The Bowne’s Lab Theatre is one of the smaller performance spaces on the campus of the Florida Studio Theatre. Located down a hallway adjacent to the large Gompertz Theatre, the blue neon light of the theater sign invites you in.
Throughout the year, the Bowne’s is home to FST’s improv comedy ensemble, where every Friday and Saturday night almost every week of the year the comedic pioneers discover newfound hilarious situations and scenes.
However, recently the Bowne served as a home for new comedy from a much younger source. FST staff members, apprentices, actors and other playwrights burrowed deep into boxes full of thousands of plays that children from kindergarten to seniors in high school from Sarasota and around the world have written for FST’s “Write A Play” program. Readers erupt in little burst of giggles every few minutes while seated at the tables covered in plays, some typed and some handwritten in pen or crayon. All aspiring playwrights hope for one thing: to eventually see their idea come to life on stage.
Started in 1991, the program is a three-phase arts education initiative that has exposed millions of children to the art and process of creating theater.
First, children visit FST and see that year’s children theater production, such as this year’s “RAP-Punzel.” Then the teaching artists visit schools and classes across Florida and the southeast region of the United States to teach the basic tenets of a play. After that, children can write their own play and submit it to FST in one of two age divisions: “Under Six” for students in grades six or lower and “Seven Up” for students in middle and high school.
Two local young playwrights are brother and sister Seth and Skyler Stahlmann. The seventh- and 10th-grader, respectively, attend Generation Harvest homeschool in Sarasota. Both have submitted multiple plays in the past few years, and their plays, “Time Out” and “The Book,” won last year’s competition.
“This year I got an idea from seeing a picture of a war hero coming home,” says Skyler Stahlmann. “It’s just experiences in life, and art is the tangible expression of abstract thoughts, so I use a lot of emotions and convey it through writing and story.”
It takes FST staff about two weeks to read each play twice; in total, more than 4,000 plays are submitted for the contest.
After the 100 finalists are selected, FST staff critiques them again to whittle down the winners (26 plays were chosen last year). The winning playwrights are invited to the Young Playwrights Festival in May, where the works are performed.
“Things that you have thought up and poured your time in so it can be onstage for others to enjoy is amazing to watch happen in front of you and seeing the reaction of a theater full of people,” says Seth Stahlmann.
Page to Stage
1991 Year Write A Play started
55,000 Students the program reaches each year
4 Countries that the program has reached: U.S., Scotland, Israel and Russia
1 million Approximate students exposed to theater in Write A Play’s 24 years