Online Play Readings Help Students Develop New Work


Student Play Reading Series, 10/14/20, GVL / Jonathan Eloi Lantiegne

Chavala Ymker

Editors Note: Participant in the Play Reading Series, Chavala Ymker, detached herself from while she covered the event and interviewed her peers.

It was 6:30 p.m. on a Thursday night as Grand Valley students ranging from freshman to alumni gathered on a livestreamed Zoom call with associate professor of theatre, Jim Bell. The fourth and final night of the Student Play Reading Series was about to commence. While theatre struggles to find its place in the new online world, the Grand Valley Department of Music, Theatre, and Dance  is creating a space for student writers to share new work. 

The four playwrights–Meredith Fletcher, A. Shull, Chavala Ymker, and Hamlet Arnott–were all a part of an independent study Playwriting II class in Winter 2020. By the end of the semester, each student had a rough draft of a one act or full length play. When the planned public reading didn’t happen in April, Bell and the students knew that somehow they would make sure their scripts had the chance to come alive.  

As a playwright himself, Bell sees playwriting as the foundation of theatre and he is excited about how the new scripts can show the full capability of theatre.“Often students will ask me why we can’t do plays relevant to them, and new plays help us see that theatre is not a museum. We are a part of theatre-making,” Bell said.

Public readings are important for these playwrights because it gives them a chance to hear the dialogue out loud and receive feedback from an audience. “It’s exciting for the audience to come into the process early and join in and contribute to the play’s development ,” Bell said, “And whatever form the comments come in, they are always formative in development.” 

Like many theatre students, Hamlet Arnott came to the program primarily interested in acting, but after taking Playwriting their freshman year, they knew this was something they wanted to pursue. On Thursday night, Arnott shared their script entitled “Saga

Arnott knew they wanted to tell a story that captured their experience as a nonbinary person, “You don’t see many nonbinary characters explicitly in art and if so, they’re not by nonbinary artists and thus they are tokenized. I wanted to bring my experience to a wider audience.”

One day, Arnott hopes to get “Saga” fully produced, and this public reading was the first step, “It’s really cool, taking it outside the academic environment and opening it up for the community to get actual audience feedback.”

As Bell puts it, “Writing is personal and theatre is not. It’s hard to put it onstage but this is a safe and productive environment where there can be a lot of growth.” 

After the reading, the playwright took public comments, and the cast and the other playwrights discussed the script. It was clear that Arnott had effectively captured the nonbinary experience  in a powerful way. By the end of the night, critiques had been made and Arnott was one step closer to the dream of production.

New play readings are exciting on all levels of the Grand Valley Theatre Department. Actors enjoy being the first person to bring a character to life and other students are getting excited about the possibility of taking the Playwriting I class offered next year. 

Bell encouraged each playwright to do something with their scripts. “I want you to do some kind of editing after receiving this feedback. Then find somewhere to submit it for development,” Bell said.  

You can watch all of the recordings on the Grand Valley Music, Theatre, and Dance YouTube page.