The Hero’s Journey

“The notebook is an extension of your hand.”

These wereamong the opening remarks made by Program Director Katy Karlin on this first day of the Young Writers’ Workshop. Twelve pairs of eyes peered up at Katy before glancing back to the notebooks they’d selected and begun decorating moments before. If the excitement of this year’s group of young writers wasn’t palpable when they first walked into the Beach Museum, their faces warmly lit with genuine curiosity, there was no missing it—or feeling it—now. Some clutched their notebooks a little tighter; others gave their covers a stroke that may simply have been a subconscious reaction. Whatever their reaction may have been, one thing was made clear by Katy’s words: for the next week (and hopefully beyond), these notebooks were their lightsabers, their wands of choice, and they were the heroes that would be wielding them.

As it turns out, this hero metaphor is quite fitting, given the questions posed to our young writers at the start of the morning: 

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Our young writers came up with some pretty creative responses.

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I want to meet this puppy!

After a couple rounds of ice-breakers like “The Name Game” and “Two Truths and a Lie,” our pen-and-paper heroes were given a short lesson by instructor Carmen Schober about “The Hero’s Journey.” The Hero’s Journey includes:

1.      Their power: These can be super (telekinesis) or ordinary (good with a bow and arrow).  

2.      Their destination: Where is the hero going toward, and what must they do to get there?

3.      Their “demon” or obstacle: What is preventing the hero from reaching their goal?

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Instructor Carmen Schober explains “The Hero’s Journey.” 

The writers were then given four sheets of construction paper and asked to list on each: A hero (from literature or film/TV), a superpower, a destination, and an obstacle. Each had either a hero, superpower, a destination, or an obstacle taped to their back, and then the Guessing Game ensued:

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You’ll never guess…

After this activity, the writers broke into smaller groups and performed a visual activity incorporating pieces of the Hero’s Journey exhibit in the Beach Museum, led by Beach Museum staff member Kelsey Longpine. They analyzed two portraits—one of Sleeping Beauty and one that a writer compared to the Russian Revolution—and debated the journey these heroes were on in their respective portraits. Our writers stretched their creativity to impressive heights: Was Sleeping Beauty alive, or was she dead? Was the woman leading her child to the gates of revolution for protection, or to set an example for her offspring?

Following the visual activity and a filling lunch, the first visiting writer arrived: Catherine Trieschmann, an award-winning playwright based in Hays, Kansas, whose work has been produced Off-Broadway as well as in London*. Catherine’s presentation closely dovetailed with what the young writers had been working on all day–the hero’s journey. 

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“A play is an embodied platform.” – Catherine Trieschmann

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“Like the hero’s journey, plays are driven by action.” – Catherine Trieschmann

After breaking down the play as a format to its smallest yet most crucial part—the scene—Catherine had the writers participate in a little improvisation by creating a scene based on a photograph of an older man and young woman sitting next to each other in a subway station. Another improv exercise had the writers creating a scene between two people and “filling in the fabric” by creating internal obstacles that were brought to life. 

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 “What’s your objective? I don’t know!” 

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“You want your want to be big.”

Their toes now wet in the art of setting the scene, the writers were tasked with a mighty challenge: Go back to the picture of the old man and young woman at the subway station and write a scene of their encounter…in play format.  

Could our writers overcome this obstacle and reach their destination of an effective scene?

The answer is yes. Like all great heroes, the writers faced down their challenges and emerged victorious, crafting scenes that were equal parts smart and touching.

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These young writers are just that good.

With the first day of the Workshop concluding as a thunderstorm looms over Manhattan, the spirit within our young writers couldn’t be further from the dreary scene outside. In the course of one day you can already see transformations beginning to unfold. Camaraderie has developed between some as they get acquainted as scene partners. Confidence mounted as their work was applauded by their peers. Whether they notice it or not, the young writers are starting to see themselves as heroes of sorts. Pens may not be lightsabers and notebooks may not be spell books, but the first important step in becoming a hero is realizing your own potential. It’s clear that the writers have started to realize their potential, and though their journey is not yet complete, they’re all off to a fantastic start.

No, fantastic doesn’t truly cover it. Call their first day…heroic.

~ Dustin Vann, Program Assistant

*For more information on Catherine Trieschmann, visit the following links:

Discussing her latest play, The Most Deserving: http://www.samuelfrench.com/breakingcharacter/?p=2025

This spotlight from The New York Times alongside fellow playwright Eric Coble: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/20/theater/catherine-trieschmann-and-eric-coble-on-the-writing-life.html?_r=0

Bonus images of the day!

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During our name game ice-breaker!

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Even our instructors–and Program Director!–got in on the improv!

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No one said writing was easy!

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