through FST’s Historically Speaking program, which teaches the students how to turn the stories of historical figures such as Anne Frank or Helen Keller into plays.
Under Six playwrights pulled from their own experiences and imaginations. The theme focused on friendship, accepting differences and overcoming adversity.
Play topics included a sad star that doesn’t twinkle but figures out it’s actually a planet; a boy with Tourette’s syndrome who is worried about his first day of school; and imagining what marine animals do after the aquarium janitor leaves at night.
Matrick Thorpe, a sixth grader at Pine View School and a three- time winning playwright, had two plays performed this year. “The Refrigerator Zone” was entered in the Under Six group and “The Lonesome Tale of Phineas Fog” was performed in Seven Up.
For Matrick, his inspiration comes from his imagination.
He favors noir fiction and used elements of the 1960s anthology series “The Twilight Zone” for his play “The Refrigerator Zone.”
“(Noir is) an interesting setting and environment that takes place,” Matrick said.
“But when you make a noir funny, it sets a completely different setting that people don’t expect. It’s a fun reaction to see.”
“The Refrigerator Zone” follows the characters of Thermometer, a detective; Milk, the missing person; Cookie, a worried friend turned suspect; Ice Cream, the suspect; Pie, the suspect’s brother; and the narrator.
The play was filled with food-related puns that kept the audience in a mixed state of suspense and laughter as they watched Thermometer, played by Ben Southerland, try to get to the bottom of Milk’s disappearance.
Matrick’s said his advice for other young playwrights is simple: “It’s about conveying emotion, letting emotions run rampant and then just writing it.
“So many people might just be worried about ‘What if I say it wrong, or something goes wrong and it’s misinterpreted?’ But just write it and hope for the best,” he said.
At its core, the festival is about empowering the youth of today, which is what teacher Anna Albanese said she focuses on in her classroom.
Albanese’s students have participated in Write a Play and the Young Playwright Festival since 2013 and this year submitted 97 plays.
“Detention Caused It” by her students Leah Fisher and Kaitlyn Cisneros-Lobo was performed in the Seven Up anthology.
“(Theater) drama allows them to be comfortable with themselves,” said Albanese, the Venice Middle School drama teacher.
“But playwriting just takes it beyond that. It’s more than self esteem with playwriting, it is a safe place to communicate humor, to communicate fear, and to communicate what really matters to them.”