Playwrights

Students Justin Palomino, Giana Riad, Dominic Perez and Emma Wochner, who wrote the scene "The Runaway," answer questions from the audience after their scene was performed by professional actors at Luther Burbank Middle School in Burbank. (Tim Berger / Staff Photographer / March 27, 2012)

A three-year theater arts initiative designed to strengthen the writing skills of middle school students is drawing to a close as the student playwrights and their collaborators stage a final series of performances of work they've written.

At Luther Middle School on Tuesday, and Jordan Middle School on Thursday, students saw their work brought to life by professional actors from local theater companies.

“Everybody had a great time and the parents were surprised,” said Lisa Dyson, art chairwoman and a parent volunteer at Luther. “I don't think it could have gone any better. It was the perfect culmination.”

A similar performance is scheduled for April 13 at Muir Middle School.

The Center Theatre Group Middle School Playwriting Program was launched during the 2009-10 school year in 10 schools across Southern California, including all three Burbank middle schools. The pilot is part of the educational programming at the Center Theatre Group, a prominent performing arts organization housed at the Los Angeles Music Center.

At each middle school site, a Centre Theatre Group teaching artist partnered with an English teacher to deliver theater and playwriting instruction to one class of students.

“The goal behind the program itself is to really improve student writing,” said Traci Cho, director of school partnerships with Center Theatre Group. “We wanted to add to the education of the overall student.”

In the inaugural year, the sixth-grade students wrote first-person monologues. In the second year, the students, now seventh-graders, wrote a full scene. This year, the now-eighth-grade students were tasked with collaborating in small groups to write a one-act play.

Those plays were brought to life at Luther and Jordan middle schools this week, performed by professional actors for audiences made up of staff, students and parents.

While a formal evaluation of the playwriting pilot won't be published for several weeks, early signs indicate compelling results, Cho said. Teachers reported seeing their students — who demonstrated improved writing skills — in a different way.

“The students are highly motivated because of the lessons brought in by the teaching artists, as well as the actors, to write and continue to write,” Cho said.