Playwriting contest a powerful testament to youth, young adults, says UCC leader
Written by Jeff Woodard
March 14, 2012

A lot of people think that all Ann Hanson does is talk about sex.

"But they do not understand that sexuality involves relationships, power and the misuse of sexuality to rape, to demean, to bully," said Hanson, UCC minister for sexuality education and justice. "The sexuality thing is about so much more than how to reproduce."

Hanson spoke just days after returning from New York City, where she spent a late winter's day as one of 16 judges - film directors, educators, youth, young adults and media professionals - to engage in a conversation about gender and complete one mission: select from a field of 10 the top two student-authored scripts spawned by the question, "What's the REAL DEAL about Gender, Power and Relationships?"

Thousands of students grades 6 through 12 from two programs, in Cleveland and New York City, submitted manuscripts for plays spanning a broad range of topics. Among them were family violence, love relationships, generational differences, male-on-male rape, incarceration, bullying, dysfunctional relationships, unequal sharing of power in relationships, teen pregnancy, homophobia, and overeating.

"There was a variety of age, culture and experience on the selection committee," said Hanson. "But the most powerful people who came into discussion were the young adults and teenagers. They were very clear about what issues teenagers are exploring and want to hear more about."

Hanson said many submissions centered on bullying or generational differences - "real issues for real teenagers in every culture."

"The project has reached students who had been considered hard to engage," said Hanson. "Students remarked that they were empowered by the project because it demonstrated to them how their lives and experiences connect with the larger world."

Forty scripts were chosen as semi-finalists. From that pool, 10 finalists were selected. The committee then selected two winners and two runners-up - one from each locale. Directors were on hand when the two top entries were announced, noting that their projects were still in the "tweaking" stages. The hope is that the winner's scripts will turn into films that can be used by schools throughout the country.

Hanson praised Maura Minsky, executive director and co-founder of Scenarios USA, for her effective style of consensus-building during the selection process. "Everyone selected their first choices, and favorites emerged right away," said Hanson. "The process allowed everyone to fully share their baseline thoughts in a concise way, and then we moved on."

Hanson said she was the only member of the faith community at the table. "I was there because of the experience I've had regarding the issues of gender, power, sex and relationships," said Hanson. "What we do here in the UCC matters to the people outside the walls of our church. We are advocates in so many different areas. We are looked to in many cases to be leaders in this."

Hanson said her link to serving on the selection committee was Stephanie Wahome, Greater Cleveland project coordinator of Scenarios USA. The two met in January 2010, a year after Wahome had returned to her native Cleveland to provide education and an arts-integrated curriculum for under-served youth through Scenarios.

"What is so valuable about this program is that it isn't just about a writing a script," said Hanson. "Teachers have a curriculum they use. Yes, it's about helping students with their English composition and grammar, but it's also dealing with topics that are not so warm and fuzzy."

Learn more about Scenarios USA.

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