Drop-in series: Take this class to become a playwright

Inspired by the late Steve Jobs’ commencement speech at Stanford University where he shared how auditing a calligraphy class in college inspired him years later to add diverse fonts to Apple computers, we set out to visit classes around campus that make us think differently about what it means to be educated. This is one in a series of drop-ins.

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a playwright?

You may think it’s the stuff of Shakespeare, complete with quill, ink and iambic pentameter. But playwriting is also modern, provocative – and you can learn about it right here at FIU.

Introduction to playwriting classes are offered during fall semesters, through FIU’s theatre department. Students in any major, without any prior experience, can enroll in the course. The only requirement is a desire to write.

“We work on the theory that one learns by doing,” says Michael Yawney, who teaches a few of the playwriting classes. “Every week our students come in with more writing. It’s funny because at the beginning of the semester everyone is horrified. They think, ‘I’m going to be writing all the time!’

“You have students at the beginning of the semester that could barely crank out two pages of dialogue. And later they’re turning in 20, 30, 50 pages. I’ve had the experience of a student slapping a 70-page play on my desk.”

In the playwriting class – which combines both playwriting I and playwriting II – students learn the intricacies of writing plays together. Each week, they write plays, read them in class and discuss them.

Michael Yawney teaches Playwriting I and II

“We start looking at how plays are structured, how characters are defined, how setting is defined, and the imaginative possibilities that are possible in playwriting – not possible in other mediums,” Yawney says.

A portion of the class is also dedicated to discussing how students can submit their plays to festivals and playwriting competitions.

The course proved eye-opening for Wayne Wilde, a senior theatre major who took the course during the fall 2016 semester.

“This class taught me how to create good things,” he says. “Now I can watch a movie and understand what is going on. Anyone can sit in this class and enjoy it.”

Wayne currently creates marketing and advertisement materials such as videos for the department’s plays. He hopes to one day write and act in his own plays and films.

“Now [that I’ve taken this class] I have the tools to get there,” Wilde says. “I learned action is number one. I learned to show, don’t tell and I learned different devices and tactics used in order to drive the story and make people feel a certain way. Before, I was writing for the story, and now I’m writing to connect the audience to the story, using my characters as a bridge to make the audience feel affected by what’s happening.”

Senior theatre major Sarah Perez, who also took the class last semester, says it has deepened her knowledge of theatre and made her more marketable for employment in the field.

“It’s good to be that person that can write,” she says. “For a career in theatre, why would I hire someone that’s just an actor versus someone that’s an actor and knows how the play works? If you can put on a resume that you’ve taken writing classes, it says something about you.”

Ultimately, though, Perez says, “the number one reason to take this course is that it’s a really fun class. We get to read each other’s plays, laugh and talk about it. Taking this class reinforces that everyone has a story, that all the world is a stage.”

“It’s a lot more than writing plays,” Yawney says. “It’s a class that makes students better people. In order to write a character, you have to put yourself inside their mind. It’s a class for practicing empathy. People become open to other points of view and other ways of thinking. A class in a college shouldn’t just teach you skills, it should teach you ways of understanding.”

That’s playwriting.

Playwriting I and II will be offered during the Fall 2017 semester. To search for the classes and register for them, find them under course ID: TPP 4600 and TPP 4601.

Below is a clip from one of the plays theatre major Athena Watkins wrote in the class. The play is read by theatre majors and playwriting classmates Roselyn Moreno and Mario Alonso.