During the summer, more than 150 youths from Montgomery County and beyond explored their creativity during through the Playwright Discovery project sponsored by Four County Mental Health Center and the William Inge Center for the Arts at Independence Community College.
The youths, ages 6 through 17, collaborated to write and perform three different plays. The Inge Center arranged for three visiting teaching artists to lead the project, which concluded in August. Playwriting was one of several activities offered during Four County’s Summer Quest program, and for most of the youth, it was their first experience on the stage.
During the program, Maia Morgan, and writer and educator from Cincinnati, completed her fourth visit to Independence as a Playwright Discovery teacher. Like all the leaders, Morgan is a practicing artist with teaching experience, and she has worked with young people with special needs, including autistic students and individuals who are incarcerated, as well as those in mainstream classrooms.
Morgan noted that she found the children in the Summer Quest program uncertain when starting out, but, after reading the first play’s draft, “they point to lines they wrote with exclamations of ‘I wrote that’ and ‘That’s mine!’ There’s something about seeing a line you wrote on paper and then hearing it spoken that is powerful and transformative,” she said.
Greg Romero, of Austin, Texas, taught ages 11-17.
“There is a boy who, on his first day, was generally disruptive and uninterested, but after two weeks, he was participating in the performance with enthusiasm and joy,” Romero said.
“There is another girl who was overjoyed to see her words in the script. Her expressiveness and confidence blossomed, and her disposition became consistently delightful," he added.
Chicago-based writer Tanuja Jagernauth taught at Playwright Discovery for the first time this summer.
“Writing and theatre can be vehicles for personal growth and even healing,” Jagernauth said. “It can foster respectful communication and collaboration between young people and adults.” She noted numerous times in her experience when children she has worked with were at first nonverbal and disengaged but “transitioned into joyful, active participants.”
Four County Mental Health Center staff members also reported accomplishments with the participants. For example, after finishing the program, they noted the youths were more willing to speak to staff about some of the problems they were having.
“Participation in the arts benefits everyone, which is why the Inge Center is proud to partner with Four County,” said Hannah Joyce-Hoven, Producing Director. “We are thankful to the Four County counselors and staff, as well as to the playwright instructors, for sharing their expertise and love for stories for the stage.”
The program was funded by a Kansas Creative Arts Industries Council Arts Integration Innovation grant. Four County Mental Health Center also contributed to the project and Independence Community College served as site host.