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National Playwriting Month Reminds Us of the Joys and Challenges of Creating Original Stories

Updated: Apr 16

“There’s a part of you always standing by, mapping out the sky. Finishing a hat, starting on a hat, finishing a hat, Look, I made a hat! Where there never was a hat.” 

So sings George in Stephen Sondheim’s musical masterpiece Sunday in the Park with George. As I gear up for National Playwriting and Composing Month, I find myself finishing the hat – both the literal hats I knit to distract me from writing, and the writing hats that I spend every waking moment trying to finish. 

My cat, Kya, wearing a baby hat

This April, I join hundreds of other playwrights in End of Play, a program from the Dramatists Guild that challenges writers to begin writing new works. My problem as a playwright is that I have finished hundreds of hats at this point….but how do I finish them? 

Today is National Encourage a Young Writer Day, which got me thinking about all the ways ETC helps students start and finish their own hats: in our Main Stage residencies, our teaching artists guide up to 50 students in creating and performing their own musicals from scratch in less than 10 weeks; our Drama Days include sharings of brand new works that were often devised that very day; Creative Age participants share stories and create original works based off them to perform for the community. There is some aspect of playwriting, creating new and unique works, in all of ETC's programming. As teaching artists, we encourage our students to make their own wild, brilliant hats. They create something out of nothing - they build and conquer their own worlds in every part of ETC programming. 

When I taught a Page to Stage Neighborhood Class this winter, I had the opportunity to work with students on developing their own plays. We started with every student devising their own concept in a 5 minute writing exercise – I set a clock, I let them free write for 5 minutes, encouraging them to write WHATEVER came to mind, without judging the thoughts that came. From there, each student started to devise their own pieces from what they wrote. In a few short weeks, we went from page to stage, sharing their completed works with props and costumes with their grownups at the end of the class. 

Watching them, I remembered the feeling of finishing my first play at age 6 in a program that allowed me the same kind of creative freedom ETC gives students. My first play was about a leprechaun who interrupted a family’s camping trip to ask if they could help him get back to Ireland. Over two decades later, I am finishing the hat that little Kathleen Moran started all those years ago as I prepare to complete a draft of my latest play for a workshop at a regional theatre this May – about an Irish American woman who finds herself on a road trip to get life-saving healthcare far from home. 

Without the theatre program of my youth to help me start that hat, I don’t know where I’d be, in my career or in my life. Playwriting and play creation, more than any other art, have given me the tools to discover new ways of processing my emotional life. Helping students do the same is the greatest joy of my life - together, through exploration and play, I find us all coming one step closer to understanding others and ourselves, making connections and hats where they never were before.

You can join KJ for more playwriting experiences this summer at Page to Stage Summer Camp and at Acting Out Spring Neighborhood Class.


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