First person: A dramatic summer

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Jabari Brisport and Niko

Jabari Brisport, one of 33 Yale Presidential Summer Fellows this year, describes his work with city students in the Dwight Edgewood Project, which staged shows by the young dramatists June 22 and 23. (See related story.)

It’s been a wild ride, working with these kids.

At The Dwight Edgewood Project, we work with 6th- and 7th-grade students from Augusta Lewis Troup Middle School, and give them a crash course in creating a play. In the course of four short, very fast weeks, we teach them to be playwrights, show them the design side of a play, and then put fully produced versions of their works on stage.

In the meantime, we get a crash course in Top 40 Hits, as well as in how to encourage some of them to break out of their shells and how to navigate the labyrinthine psyches of 12-year-old girls. That last task proved one of the more challenging for me — though after decoding some of the complex web of friendships, I feel fully capable of tackling “The Art of War.”

Another great facet of Dwight Edgewood is that the middle-school students (we call them “Playwrights”) are paired up with students from the School of Drama (we call them “Mentors”). So in addition to giving a voice to children who have no theater program at their school, we’re also offering them personal attention on a level they may have never experienced before in their studies.

My playwright, Niko, has a hobby of designing sneakers. One of my favorite moments was telling him that I really needed to buy a new pair, and jokingly asking him when he would design me something. The next day he brought in his portfolio for me to leaf through. They’re all just concepts in Crayola and pencil right now, but that boy has talent.

We also took the playwrights up to camp in the woods of northern Connecticut for a weekend, so they could write their plays while getting in touch with nature. We made s’mores, kayaked on the lake, and had epic writing sessions that lasted hours at a time. Niko and I are both a little nerdy, so we had a lively conversation about insects. Not surprisingly, he ended up writing a play where I’m a French tarantula who makes unlikely friends with a fat, lonely fly.

The show dates for The Dwight Edgewood Project are Friday, June 22, and Saturday, June 23, at 7 p.m. both nights. Each night, we will perform four of the eight plays in the Off Broadway Theater (41 Broadway). Admission is free.

I can’t wait to hear the laughter in the audience as they enjoy Niko’s comedic brilliance. But even more importantly, I can’t wait to see the look on Niko’s face when he realizes how much he’s accomplished.

Brisport, a native New Yorker, is a second-year acting student at the Yale School of Drama and describes himself as a “devoted vegetarian.”

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