Youth ‘at the edge’ creating and healing.

PlayWrite, formed in 2003, works with youth ‘at the edge’ to create original plays, powerful vehicles through which their voices are heard. PlayWrite coaches are drawn from the Oregon theater community, and are trained to work one-on-one with each young person. Within the intense structured activities of PlayWrite workshops, these young writers create original art. In the process, they learn to trust, manage, and heal their own emotional experiences; to work collaboratively; and to contribute positively to their communities.

PlayWrite provides creative workshops for under-served youth on an ongoing basis throughout the year. The young participants collaborate with theatre professionals throughout the process of crafting a play, from character development to directing professional actors. It’s a two-way street.

“There is a girl trapped inside this dress that nobody knows…”

“The experience challenged me to explore the depth of my mind and pushed me to express the truth that lays in my heart. I am very grateful for the gifts I received through the process – the confidence to grow, flourish, and nurture the infinite possibilities.”

Kaitlyn, PNHS 2009

Creative Writing
(for T. W.)

At the school for kids on the edge –
The ones who’ve already learned tactics:
To dance/duck/swing/bargain/plead
to have made it this far,
A playwriting program;
And today an especially spit-firey gal
Who finds my questions unbelievably lame.
With one perfectly orchestrated motion of bullying incredulity
She both shoves and flops herself further back into her chair,
Her sternum punches forward, her head tips back, her jaw juts out,
A sitting up, self-propelled resuscitation Annie.
“What?! Oh my God. Are you serious? How should I know?”
She’s writing about a cactus who’s listening to the wind;
I ask her how it sounds, how the cactus hears wind.
A full glottal stop/sigh of disgust and exasperation escapes her lips.
She’s winding up from the inside,
preparing to fast ball pitch herself to me across the table.
“What do you mean how does it sound?! I don’t know how it sounds and my
character don’t know how it sounds. Because it’s just the wind. And everybody
already knows how it sounds.”
Slight snort for emphasis, with a widened eye stare in case I missed the snort.
I do the mentoring thing – wait a bit before continuing on.
She counters with the hard palette tongue cluck. The head shake. An eye roll,
pointedly looks away from me like I’m the Elephant Man,
then sort of turtles down into herself and hunches over.
She’s seen enough of these middle age do-gooder types,
Hoping to make kids love language, from pain create art,
Show the world in a way so resonant and profound an audience will gasp.
…But I’m beginning to think she might be right about the wind question –
Everyone does know how it sounds. It whistles of course, and screeches and
howls and whispers. It rustles leaves, flap/slaps laundry, whisks papers.
Wind’s been done to death I realize.
And just as I decide to tell her she’s right and we should move on,
She seems to squirm out from under a weight, shimmying herself up like a cobra,
Huge heaving sigh, then… “It’s just a little wind –
Like how it would sound if a baby could whistle.”

Written by Alyson Osborn
PlayWrite Coach & Acto

The Hippocampus

The hippocampus, our seahorse, can be seen playfully exploring spaces around PlayWrite. The hippocampus is also a part of the brain, that has a shape similar to a seahorse. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that seems to be most influenced by our workshops.

The hippocampus is crucial to the process of transforming implicit emotional memories into narrative. As the ancient Greeks knew, memory is the mother of all the muses. Without memory, we cannot function as human beings.

For people affected by PTSD (many of the young people we work with have PTSD or related issues), it is thought that memory is held in the right side of the brain and is not appropriately consolidated.

Through the creative structure of our workshops, we enable people to take scrambled emotional experiences and put them into narrative form.

James Pennebaker[1], Keith J. Petrie[2], and other researchers have shown that writing with feeling about significant emotional events has long-term physiological and psychological benefits. These benefits are enhanced when written expression is combined with movement – which the PlayWrite program does. Evidence from the research of Mary Main and her colleagues[3] at the University of California (Berkeley) has shown that people who are able to construct a coherent narrative of their childhood are more likely (>80%) to form secure, healthy attachments with their children, and are less prone to anti-social or violent personality behavior. These data strongly suggest that our curriculum helps break the intergenerational cycle of abuse and neglect. Based on data from the “Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect,” a conservative estimate of the annual cost per child to counteract behaviors stemming from abuse is $66,774. PlayWrite is cost-effective “preventive medicine” for the community as a whole.

But most important, the young writers are creating authentic original works of art.

[1] Pennebaker, James W. “Writing about Emotional Experiences as a Therapeutic Process,” Psychological Science, Vol. 8 Nr. 3 pp. 162-166 (May 1997)

[2] Petrie, Keith J., PhD, et al. “Effect of Written Emotional Expression on Immune Function in Patients With Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection: A Randomized Trial,” Psychosomatic Medicine, 66:272-275 (2004)

[3] Hesse, E. & Main, M.(1999) Unresolved/disorganized responses to trauma in non-maltreating parents: Previously unexamined risk factor for offspring. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 19, 4 ff.

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PlayWrite was AWESOME! It boosted my confidence and helped me learn new ways to express my feelings, thoughts and senses.
- Student