Professional mentors help young playwrights find their voices

On Saturday, Philadelphia Young Playwrights will stage dramatic readings of plays by young authors in its Paula Vogel Mentorship Program. Five promising young writers were matched with an established playwright for a year to write a workable script.

All are in high school, except for Ethan Brunton, 20, a student at Montgomery County Community College.

His play, “Hades and Persephone: Letters from Hell and Back,” is about the relationship between the Greek god of the underworld and his young bride.

Brunton wrote it with sympathy for the devil.

“He’s by the book, he’s reasonable, he holds true to his deals, he loves his wife,” said Brunton. “The most you can get out of him as being an angry guy is because some of the people he has to work with agitate him.”

Brunton lives with autism. He had been writing short plays through a program for adults on the spectrum at Theatre Horizon in Norristown. He was approached by Philadelphia Young Playwrights to take on a more ambitious writing project through its mentorship program.

He was paired with P. Seth Bauer, a playwright and instructor at the University of the Arts. Bauer saw that Brunton was very good at coming up with characterizations and pratfalls, but less adept at weaving a tale. Bauer urged him to indulge his encyclopedic interest in Greek mythology.

“With god and goddess we have story and plot, which he’s a little less strong at,” said Bauer. “What if we take these plots and adapt them, and sit next to him and help him apply characters objectives.”

Brunton says it helped him make the story more coherent.

“Motivations. What drives these characters to do this and that?” said Brunton, who starts stories by drawing cartoons of the characters. “It would be spelled out enough so the audience can understand.”

Bauer, whose 11-year-old son is on the autistic spectrum, started working with Brunton through email and phone calls, giving him writing prompts and deadlines to keep him writing — a teaching technique that has always worked well for Bauer.

“All my lessons didn’t work,” said Bauer, who had to rethink how he teaches. “He didn’t like doing these prompts that I’ve been teaching for play writing for years. Because his point of view is so unique, it required me joining him instead of him joining me.”

So Bauer asked Brunton to take the train from Norristown to Center City, every Friday afternoon, so they could sit together to grade student papers (Bauer) and write a script (Brunton) to find out what makes the other crack up.

All five plays in the Paula Vogel Mentorship Program will be given dramatic readings at the Asian Arts Initiative Building in Chinatown.

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