Theatre Design Meets Storytelling: A Workshop

When I was doing my undergrad at University at Buffalo, I heard many colleagues in my program refer to their job as being a “storyteller”. It makes perfect sense. The stage, in my mind, is an entire novel, and each person’s job in that space is a piece to the story line. The director and playwright work together as writer and editor, the actors are the characters, and the designers create the descriptive imagery. Everyone aids the story through collaboration, which makes it such a beautiful, fascinating experience, especially for me as a writer.

Now, since graduating in 2015, I have been trying to figure out where I want my career to go. What kind of work do I want to do? What content do I want to create?

Finding the meeting ground between me as a writer, and me as a designer and artist, has been something I have been struggling to find. I have also been wanting to teach workshops. I really want to get hands on with people, have them express their stories to me through their words and their mighty pens.

In September 2016, I started volunteering at Just Buffalo Writing Center. The workshop coordinator, Robin Lee Jordan, was actually my Writing I professor at UB. It’s been so great catching up with her. Not to mention one of her assignments changed my life, so I am grateful to be able to work with her and all of the wonderful, talented students at the center. 

Originally, I had sent in some prompts on theatre design to be used to start off youth workshops, but they actually had a workshop slot open. Robin offered it to me, so I taught my first workshop EVER this past January!

Excerpt from Play (by JBWC students)

In order to design a story, you need…well, a story. I decided to have the students write the plays that they would be making design theoreticals for. I had them get into groups of 2-3 people and gave them the following parameters:

  • 2-3 pages front and back, with minimal stage direction
  • Keep the amount of characters to the amount in the group
  • Make sure to include at least one of the following – a meal, a midnight stroll, after school, during a snowstorm, or travelling somewhere new

Brainstorming, and basic concept statement

After they had finalized their plays, I asked them to tell me what they thought lighting, set, and costume design each did for the story. We then discussed which out of their suggestions were the most important to keep in mind when designing any story.

To show the students what goes into creating each design, from the initial concept statement and inspiration, to the final product, I used my realized designs as examples.

Also included were these two awesome videos on lighting design – the first having famous lighting designers Natasha Katz and Howell Binkley discussing what goes into lighting design, and the second by Opale actually showing how light changes someone’s face.

It was then time for them to create their theoretical designs! In the real world, you don’t usually get to design your own content, so I made everyone switch plays and design the ones they were given. The students chose to create inspiration through collage. We did presentations for each and then ended the workshop with performances of the plays themselves sans designs.

Below is what was created for one of the plays the students wrote. The play was about two love-struck turtles going on a new adventure.

I am so proud of myself and so grateful that I got the opportunity to do this. I think the students really enjoyed it. I can’t wait to teach another workshop in the future!

Click here to see the piece I wrote about this workshop on Just Buffalo Writing Center’s blog! Also check out my writing blog here.


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