Home Support system The Recorder – Youth Mentorship Program of the PitiThéâtre Company in the third season

The Recorder – Youth Mentorship Program of the PitiThéâtre Company in the third season

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Shelburne Falls’ Piti Theater Company’s Valley Playwright Mentoring program began its third season on November 15, providing Franklin County teens with a supportive community to practice, write and perform stories based on their own lives. The after-school program is open to adolescents 13 years of age and older and offers participants a stipend at the end of its six-month duration.

Valley Playwright Mentoring is the first of the theater company’s programs aimed specifically at teens, according to company owner and program director Jonathan Mirin. The idea for Valley Playwright Mentoring arose when Mirin was working at Barrington Stage in Pittsfield, where he was participating in a teen drama program called the Playwright Mentoring Program.

“It was doing the kind of work I’m interested in, which is basically creating original theater where the teens generate the material,” Mirin said. “It’s more about playwrights and content creators.

Barrington Stage blessed Mirin with using his program model, in the hopes that it would give more teens access to theater-based support. Mirin’s Valley Playwright’s mentorship program began in fall 2019, although the COVID-19 pandemic immediately followed and the program went live.

The online forum, however, does not hamper the program, according to Mirin and her students. For an hour and a half each week for six months, teens meet online to chat and rehearse. Meetings begin with a personal recording, followed by improvisations and other drama games that can be played online.

Mirin and the program’s peer mentor, Laura Josephs, teach participants how to write scenes and, over the last two months of the program, let them decide which original scenes they want to finalize into podcasts. The program then switches from Zoom to audio through audio software called Cleanfeed, and is ultimately crafted by sound to completion.

“Our main point is that they have a forum to express themselves and express their ideas,” said Mirin. “It can still work virtually. “

Mirin wants the program to provide a safe space for teens to check in and “go through difficult experiences and make art out of them.” It aims to create community among adolescents, as they develop a sense of the structure of scenes and how improvisation works. Using their daily experiences and interactions to create scenes, role-play, and work through conflict, Mirin believes the developed sense of community is essential, especially during isolation from COVID-19.

“It’s not just about creating a podcast, it’s also about giving teens a space to try out different strategies and different ways of resolving conflict,” Mirin said.

This community has become a (virtual) reality. Mohawk Trail junior Emery King has been with Valley Playwright Mentoring for two years. The coming season will be his third.

“It was sort of my home away from home with the theater. And I just meet people like me who love the theater and don’t really have another place to really express themselves on stage, ”King said.

Valley Playwright Mentoring was a highlight in King’s life during the pandemic. “We take real stories from our lives and then turn them into something we can share with a lot of people,” King said.

King not only found a support system, but learned a lot of technical skills over the past two years. Learning how to make your voice more dramatic on a recording, since teens don’t have a physical stage to work with, has been a skill King believes to be invaluable.

“People can’t see how you act, what you look like or how your body is moving,” King explained. “So you kind of have to do it all with your voice, and that’s something a lot of us have had to adjust to.”

Unlike King, Valley Playwright Mentoring Season 2.0 was 15-year-old Jyn Rankin’s first experience with the program. Rankin has been in theater since he was 6 and found the program to be an outlet during the pandemic.

“We had just come over there and were talking about how our days had been and cool things in our lives and the world, and not so cool things in our lives and the world. And it would become plays, ”Rankin recalled. The writing, editing, rehearsals and recording of the scenes take place every six months.

King and Rankin were both panelists at the Valley Playwright Mentoring Season 2.0 Zoom event on October 24. The event was the culmination of their six-month session, with stage presentations and a discussion of their experiences creating and recording scenes in front of virtual audience members.

Other actors / playwrights who can be heard on Podcasts 2.0 include Abigail Hawk-Wickline from Heath, Rylee Hager from Colrain and Laura Josephs from Greenfield – who is also the program’s peer mentor.

Valley Playwright Mentoring season three rehearsals began Nov. 15 on Zoom, but teens can join in later if there’s room. The podcast scenes from Seasons 1 and 2 are available on his webpage: https://ptco.org/training/vpm/.

The program and corresponding grants are funded by the Community Foundation of Western MA, Mass Humanities, The Art Angels of Western MA, Mass Cultural Council, New England Foundation for the Arts, the Markham-Nathan Foundation and the Horace Moses Charitable Trust.