Theatrefolk - The Drama Teacher Resource Company

Playwright Spotlight: Get to Know Todd Espeland

Welcome to "Playwright Spotlight" — your exclusive backstage pass to the creative minds crafting the incredible plays featured in our Theatrefolk catalogue. Discover the magic, quirks, and genius of the playwrights who help bring the stage to life. Let's meet one of these exceptional playwrights who offers the chance for your student performers to shine in their spotlight.

What inspired you to start writing plays specifically for high school & middle school students?

When I was hired to be the Executive/Artistic Director of the Fort Wayne Youtheatre I had an opportunity and a platform to create shows for our youth and to write plays that addressed their needs and interests. It's been great to create plays for our young artists with this in mind.

Can you share a bit about your creative process when developing plays that resonate with students?

I have a strong background in Commedia Dell Arte, so one of the first places I start is identifying character in the plays I'm creating. I think actors of any age respond to character and want to play strong, clear characters.

Are there any challenges you face when writing for student performers, and how do you overcome them?

Because I have been doing adaptations of classic novels I have to start by identifying what themes in the novel will resonate with young artists and young audiences in addition to writing strong characters. In Treasure Isalnd it was about overcoming fear. In Wind in the Willows it was about loyalty. Having a strong foundation of "Why tell this story" helps in the writing

How do you balance education and fun in your scripts?

Again, it comes back to character. Making the characters needs and tactics clear, understandable and fun to play. In the case of The Wind in the Willows I wanted to give the actors a chance to play these funny characters who used all kinds of tactics to get what they wanted. Toad is such a spoiled, manipulative brat. Its fun to play a character like that. It helps the actors become stronger at their craft to be able to understand and play all the tactics needed to bring a character like that to life.

Any advice for teachers or directors looking to choose engaging and age-appropriate plays for their student performers?

Find the thing that will hook your actors and engage them. It doesnt matter if it is the subject matter, or playing character, or a play that has stage combat, just find the thing that will hook your students. That hook will ensure they work hard and be excited for every rehearsal.

What is your favourite play you've written so far?

The Wind in the Willows. I got to flex my Commedia training in creating the characters in that play.

Anything else you'd like students and/or directors to know about you as a playwright?

I am a produce of all my failures. Don't be afraid to fail at something. The lessons you learn from failing ultimately make you stronger.

Products referenced in this post: The Wind in the Willows

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