The Playwriting Project pairs a professional theater artist with incarcerated/probationary youth for 30 hours to create an original one-act play, based on their greatest wish or fear. The artist-mentors challenge youth to generate a captivating setting, create compelling and consistent characters, tell a dramatic story, explore a conflict, and achieve a dramatic climax and resolution; all within the world of metaphor. Using the world of metaphor allows young playwrights to share autobiographical stories behind a protective mask. They learn important creative writing, literacy, and critical-thinking skills, as well as social-emotional skills like communication, problem-solving, and self-assessment. The work they embark upon requires intense self-reflection and strong persistence, which can lead to deep emotional healing.
The Project culminates with professional actors performing staged-readings of our students’ plays before a live audience of community members, including the youth’s parents, peers, teachers, and caseworkers, earning the youth a new title: playwright. By empowering youth artistically, EORO gives voice to a population too often voiceless. The project’s public recognition has the tremendous potential to demystify misconceptions about the juvenile justice system, changing how the community views incarceration and how marginalized youth view themselves. As Mario says, “I think that’s been the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life. Seeing my play and my words come to life was amazing. Nothing makes my heart feel better. Seeing the actors, the words, the people crying—that shows me that what I have in here, can really affect people and touch people’s souls.” Over 70% of Playwriting participants voluntarily enroll in a second Success Centers program, acquiring important health and life skills knowledge or working one-on-one with a second mentor as they earn their GED, graduate from high school or prepare for the college placement tests.