Young Playwright Program Connects With Third Grade Students In Jamestown

Fletcher Elementary School third grader, Silas Watson, watches a fellow student's play being performed virtually by volunteers from Chautauqua Institution's Young Playwright Program.

JAMESTOWN – Third grade students in Jamestown recently connected with the Chautauqua Institution Young Playwrights Project during an interactive Zoom meeting.

Students from Ring and Fletcher Elementary Schools were read plays by over 40 intergenerational volunteers ranging in age from 15 to 95 years old from right on the grounds of Chautauqua Institution to Muncie, Indiana, Florida and Washington, DC.

Of all 235 plays that were submitted by students from across Chautauqua County, 11 plays were selected to be produced by the Chautauqua Theater Company as a part of the 2021 Young Playwrights Project Film Festival, to be premiered in May.

Of these 11 plays, four were written by Ring students Makhia Kinney, Vera Weilacher, Zulymar Santiago Torres and Jason Keller, and one play was written by Fletcher student Nolan Gulotti.

Other plays selected for honorable mention were written by Ring students: Asher Baehr, Charlotte Ring, Anna Irgang, Brailey Melquist, Dominiq Atkinson, Trinity Ovall, and Fletcher students: Allison Blankenship, Kylie Harrington, Samuel Hooten-Perez, Kaiden Cuismanoa and Ryleii Ahlquist.

“We’ve heard back from teachers that participating in all of the Chautauqua Institution Arts Education programming gives students a feeling of normalcy,” said Suzanne Fassett-Wright, Director of Arts Education. “While the programs may be delivered in a different format – they’re still happening. That sense of stability is essential right now. It’s also more important now than ever to make sure students feel they are heard – to have an outlet to express themselves through the arts. This is such a stressful time and it’s easy for kids to feel like perhaps they don’t matter or that they’re not seen. The Young Playwrights Project prioritizes the student voice and lets students know that their stories are important and they should be shared with the world.”

In a typical year, the Young Playwrights Program has three phases: Phase 1 that takes place in the schools to introduce the program and teach the core elements of playwriting, Phase 2 that invites 3rd grade students to Chautauqua Institution to have their plays read by volunteer play readers and Phase 3 that invites all second, third and fourth grade students from each participating school to visit Lenna Hall at Chautauqua Institution to see the selected plays performed.

Fletcher Elementary School third grader, Colin Bell, plays along during the virtual Young Playwright Program with Chautauqua Institution.

In spite of COVID-19, Chautauqua Institution was determined to keep the program going, taking two main points into consideration – safety and time investment for classrooms. They say the safest way to present the program was online, with the best way to embrace the time constraints in the schools was to create materials that could be shared asynchronously, letting the teachers decide how the program best fit into their schedules.


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