Farmington Hills Youth Theatre offers playwright program for young writers

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published November 16, 2017

 Stephen Mack Jones

Stephen Mack Jones

FARMINGTON  HILLS — The Farmington Hills Youth Theatre wants young people to test their stage-writing mettle through the Young Playwrights Program.

The program is for students in grades seven through 12 to experience the theater in a new light, especially for those interested in developing and writing a full-length script, according to a press release.

“This is an exciting opportunity for students to explore and express their creativity across the spectrum of theater production,” Cultural Arts Supervisor  Rachel Timlin said in a press release. “We want to encourage critical thinking in a fun, inclusive environment.”

Students will turn their completed script into a full stage production by the Farmington Hills Youth Theatre later in 2018, according to the release. 

Participants in the program will work under the tutelage of Farmington Hills resident and novelist Stephen Mack Jones.

Jones — the 2017 Farmington Area Artist in Residence, an award-winning playwright and a recipient of the prestigious Kresge Arts in Detroit Literary Fellowship — is the author of the recently published “August Snow.” He will help the students express themselves through words.

Jones said during a phone interview that he thinks the program will be a great opportunity for young people. 

“To explore not only playwriting … (but) the various aspects of theater,” Jones said, adding that young people will learn about playwriting, set design and more. “Working with those young people to help discover what is most important to them at this stage in their life and how to communicate that (theatrically) is going to be a lot of work for the young people involved, but I think it is going to be worth it —they are going to greatly enjoy (it).”

Jones, 63, said he began writing in middle school.

“I guess (I) just enjoy writing and the writing process,” Jones said, adding that he enjoys what the writing process can reveal about himself “and about others, in hopes of helping people understand themselves, understanding myself. That is what writing has always been and always meant to me.”

Jones has produced plays in Detroit, Chicago, New York and Massachusetts that have touched on topics of African-American Vietnam veterans and more.

“Most recently, my focus has been my book, ‘August Snow,’” he said of his three-part thriller set in Detroit. The titular character, August Snow, is the book’s protagonist.

Jessica Guzmán, cultural arts coordinator for the Farmington Hills Special Services Department, said via email that while the youth theater program has been established for 15 years, the department has never offered the Young Playwrights Program before.  

“We really want to give our community youth the opportunity to vocalize what is important to them and have it showcased for the community through the stage production later in the year,” she said.

Guzmán added that participants may choose to write a comedy about the randomness (or not-so-randomness) of being a teenager, a young love story, a drama addressing social issues in the community — only time will tell.  

“The role of Stephen and our assistant teacher will be to help them fine-tune their story,” she said.

Guzmán said that writing a stage script is much different from writing a story, so Jones will work with the students in considering how they see the actors moving and interacting with one another beyond dialogue.  

“It will be the production team’s responsibility to bring this to life, but the young playwrights will lay the foundation,” she said.

Timlin said in an email that freedom is a critical element to this creative endeavor.

“For a project like this to succeed, the environment must be one that encourages free, open dialogue between all the participants,” Timlin said. “It’s simply not possible for creativity to flourish in a closed-minded, judgmental space. It will be important that the participants understand there are no ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ ideas, and the real-life experience of everyone involved is relevant to the creation of the script.”

She added that Jones has a “very easy manner and a wonderful sense of humor.”

“So I know that will put the young writers at ease and in a good frame of mind to work on this project,” Timlin said.

Jones added that limitations also are important in the sense that when the participants have ideas, he will help them channel them into the language of theater.

“Working with them to understand the limitations of theater and how expansive it can be, and simply not to limit themselves,” he said. “Theater is both dialogue and action — it took me a long time to discover that sometimes action is more telling than a piece of dialogue.”

He added that people who have never written before, let alone for the stage, are also welcome because everyone has a creative bone in their body.

“It is just a matter of finding the encouragement to release that creativity and to explore that creativity that benefits all of us. At least that is my take,” he said.

Limited spots are available for the Young Playwrights Program, according to the press release. Students are encouraged to submit a brief application at tinyurl.com/FHYT2018Playwrights. The application deadline is Jan. 12, 2018.

The program will meet on Tuesday and Thursday evenings Feb. 6-May 10, 2018. Participants will need to pay a registration fee of $160 for nonresidents and $150 for residents. 

For more information, call the Cultural Arts Division at (248) 473-1856.