BY ISABEL MEHTA
Germantown Friends junior Isabel Mehta continues her blog series about the process behind the 2019 Mouthful Monologue Festival. She is one of 18 winning student writers.
Most of the writing I do, I do alone. Alone in my room, at my desk, sitting in my bed, in the library. Very rarely do I interact with other slightly nerdy, quirky, passionate writers like myself. That is why I loved Dramaturgy Day #1, because every person I met had their own story to tell, a story that was chosen out of hundreds and given a platform to be shared.
By 10 am on the cold Saturday morning of January 26th, 18 playwrights from all over Philadelphia made their way to the PYP Learning Lab.
Some were dressed subtly, rather nondescript, like me. I wore dark blue skinny jeans and a red sweater paired with off-white Vans. One boy had bright red Converse. One girl wore her flaming red hair in pigtails, and another black tights with a short black mini skirt. Before I get to know people, I first notice their physical appearance. So this is what I noticed first, people’s clothes, shoes, and style. Everybody had a different style, a different way of expressing themselves to the world. It made for a dynamic and vibrant room, and I was thrilled.
It is important to note that I am not an outwardly social person. In large groups, I tend to retreat into my shell. So when I first entered the Learning Lab, I felt slightly awkward in my own skin. I think many other people felt that way, too, but luckily Steve and Stephanie—two of the Festival's directors and dramaturgs—had planned a warm-up game for us all. One person in the center of the circle holds an imaginary pie in their hand, and rotates looking for someone to tag with the pie. After calling their chosen victim’s name, the person has approximately one second to duck before they are "pied in the face". If they don’t duck in time, they are the the new person in the center. It got pretty intense. After the game, everyone was louder, looser, more comfortable on their feet, including myself. It was the perfect way to start the day.
After the lively warm-up, we headed to various locations around the PYP building to meet our dramaturgs, directors, actors, and several fellow playwrights. It was during the next few hours when I would meet three other young female playwrights like myself, and hear their work and mine read aloud and give and receive valuable feedback.
This was my favorite part of the day, because I finally got to meet the faces behind the monologues. I loved "Becoming Friends with David Copperfield", and I finally got to meet and chat with the girl who wrote it. Same goes for "What I Wouldn’t Do" and "What You’ve Done". I also heard my piece read aloud for the first time ever, which was powerful as well. I immediately got a sense of what worked, and what needed to be changed. After meeting so many incredible female writers, I left those couple of hours feeling inspired to revise my monologue to its highest potential.
To close the day, everyone returned to the Learning Lab more educated, inspired, and comfortable than they were when entering the space in the morning. No one was nervous and quiet, people were chatting, laughing loudly, snacking on the leftovers from lunch. We completed the day with a simple but powerful reflection activity. Everyone stood in a circle and took one penny from the jar passed around. The empty jar was then placed on the ground in the center of the circle. When moved to do so, one person at a time stepped forward, shared a short, one-sentence reflection about what they’re grateful for, and dropped the penny in the jar. The “ding” of the penny signified another person could step forward to share. This went on until everyone had dropped their penny in the jar. Hearing everyone’s unique reflections was a perfect way to end the day, because it reminded me why we’re all really here. When it comes down to it, we’re all here because we are passionate people. Passionate writers, storytellers, actors, directors, dramaturgs, teachers, artists, or all of the above.
To be able to collaborate, inspire, and share our stories, to me, was what made this day, and what continues to make this process, so wonderful and special.
PRACTICE WHAT YOU TEACH: Resident Teaching Artist Steve Gravelle on PYP's TA Writing Group, Studio 1219
BY STEVE GRAVELLE
In advance of Philly Theatre Week, Resident TA Steve Gravelle reflects on the writing group he founded to keep playwriting fresh in his own practice and in the classroom.
In 2016, I was working on a new script, but I didn’t have the motivation to work on it regularly. I thought starting a playwriting group with like-minded artists might help me to finish a draft.
At the same time, I was having this thought that we teaching artists (TAs) work in classrooms every day, asking students to write and share and be vulnerable, but we might forget what it’s like to share our own creative work in that same vulnerable way. So I asked the PYP TA community if anyone was interested in being a part of a group like this, and the resounding answer was YES! Thus, Studio 1219 was born.
So in the fall of 2017, I put out an email to our whole TA staff inviting them to join me for our first meeting and to help me to figure out how the meetings should work. The one thing I was sure of was a rule borrowed from my book club, which is that we put our phones on silent and put them in a box during the entire meeting. We spend so much of our lives starting at phone screens, and I was sure that having face to face interactions without phones would be important for the kinds of connections that I was hoping the group would foster.
Beyond that, we worked together to figure out some basics over the first few meetings:
We culminated our first year’s work in April 2018 during the Mouthful Monologue Festival. One evening during which PYP was only using the Drake for a Student Matinee, we gathered our playwrights along with some members of Resident Playwrights, PYP’s exceptional student playwriting group, and we all shared approximately 10 minutes of our plays-in-progress. It was a fun and powerful night full of shared ideas and a hugely supportive audience.
