When the student survivors of February’s horrific school shooting in Parkland, Florida, started eloquently and impactfully leading a nationwide conversation about guns in America, at least one person was not surprised: Lisa Nelson-Haynes, executive director of Philadelphia Young Playwrights.
“I see this kind of discussion all the time in our classrooms,” says Nelson-Haynes, who was dismayed by the idea that anyone would suspect these kids of being paid actors. “Kids are ready, if given the platform.”
Today, PYP launches the second season of its newest platform for student writers, its Mouthful podcast, with 10 episodes that delve into the world of young people—from addiction, to stress, to menstruation, to coming out, to (of course) gun violence. All of the episodes—hosted by Radio Times producer Trenae Nuri—include a monologue written by a PYP student and read by a professional actor on the air, and a discussion with an expert, or community member, or someone else to offer a perspective on the issue.
Today’s opening episode starts with a monologue written by Constitution High School student Charmira Nelson from the perspective of a cigarette seducing a prospective smoker, then continues with a conversation with a recovering opioid addict who is currently in Narcotics Anonymous. On April 16th, PYP will host a live taping of Mouthful called “Pressing My Issues,” with a monologue by Lankenau Senior Brittany Blythe, followed by a conversation with Kenneth Ginsburg, an adolescent medicine specialist at CHOP and author of Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings.
That episode and event, which will also feature Temple education lecturer Ericka Morris, is targeted particularly at the teachers and parents in teens’ lives. “I need the adult audience to understand that just because we’re teenagers it doesn’t mean we don’t go through hardships like them,” Brittany says.
The Mouthful monologues are chosen from among the winners of PYP’s annual festival. This year, Nelson-Haynes says, some 600 pieces were submitted for the season, up from around 400 last year.
The Citizen wrote about PYP last spring, at the end of its first Mouthful season, which was a natural extension of the 30-year-old organization’s work: Running playwriting seminars in school classrooms, summer programs and after school sessions. This year, Nelson-Haynes says they plan to go deeper, with two live tapings at Center City’s Drake Theater as a way to demonstrate for their students the power of in-person communication. (The second, in June, will be about gun violence.)
“Sometimes we hide behind technology,” Nelson-Haynes says. “We want students to understand that it’s important to have conversations, one on one, face to face, especially if someone may not agree with you. To see how their work impacts people and is part of a dialogue is important.”
Mouthful had more than 28,000 streams of its podcast in the first season, from students, parents and educators here and elsewhere—including a middle school teacher in Richmond, Virginia, who told Nelson-Haynes that she plays the podcast for her students as a prompt for reflective writing in class. “We have parents who have contacted us to say, ‘Thank you. Now we have something to talk about at the kitchen table,’” Nelson-Haynes notes.
Hear new and old Mouthful episodes here. The live event is on Monday, April 16th, 6 pm-8pm, free, The Louis Bulver Theatre at The Drake, 302 S. Hicks Street.Photo via Mouthful