The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis performed 15 shows written by local playwrights at the 18th annual “WiseWrite Young Playwrights Festival.” All of the playwrights were fifth-grade students.
Repertory Director of Education Marsha Coplon said she thought all 112 plays written by fifth-grade students in the WiseWrite program were thoughtful and imaginative.
“It’s a lot of fun, and the (children) have worked very hard,” Coplon said. “One of the plays we are doing in the festival is ‘Snoring Beauty.’ The main character is the bed that Sleeping Beauty has been sleeping in for 100 years. … The bed just wants her to wake up so he can get her out, and he can clean his sheets.”
Photos by Hannah Roling/The Journal
The WiseWrite program is a collaboration between The Rep and Springboard, an educational organization that puts professional artists and writers in local schools to help promote critical thinking and creativity through the arts. The schools currently in the WiseWrite program are Wyland Elementary in the Ritenour School District and Hudson Elementary in the Webster Groves School District.
Coplon said the program starts in the classroom in September. Artists go into the classroom once per week for 90-minute sessions. After several weeks of instruction, the children will have written their own plays. The Rep publishes each of the plays for the students, and 15 are chosen to be performed onstage.
Coplon said WiseWrite is designed to work with a school’s curriculum. The children also take a couple of field trips to The Rep during the year to see how different components of a script and play come together.
Wyland Elementary Principal Kathy Pfeifer said the school has seen an increase in the students’ English Language Arts MAP testing. They have also seen an increase in creative writing skills and a developing camaraderie with their peers.
“It’s a way of teaching writing that is very interactive,” Pfeifer said. “It’s been very beneficial for our students.”
Amy Gage is an 11-year veteran playwrighting teaching artist with the Springboard program and teaches at Hudson Elementary. She said the students learn about the elements of writing a play that starts with a “seed” of an idea. They spend a great deal of time planning, writing and revising their work.
“I would say almost every student is very proud of their work because they have invested so much time and energy,” Gage said. “They see how all that hard work really pays off.”
Gage said the WiseWrite Annual Festival at The Rep is one of her favorite days of the year.
“The parents just love it,” Coplon said. “Even community members that come see it have trouble remembering that these plays were written by fifth-graders.”
Coplon said professional actors and theater professionals volunteer their time to present the plays. The fifth-grade classes participating in the program and fourth-graders who will participate next year attend the performance, along with family, friends and members of the community who wish to attend.
“It’s a lot of fun. It’s a pretty amazing thing after all the organization is done,” Coplon said. “You sit back and look at the marvelous stories these kids tell.”