This month, as part of Philly Theatre Week, some of the core members of Studio 1219 are producing readings of some of our work. On February 10th, Emily Moylan–who was the 2017-2018 Teaching Artist Apprentice at PYP–will be sharing her play See You Next Week, and Brittany Brewer–Associate Director of Education and Program Services–will be sharing her play Sex Ed. On February 16th, Stephanie Kyung-Sun Walters–PYP’s Special Projects Fellow–will be sharing her play Esther Choi and the Fish That Drowned, and I’ll be sharing Chef & Robot.
Both sets of readings will be in the Learning Lab at the Arts Initiative, at 1219 Vine St, 2nd Floor. Tickets to both events are pay-what-you-decide, and are open to the public.
As we say to our students every day in the classroom, theatre is meant to be shared out loud with an audience. And the feedback we get from others is what helps us to make our work better. Please join us and support local playwrights in our development process!
*Studio 1219 is open to all PYP Teaching Artists. If you are interested in joining, contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Road to the 2019 MOUTHFUL MONOLOGUE FESTIVAL: A Student Reflects on Helping Choose the Winning Monologues
BY ISABEL MEHTA
Germantown Friends junior and PYP intern Isabel Mehta considers her time reading and selecting 2019 Mouthful Monologue Festival winners as part of the Final Committee.
As a high school student, it’s easy for me to get caught up in my own world. I interact with the same people everyday - sit with the same people at lunch, talk to the same people in class, workout with the same people on my crew team - so I rarely gain new perspectives and become aware of experiences other than my own. That’s why sitting on the Final Committee was so great for me, because for the first time ever, I read writing from students that didn’t attend my school and was exposed to a breadth of student voices and stories from across Philadelphia.
When I first started reading monologues, there were some things that I began to notice. There were many repeating themes, such as gun violence, sexual abuse, teen pregnancy, and various reflections on race issues. And while this is a generalization, many schools that are considered “urban” definitely had more work submitted that stemmed from these themes. It was, at times, difficult and uncomfortable to read these monologues. But that’s what made them powerful. Sitting in the comfort of a heated office building sipping lukewarm coffee, I read about a girl confronting her abuser and reclaiming her body and her story. I read about a boy who’s best friend was shot dead in the streets. I read about a girl who longed to be pregnant only to be devastated by the arrival of her period every month. These were stories with weight behind them, stories that jumped out from the computer screen, stories that resonate with people and transcend all identities and experiences.
As I began to read more from suburban schools, I came across more quirky, “out of the box”, submissions. A balloon laments over her inevitable demise after she is “let go” by a child at a birthday party. A magician declares he must be best friends with David Copperfield. A teenager has a poignant daydream in class. Reading these were powerful too, but for different reasons. All good writing can tackle real and relevant issues through the refreshing lens of humor, and these writers did it with ease. I absolutely loved the funny monologues.
When it came time to decide the winners, most members of the Final Committee came to the table with similar ideas of which monologues deserved a spot in the festival. There were, however, a couple areas of disagreement. This was a reminder, to me, to remember that everyone comes from different backgrounds and experiences that make them resonate with a particular monologue. While some people really want to push for a piece about a recently divorced father struggling to reconnect with his daughter, others will strongly advocate for a powerful piece about the use of the n-word in the black community. There will always be sacrifices made and good work that will not make it into the festival - that’s the price for choosing only 18 winners out of over 600 submissions. But what can be controlled is the flow of the festival, the diversity of monologues selected, and how we can give a platform to messages and stories that the world needs to hear, right now. That, at its core, is truly what the Mouthful Monologue Festival is all about.
Imagining New Narratives Using Theatre of the Oppressed
BY ALEXANDRA ESPINOZA
This lesson was facilitated as part of the 2018 Artistic Team Retreat—a day-long professional development session for Philadelphia Young Playwrights' teachers and teaching artists. Resident Teaching Artist Alexandra Espinoza has shared the lesson—"Where's The Power?"—from her keynote session below.
Theatre of the Oppressed has been a part of my work as a teaching artist since… well, since I became a teaching artist.
My first job in this field was as an ESL (English as a Second Language) and Drama teacher in Hong Kong. In an effort to find ways to physicalize both the language of theatre and English itself, I stumbled upon some exercises called “Image Theatre,” which I later learned was just one subset of Theatre of the Oppressed, or TO.
The practice of TO began in 1970s Brazil, where theatre maker Augusto Boal was looking for ways to combine theatre and the urgent political imperative of mobilizing members of marginalized groups in Brazil, a country that was ruled by dictatorship at the time. Boal was inspired by the work of educational philosopher Paulo Freire, whose book Pedagogy of the Oppressed was the intellectual and political framework upon which Boal based his work in the theatre.
So, what does TO mean in practice? It means taking the traditional structures of theatre and upending them so that we hear the voices of the audience, the politically disempowered and silenced, and the marginalized. TO is a potent mix of the precision and bravery of political activism combined with the joy and exploration of theatre at its best.
Why bring this work into our classrooms?
We are living in a time where our students experience power structures that exclude them everyday, be it the behavior of our political leaders, educational policy decisions, or quite simply the social hierarchies that they experience everyday as young people. We all need a language that allows us to address power without losing our capacity for fun, play, and collective excitement.
The Where’s the Power lesson plan is an attempt to introduce TO principles to students, giving them permission to speak truth to power and to imagine new kinds of narratives.