When Joe Angel Babb joined the Alley Theatre's education program in 2001, the theater was already recognizing high school playwrights for their efforts with a competition resulting in a staged reading of the winners.
"Being new and wanting to make an impression, I said why don't we invite the playwrights to a workshop, to participate?" Babb said he suggested. Instead of just showcasing the work, it became a development program for young playwrights trying to learn about the process of bringing a script to stage, says Babb, who is now the director of education and community engagement for the Alley.
This summer for the 16th year, the Alley has engaged selected students in HYPE (Houston Young Playwrights Exchange) where they gain practical tips, a chance to rework their plays, and a mentor who'll help keep them going. Playwright Alvaro Saar Rios, an established playwright now working in Minneapolis, who graduated from the University of Houston, comes in and works with the students as well.
Students submit their 10-minute plays. "We used to be thrilled at 40 plays," said Babb. "We hit a high mark this year of 174 plays." Then everybody they can find reads all the plays and the number is whittled down to six. Each play is evaluated by three different people. Andrew G. Hager, Alley's school programs manager, "probably reads 90 percent of the plays," Babb said.Those six students are offered a chance to be in HYPE for the summer and then on August 3 and 4 this year there will be three staged readings of the HYPE playwrights' work at the Alley.
Over the years, as the Alley has increased its outreach to students, it has moved to pretty much a year-round involvement. "At first it was clinics that we would host here," Babb said, usually around the start of each year. "Then we started putting together the idea of workshops and the workshops became a residency. The residencies are done in the classroom."
The HYPE program is much more enhanced than the residencies. "The residencies are: How do you write a play? The summer:How do you re-write a play? How do you deal with a director and an actor. If it's a new work, how do you birth it? We do a lot of training on criticism and feedback."
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Kids have taken these plays and submitted them to competitions and won, developed them further and seen them performed. So when asked if any of these plays will ever be performed professionally, Babb said emphatically: "Absolutely."
The next step he hopes the Alley will take, Babb said, is to go beyond the "reading" and actually stage at least one of the selected plays each year. He also calls it "potent" when other students come to the readings and see what their peers are capable of and "see that people are taking them seriously."
Students in this year's HYPE program are Deion Williams, 18, John H. Reagan High School with "Adopting Aunt Tabitha;" Skye Puckett, 18, Texas City High School with "The Death of Beauty;" Tikia Hudson, 18, the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts with "I Never Knew it Could Be Me;" Juana Granados, 16, YES Prep Southeast with "Lost His Marbles;" Ashley Blattman, 18, Taylor High School with "Unmasked;" and Justin Lau, 16, Carnegie Vanguard High School with "The Writer."
The HYPE readings at the Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Avenue, are scheduled for Friday, August 3 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, August 4 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $5. For information call 713-220-5700 or visit the theater's website.