Devised with high school students, Searchers lives in the authentic hearts and minds of today’s young adults. With humor, conflict and theatricality, a chapter in the lives of three teens unfolds. Sammie’s parents are divorcing, and if that isn’t enough, her Dad is pressuring her to uproot her life and move with him to another state. Sammie’s best friend, Ben, has been in a traumatic car accident that left his mother disabled. Even though the accident wasn’t Ben’s fault, he blames himself. Finally, loner Isaac longs to be part of a crowd that secretly makes fun of him. All three characters search for answers as a friendship between them grows. An ensemble of peers surrounds these three characters, reacting to the action in the play and speaking directly to the audience, commenting on ideas that resonate with the universal world of young adults. Who am I? How do others see me? Who do I want to become? With a flexible cast and a simple, easy set, Searchers presents a play that will speak to students and parents alike. An optional Interactive Forum between actors who remain in character and the audience offers a bonding experience, brainstorming possible solutions to the issues presented in the play.
CAST: 6 men, 6 women, flexible Ensemble of men and women
Photos: MaryByrne Dailey, curtesy of Ensworth School, Nashville, TN.
A Note from Laurie
The Devising Process
Our goals: To enable a safe, creative space for students to share their ideas, to offer a playwriting tutorial and to devise a play to reflect the concerns and authentic voice of young adults. At the beginning of the process, students agreed to a series of criteria to build trust among the group, including the removal of status. We were all equal in the sanctity of the devising space. What is said in the space stays in the space. Respect and civil discourse are expected. Personal stories were not encouraged, imagination was celebrated.
We began the process by asking a simple question: What do you want to write about that reflects your community and why? Responses to that first question formed the backdrop for our work. All ideas were written down on large sheets of paper and posted on the walls. In small groups, larger groups and whole group, we brainstormed, sharing ideas and making decisions about themes, characters, and actions. At times, students worked independently, taking part in writing exercises. Active drama-based experiences further built community and discovery of possibilities. Throughout the process we explored playwriting tools, including structure, character development, theme, and theatricality. As ideas began to take shape, it was clear that our group would not be able to agree on a single main character. They had fallen hard for the stories we had created for three characters and, although we tried to choose between them, it was impossible. We knew that instead of the traditional single main character, three characters would form the basis for the play.
Armed with a mountain of ideas and three main characters, I wrote the first draft. The next phase was focused on refining the script. After a brief tutorial on dramaturgy, we discussed language adjustments to reflect current teen-speak. We read the play aloud listening to the rhythm and flow of the plot. This gave rise to further brainstorming and rewrites. Our work culminated with a rehearsed reading for a small, invited audience, including the heads of school.
Now it was time to write the production draft and put the play on its feet. During the rehearsal process, more rewrites were realized as the performance came together. Each of us had a role to play – playwright, director, devising group, actors and tech crew. Our director added student musicians, dancers and a DJ. Ultimately, 52 students played a role in bringing this play to life. The students had been committed to every aspect of the project. Now it truly belonged to them. And the performances? Let’s just say our team exceeded my expectations in every way, from start to finish and audiences were not only fully engaged in the play but the interactive forum was received as a welcome opportunity for them to participate, too!
A Note from the Commissioning Director,
We all know that truth can be stranger than fiction, yet we often criticize the stories that we consume on page or screen for being somehow unbelievable or "incredible." If I have learned anything from living within a school community over the past 14 years, it is that these young peoples’ stories can be every bit as shocking, dramatic, breathtaking and beautiful as those we encounter in the news and entertainments medias. The truth is that, ultimately, there is no "bubble" that protects our loved ones from the pains and hardships of this world.
We say, all too often, that "teenagers have it easy,” that "someday" they will learn the burden of real responsibility and stress. I now know better. I have watched teenagers struggle courageously under potentially overwhelming burdens, some remarkably similar to those featured in this play, and some more challenging still. I have witnessed acts of discipline, devotion, compassion and sheer will that have left me humbled. I have witnessed acts of love that have instructed me in how to live my own ideals more fully.
One of the unique features of a Laurie Brooks play is the interactive forum following the action of the story that puts characters and audience members into conversation with one another. Witnessing the earnest and open dialogue between students, their peers and parents that followed the three performances of Searchersaffirmed the belief that led me to reach out to Laurie as a collaborator in the first place: that ours is a community capable of having difficult conversations in a way that is both truthful and loving—even when those conversations have to do with some of the most sensitive issues touching our community. It also affirmed a belief that we built our theatre program upon (at) the foundation of our high school, that a good theatre program, like a good school, is a safe place to talk about dangerous things.
Dozens of Ensworth students worked with Laurie in a series of workshops throughout the school year to conceive and refine the central themes and questions that were to be explored in this new play, as well as its plot and various characters. Many of those students were represented in the cast that finally brought that work to the stage. I would like to thank all of the students who participated in the creation of this work—it would not exist as it does without your honesty, generosity and courage.
I hope that Searchers benefits your community as much as it has benefited ours.