Thomas Nabhan, executive director of Theatre 33 At Willamette University, stands at the entrance to the Willamette University Theatre. (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

Kiele Jarnagin jumped at the chance to participate in a free play-writing course offered to high schoolers by Theatre 33 at Willamette University.

The McNary High School sophomore said the 10-week session that just concluded “combined two things that I absolutely love: theater and writing.

“I love to create stories, and I love everything about the theater community so when I heard about this program, I knew I couldn’t pass it up,” she said.

Her plan after college is to teach drama.

McNary High School student Kiele Jarnagin participated in a special theatre program at Willamette University.

Originally, the play-writing course wasn’t going to be offered.

Theatre 33 sought a grant from the Herbert A. Templeton Foundation, an Oregon charitable organization set up in 1955, to fund a summer Theatre Makers workshop for high school students, said Thomas Nabhan, the theatre’s founder and executive director.

The funds were awarded and then came the pandemic so the workshop scheduled to take place on the Willamette campus was canceled.

The foundation then suggested that Theatre 33 instead seek help to cover the cost of a Zoom playwriting-course.

The Templeton foundation awarded Theatre 33 $4,800 for the project. The funds paid salary, student recruitment costs, operating fees, and the students’ tuition.

Ellen Lewis, an Oregon playwright, taught the class. Students met virtually on Thursdays for three hours over 10 weeks.

At the end of the session, students each wrote a 10-minute play to be read by Willamette University actors for a Zoom audience in January. The online performance will be only for students in the class.

“I think that the students feel intimidated to have their work be available for any other viewers,” he said. “A date still has to be set for the performances.”

Jarnagin’s script follows two best friends who do everything together. One night one of the girls goes out by herself and parties a little too much, which leads to some consequences.

High schools across the state, particularly those in rural areas, were contacted to help select students to take part in the program. Special consideration was given to schools where art education is not a top priority, Nabhan said.

No playwriting experience was required nor were advanced writing skills.

Twelve students was the target number with a limit of two students from any school.

“I contacted more than 40 high schools, and eventually 13 students were recruited from McNary, West Albany High School, Central Linn High School in Halsey, Chemawa Indian School and schools in Adrian, Chiloquin and Tillamook along with two home-schooled students,” he said.

Nabhan intends to discuss how the program went with the foundation to see if it would be willing to fund a similar project.

He said Lewis was chosen to teach the course because she is well respected, and her plays are in production all over the country.

Theatre 33 has helped her develop and produce two of her most recent plays, “Apple Season,” and “Dorothy’s Dictionary.”

Theatre 33 is in its seventh season and assists Oregon and Northwest artists create and produce new plays.

In 2021, the group will operate under Willamette University’s non-profit status.

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