Playwriting in Schools (Book)

Dramatic Navigation

John Newman invites teachers to take their students on a playwriting voyage in Playwriting in Schools. The book examines how students who learn to write plays and work with a professional playwright in residence empower themselves and gives instructors tools for teaching the process of playwriting in a way that makes space for the student voice.


John Newman invites teachers to take their students on a playwriting voyage in Playwriting in Schools. The book examines how students who learn to write plays and work with a professional playwright in residence empower themselves and gives instructors tools for teaching the process of playwriting in a way that makes space for the student voice. Playwriting in Schools investigates two main approaches for adult teachers and playwrights to use playwriting as a strategy for student self-expression. One approach is through the creation of fully-developed plays, written either by individual students with instruction from teachers or through interactions between a team of students and a teacher-playwright. The other approach is developing plays through collaborations among professional playwrights, teachers and student actors, crafting new plays in ways that suit the needs, interests and learning of young people. Throughout, Newman and the teachers and playwrights he features express themselves with an artistic generosity that encourages us to widen the scope of our own programmes by introducing students to the vast ocean of playwriting and play development.


Part of the Theatre in Education series.

John Newman is a theater professor living in Sandy City, Utah.




Introduction: Navigating the Theatre Curriculum with Playwriting

Part I: The Practical Navigator – Charts, Tools, and Dynamics

Chapter 1: Phases of Playwriting

1. Preparation

2. Generation

3. Experimentation

4. Determination

5. Clarification

6. Exhibition

7. Examination

8. Production

9. Evaluation

Mapping devised theatre

Chapter 2: Generating and Workshopping Scripts

Preparing students

Grounding students in dramatic theory

Reading and analyzing plays as a class

Partnering with creative writing teachers

Introducing students to professional playwrights

Generating material

Visual image prompting

Rapid-fire prompting

Card prompting


Winnowing and drafting

Experimenting with possibilities

Classroom readings of initial drafts

Descriptive feedback

Variation drafts


Determining the center


Character tableau


Clarifying text

Question selection


Chapter 3: Presenting and Premiering Plays

Exhibiting scripts

Theoretical designs

Staged readings

Examining text

Written responses

Post-reading discussions

Day-after responses

In-the-moment responses

Producing new plays

Premiere productions

Actor interviews

Subsequent productions

Evaluating product and process

Chapter 4: Employing the Tarot Card Mode

The Tarot card model and exercise by Suzan Zeder

Why Tarot?

Leading the exercise

Creating the cards

Laying out the cards

Reading the cards

What the Tarot does

What the Tarot does not do

How to use the Tarot to develop plays in schools

Part II: Ports of Call – Learning Environments for Student Playwriting

Chapter 5: School Productions of Student-Written Plays

Collaborating with creative writing classes

Mentoring student directors and producers

Involving student playwrights in rehearsal

Sounding off: Teacher-advisors at East High School

Chapter 6: Developing Plays through Playwriting Contests

Developing plays through Thespian Playworks

Pre-workshop development

Collaborative casting

Role of the adult dramaturg

Role of the adult director

Theoretical designs

Publication of student-written plays

Developing plays through Young Playwrights for Change

Written feedback

Mentoring by adult playwrights

Staged readings and performances

Sounding off: Middle school playwrights

Chapter 7: Team-Playwriting with Students

Playwriting teams at Le Jardin Academy

Preparing student playwrights

Leading playwriting teams

Sounding off: Students on a playwriting team

Team-playwriting at Middleton High School

Chapter 8: Playwriting-Centered Drama Programs

Friends Academy: A community of equals

An inclusive production season

A vertical playwriting curriculum

Sounding off: Graduates of a playwriting-centered curriculum

Cleveland School of the Arts: A constellation of voices

A collaborating literature teacher

Playwriting-centered drama cohorts

Second draft strategies

A repertory of non-traditional productions

A festival of new works

Part III: Apprentice to a Playwright – Modeling Playwriting in School Residencies

Chapter 9: Preparations for a School Residency 149

Preparing for the voyage

Finding the playwright

Finding the school

Forging the agreement

Financing the venture

Manning the ship

The teacher-director

The teacher-director’s other hats

The playwright

Student actors

Student dramaturgs

Student designers

Expert student participants

Building bridges: Sharing power in play development

Chapter 10: Playwright Residencies at Highland High School

The ARK 5 Project

Development residency at Highland High School

Premiere production at Highland High School

Second production at Middleton High School

Mounting second productions

Developing novel adaptations

Developing a musical

Facilitating playwright residencies in schools

Mounting plays by the teacher-director and students

Addressing technical challenges

Employing guest directors

Reading additional plays by the guest playwright

Letting the playwright process the presentation

Acting with students to experience the text

Sounding off: Student actors in new plays

Chapter 11: Playwright Residencies at Other Secondary Schools

Playwrights In Our Schools residencies at DaVinci Academy

The residency for Escape from the Labyrinth by playwright Ric Averill

Itinerary of a school residency

The residency for Max Bush’s What Remains

Components of Playwrights In Our Schools residencies

Student preparation

Pre-residency development

Workshop exploration

Theoretical designs

Classroom visits

Mentorship of student playwrights

Informal interactions

Staged readings

Post-reading discussions

Chapter 12: Playwright Residencies and Visits at Primary Schools

Developing When She Had Wings with Lucy School students by playwright Suzan Zeder

Engaging with children in research

Discussing the script with children

Exploring design possibilities

Finding an alternate title

Involving children in rehearsal and production

Child learning in the script development of When She Had Wings

Project-based, arts integrated learning

Social skills development

Seeking clarity and dealing with ambiguity

Validating children’s perspectives

Design collaboration with children for When She Had Wings

Confronting limitations creatively

Balancing child perspectives with adult expertise

Emulating the “Wings Project” 

Playwright classroom visits for Lily Plants a Garden with the Bonderman Symposium

Epilogue: Embarking on Your Voyage of Discovery


Books on teaching playwriting

Books on play development

Books on devising theatre

Online resources




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