This afternoon in the Fermanian Conference Center, students from the PLNU theatre and film departments will be doing read-throughs of my high school students’ short screenplays, an event open to the student body. I run a screenwriting club at the charter school that I work at, and I’ve been fortunate to witness the blossoming talents of young writers who’ve concocted a wide variety of characters and stories, ranging from fictionalized versions of Judge Judy to heroic pieces of monterey jack cheese.
The idea for the club came after a helpfully interrogative conversation around the dinner table last Thanksgiving. Conversing with my mom’s cousin Katharine Clemmer, a finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics Teaching, I was reminded that one of the best aspects a teacher can bring to the classroom is passion for the subject. I remember her leaning across the mashed potatoes, her eyes drilling into mine. “What are you passionate about? Really?” she asked.
Unfortunately I couldn’t facilitate a Coldstone club, so I had to focus on my second favorite subject: Screenwriting. Once I garnered enough student interest to appease my supervisors, I was able to form the club, and after a flurry of forms, conversations, and meetings, I was able to offer some school credit to students. The students themselves were excited to engage in a creative program that many had never thought about attending, or didn’t have access to. I too was excited to see them develop as writers and people. As Ryan Coogler once said, “Storytelling is the tool that human beings have to trigger empathy,” something only possible once the author him/herself deeply and truly cares.
Once the club was ready to go, I almost felt like the dog who’d finally captured the postman, what do I do now? I finally decided, inspired by my former teacher, Oxford grad, and theater maestro, Helen Eastman, to have the class revolve around weekly workshops while simultaneously incorporating technology (students have to update drafts via blogs where they also comment on their peers’ work).
A highlight from this past year has most certainly been the opportunity to involve fellow PLNU alumni in the club. Jonathan Pickett, current producer at People People Media Co., has had experience in productions ranging from Sundance to The New York Times, and he was kind enough to Skype into one of our workshop sessions. After a brief Q&A, we read a student’s script to him, and discussed what it got right, and ways to improve it.
This afternoon, we’ll be doing read throughs, on a much larger scale, but with the same amount of fun and positivity. And at the end of the day I couldn’t be more proud of the students’ talent, abilities, but most importantly, kindness. Yes, this is a personal narrative with blatant promotional intentions, but it is genuinely presented with my best intentions. I’ll leave you with this, what are you passionate about? Really? And how can that be harnessed towards helping others?