Why Should Every Student Take a Playwriting Class (including Science Geeks)?

Many students interested in science and engineering believe that there is no value in taking a creative writing class since they do not intend to become a playwright or a journalist. Yet all humans, including engineers, need to learn creative expression, structure, organization, and logical progression to understand the people and the world around them. Indeed, they must do so to stay at the forefront of technology.

Steve Jobs, in his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University, shared with his audience about how he took a calligraphy class at Reed College that “was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture.” Many years later, he used that knowledge to build fonts into the first Macintosh computer.  Similarly, iPhone 5 is a great example of how technology can be used to address the artistic, cultural, social, environmental and other human concerns. Besides its light weight, iPhone 5 allows customers to appreciate a fine crafted jewelry, not just another smart phone.  Such innovation requires extraordinary creative thinking to make things better. Not only such class a great way to practice and strengthen language skills, it also teaches students how to “read like a writer” and think creatively and logically.

A good story, like a good math equation, functions logically. Because plays are told entirely in dialog and with forward moving action, and are limited by the fact that they must be constructed in 3 dimensional space and told in (at most) a two-hour time span, they give us a chance to study storytelling to see how all of the parts fit together and function smoothly and coherently.

Writing plays also creates a strong foundation in structure, organization, and logical progression that students can build on in their prose and essay writing. In order to fit a whole narrative arc into a mere two hours of performance, a play doesn’t have the luxury to wander; every line must serve the plot and advance the action, just as every sentence in a 250 word limit college essay has to count.

Finally, writing plays also gives students the rare opportunity to hear their words read aloud by others (plays must be heard not just read), which is an exciting and incredibly effective way to immediately identify what additional features a story needs, or what problems have yet to be solved. This kind of training prepares students to become collaborative, good listeners.

For math and science students, studying stories in the way made possible by playwriting is an easy and effective transition that uses the same creativity needed to solve complex equations or devise effective research methodologies, to solve the conflicts of story under the unique constraints presented by such an efficient medium. And because everything they learn about the structure and function of stories is true of all narratives, techniques students learn can be cross applied to both areas in the humanities and the sciences.


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