From pitch to production, the fundamentals of playwriting taught | News, Sports, Jobs

Student dramatists gather ideas and draw pictures that represent their characters. Clockwise from bottom are Eli Eastman, Bridgette Branch, Adriana Royo, Ollie Manross, Asher Button, Macy Winicki, Kayla Oaks, Mady Nobles, Gretchen Wiler and Evelyn Mechling. PJ Pictures by Michael Zabrodsky

WARREN, Pennsylvania — Have you ever had an idea for a play, musical, movie or TV show? The words and dialogues are there, but you don’t know how to format them.

Students in the Warren County School District have this chance to learn the basics of playwriting – courses mostly offered at college or university. SLT Theater Workshop students at Struthers Library Theater learn what works and what doesn’t in a workshop format where everyone contributes.

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The experience is not just about talking about a printed script.

“So this is the first time I’ve done the specific playwriting workshop, and it has evolved in a few years”, said the theater’s director of rating and education, Eric Morelli.

Struthers Library Theatre, 302 W. Third Ave., in Warren, Pa. PJ photo by Michael Zabrodsky

In 2021, Morelli, who also serves as the workshop instructor, taught playwriting as part of a summer workshop that also covered the behind-the-scenes technical aspects of a production. Every part of a production is important for that specific production.

“We spent our mornings learning about audio, lighting, or the scene,” Morelli added.

In the Writers’ Room, workshop students develop and enrich multiple areas of playwriting throughout eight sessions, including plot, structure, character, dialogue, song, spectacle and deliverability. A unique learning experience, students in grades 7 through 12 work together to express their creativity while experiencing musical comedy as an art form. The class will work to complete a script for SLT Academy’s fall semester show.

According to strutherslibrarytheatre.org, Morelli joined the SLT team in the summer of 2019 and comes to theater with a musical, design and print background. From an early age, he was drawn to the magic of the theatre.

“Well, I got interested in theater at a very young age. My parents took me to see shows here (SLT),” he said.

The whiteboard is where Eric Morelli writes down the ideas that the students have proposed to him.

He recalled how much he loved the Summer Playhouse at SLT.

“They would bring in professional actors and then they (the actors) would work with local talent to put together productions throughout the summer. And I remember coming to see a few productions very early on – before I started to tell fact from fiction – and I was just totally engrossed in the world. he said.

He remembers having seen productions of “Fiddler on the Roof”‘ and “South Pacific” and because he was a child, he believed in everything that happened on stage

Morelli said the theme and concept had been developed and students had started contributing their ideas. This year’s theme is Candyland – loosely based on the children’s board game, but with different twists. It’s holiday production.

“We invented the world. We imagined the mall. We imagined the characters who inhabited the mall. And during that week, it became very apparent that their (the students’) creativity was so unbridled that they would be able to do so much more with it. Morelle said.

It was Morelli’s original intention to write the screenplay, but because of the enthusiasm, it will only help. The workshop is an educational setting and there are registrations and not auditions, all students will have a role in the production.

Younger students learn to mature and work with older students, while older students learn to mentor and care for younger students, Morelli noted.

“Thus, the theater becomes a home for many of them. It’s really much more important than anything I could teach them is that they find a place in this world of theatre. Morelle said.

Twelve students are enrolled in the workshop, which runs from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays in September, at SLT, 302 W. Third Ave..

The students arrive and begin to sit at the large ideas table. Attendance is taken. Once attendance is taken, Morelli leads them to the theater where he asks them to spread out. The theater is quite spacious where students find seats in the front, back and sides. They try not to sit near anyone else. Morelli walks around the theater giving instructions. He likes what he sees and asks the students to shut up and focus on one word. It dims the lights, so there are no distractions. They begin to focus on their own word that each student has chosen. If their minds wander, Morelli asks them to return to their target word.

“I want you to focus on one word”, Morelli told the students.

This guided meditation lasts about 10 minutes. He turns on the lights and the students return to the table to have a productive session.

Ideas move from presentation to production as students come together to hone their playwriting skills.

During a recent session, students drew pictures representing their characters. The catch – each student’s character had to be based on a candy. Morelli stood in front of the whiteboard and began naming items and types of candies. On the board, the words gumballs, cotton candy, marshmallow, peppermint and lollipops were already written. These can become candy kingdoms.

“We need sour candy,” said a student.

“Sour, I Heard Sour” said Morelli smiling, then he quickly wrote it on the board.

Other words followed.

The volume of student jokes increased.

Adriana Royo, an eighth grader at Beatty Warren Middle School, and Macy Winicki, a junior at Warren Area High School, brainstormed. Royo started sketching what the eraser would look like as a character.

Winicki enjoys the atmosphere and what the class has to offer.

“He makes sure every child feels comfortable and welcome, (and that) their ideas are heard,” Winicki said about Morelli.

She added that Morelli makes sure the class is a democracy, and that no student talks about another, “and keep everything fair.”

For more information about the program, call 814-723-7231 or visit strutherslibrarytheatre.org.


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