I’ve written two shows for young actors, and trust me… it’s not the easiest thing to do! Young actors want to be challenged with juicy acting roles… and they all want the most lines. They want to do shows with catchy titles… that aren’t babyish or boring. What’s a playwright to do?
Well, before you even put pen to paper, here are some ideas for those of you who are just at the early stages of even considering writing a show for young actors. Consider this Part Zero… the “just thinking about it” phase.
First, figure out what kind of show you want to write, and who you’re writing for. Play or musical? Or what about a play with music? (There’s a difference!) Drama or comedy? Do you want a write a show for youth to perform in, or do you want to write a show to be performed for youth, by adults? (Again, HUGE difference!)
Second, get specific. Let’s assume you’re writing a show for youth to perform in. What age level are you aiming to write for? There is a big difference between what a 10 year old and a 16 year old will find to be cool. Heck, there is a big difference between what one 10 year old and another 10 year old will find to be cool! So why not go straight to the source? When I worked at the LYTE at the Palace summer program, I found it really useful to just ask the kids what kind of shows they wanted to do! One summer they decided they wanted a mystery, which sparked the creation of Inspector Noble and the Figure in Black. The next summer, I did a “pick your brain” session with the Session 3 kids (13-16 year olds) and we had a brainstorming circle, where every kid gave ideas about what they thought was cool, no holds barred, and we wrote everything down. That was even more useful, because it was specific. Be prepared to get a weird and wonderful list of topics that may have absolutely no apparent links to any of the other topics listed!
Third, consider the “tendencies.” Youth theatre companies tend to have larger casts, and more girls than boys. Obviously you cannot write a show with 20 starring roles (even though parents everywhere are wishing it could happen). However, try to consider writing shows with parts that can be expanded (multiple best friends, a group of police officers, etc), or subplots with featured roles. As well, create some characters that can be played by either gender, either by using gender-neutral names (Sam, Jamie, Jordan) or providing alternate names for gender switches (Harry/Heather, George/Georgina, Jeff/Jenny). Try to avoid girls having to play boys. Many are willing to do so, but most would prefer to play girls! Another type of show to consider is an ensemble show, with many characters all contributing to the main plot. Musicals are especially good for this, but it can work for plays as well. Think about television shows like Glee, which features lots of characters, or a soap opera.
Have you written a show for young actors? What are some tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment below!