April 13, 2011
Teddy Becker-Jacob speaks quickly and voluminously about writing, hinting at an obvious passion for his craft. He describes a recent play he has writtenabout a middle-aged man, frustrated with his lot in lifein abstract terms that are reminiscent of a young Samuel Beckett or Edward Albee. Although his eloquence is an obvious sign of this playwrights talent and curiosity, there is one fact about this New Yorker that makes his wisdom so surprising: he is 14.
The young Becker-Jacob is one of hundreds of young writers that each year pass through the doors of Writopia Lab, a nonprofit workshop series that offers young people ages eight to 18 the opportunity to practice and share their work. With locations stretching from a brand new facility on Court Street to Washington, D.C., Writopia is helping budding wordsmiths express themselves in ways they wouldnt be able to otherwise.
Kids come to class afraid to express themselves, said Becker-Jacob of his experience at high school. At Writopia Lab, he said, it is different.
Each workshop at Writopia has a maximum of six students and is taught by a published author; their accomplishments range from Off-Broadway productions to bohemian fiction journals in Brooklyn. The personalized attention given to Writopia students is designed to provide them with an experience unavailable in the mainstream educational system. And the effort has paid off from 2008 to 2011, Writopia students have won more Scholastic Art & Writing awards on both regional and national levels than any other organization.
Its incredible to see the sense of community that develops here, said Jeremy Wallace-Segall, director of operations at Writopia Lab.
The non-profit organization has offered creative writing workshops to budding Shakespeares since 2007, when Writopia was started by Wallace-Segalls wife, Rebecca Wallace-Segall, then a New York-based journalist for theVillage Voice. The program grew out of a small group of New York City students who showed talent and an urge to further their writing skills outside of the mainstream educational system.
This year, Writopia Lab invited both current students and other young people to submit works to Best Playwrights' Festival, a contest that very well might uncover the next Tennessee Williams. Best Playwrights' Festival challenged young writers from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to submit a work for consideration. After a rigorous judging process by a panel of published authors, six pieces will be produced professionally and shown onstage in May. Twelve other pieces will receive recognition, and an established writer will critique each submitted work. The categories for submission included Monologues, Short Plays, and Full-Length plays. Musicals and screenplays were accepted in all categories.
A grant from Worldwide Pants, the television and film production company owned by David Letterman, allowed Writopia Lab to expand the contest to include over 100 submissions and provide professional production to the winners.
This summer, budding literary-types in Park Slope will have the chance to check out the program for themselves when the brand new Brooklyn location opens shop, in the Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation's building on Court Street.
In each class, students spend their time writing very diligently. A teacher helps the youngsters with proper story structure and doles out advice the pedagogy is designed to ensure the kids produce finished pieces. When they are done, they get to write the name of their story/play/poem, with their name, on a wall with a bookcase painted on it. The name of the story goes on the "spine" of a faux book in the faux bookcase.
Students leave the program not only having sharpened their literary skills, but having produced an impressive body of work.
Writopia fills a gap left by a lack of public availability of creative writing education," said Wallace-Segall.
This years Best Playwrights' Festival celebration will be held May 17-22 at the Abingdon Theatre in Midtown Manhattan. Plays will be performed each night of the festival, along with an awards ceremony recognizing all of the Best Playwrights' Festival participants. For more information on Best Playwrights' Festival and Writopia Lab, visitwww.writopialab.org or call 212-222-4088.