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The Story Behind the Story


What makes a good story? We often think about action and events, but just as important are the characters who perform those actions and experience those events. We knew that the characters in A Wild Notion had to be interesting, complex, and recognizable. We also knew that these characters would be middle schoolers, and that we might need to bring in some experts in that field. So this spring, in the very early days of building the spectacle, I had the opportunity to work with four students at Lylburn Downing Middle School – Brody, Maeleigh, Sam, and Rin – to create our three main characters: Max, Iris, and Dany.


Each student chose one character to focus on, and they made a variety of creative decisions about that character: What objects does this person have in their room? What kind of music do they listen to? Who else is in their family? Who are their friends? What are their most treasured objects? I was inspired by the seriousness with which our students took this task, and amazed at how well they knew their characters by the end of the process. Any student could tell you what kind of ice cream, movie, music, Tik Tok video, or breakfast food their character would prefer. They had created fully-formed, three-dimensional, deeply human characters. In other words, they had built the foundation of a very good story.


For our final project, the students helped us write the very first drafts of that story. We needed to write audition scenes for actors, and we found that the most effective way of doing this – and definitely the most fun – was through improvisation. Each student took on the voice and attitude of their chosen character, speaking for them in monologues, fights, and encounters with bears. They shouted, they chuckled, they beamed, and they sulked. That moment – getting to see these characters come to life for the very first time – was one of the most thrilling parts of this experience for me, and I’m so glad that audiences will soon get the same chance to witness these vibrant, complicated, and fully human characters.


 

The recipient of a number of fellowships, playwright Catherine Epstein, to our good fortune, has also been part of the Boxerwood education team since 2021, as comfortable in a river with fifth graders as on stage.

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