It was all about character this morning at Day 2 of the Young Writers’ Workshop.
The young writers channeled the energy of last night’s storm as they tried on the shoes of a wide cast of characters, from pop stars and super heroes to monkeys, penguins, and thunderstorms. Led by Lexiyee, they walked around the room trying to capture the physicality of each through walking or moving.
Things got even goofier next when they added voices to characters during an improv exercise. Two participants acted out a scene until Lexiyee called out “Freeze,” and they had to stop in whatever pose they were in. A new person subbed in, assuming the same pose as their predecessor. Then the group came up with new characters and a new scene to fit the poses, and they started all over again.
A penguin escaping an Australian hunter became a mother trying to get her child out of bed, who became Godzilla. The Tokyo citizen escaping Godzilla became a British detective confronting his assistant, who is also the murderer. The murderer became a vindictive high schooler armed with a cranberry juice-filled water gun, which is aimed at her former friend’s new prom dress.
And this was all just the warm-up. After acting out different characters, it was time to write them. The writers numbered off into two groups. Everyone was asked to write down a character on a notecard, and then a topic that a character could be thinking about on another notecard. The cards were shuffled, and each group got to pick a character and topic from the other group’s cards. They completed the activity twice, first practicing writing in first person and then in third person.
For the first person exercise, one group ended up with an old scientist who is trying to create a time machine so he can go study dinosaurs and make millions. He is also an anarchist who hates law outside of his religion. The other group drew an Irish boy named Ping who is also a cannibal (and could be a fish), thinking about an underwear sale.
For the third person exercise, one group had Alexander Hamilton, a 12-year-old king of Switzerland with anger issues, thinking about how there aren’t any trees and people want to see the beauty of them. The other group had to write about a museum curator who hates history and is thinking about how penguins are starting to disappear.
“Today, I was primarily hoping for students to key in on what makes characters worth reading about, worth listening to,” Hunter, who led the exercise, said. “Taking them to the portrait gallery to write with the voice of someone totally different from themselves was supposed to help them realize how complex and ultimately beautiful people (and characters) are. Establishing the voice of a narrator and characters is probably what I struggle with the most in starting a story, so I wanted to make sure the students were able to work on it. That being said, they really surprised me with their ability to latch onto these characters. It was remarkable.”
The writers finished out the morning in the gallery, continuing their practice of writing characters by studying portraits in the “Dawoud Bey: Picturing People” exhibit. Each portrait subject was said to have a secret they were keeping; the writers got to consider what those secrets might be.
–Lacey Brummer, Program Intern