November 11, 2010

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The uses of creativity
Riverbend One-Act contest sets imaginations free

By Adam Coughlin acoughlin@hippopress.com.

Life is full of obstacles. One local artistic director believes helping young people develop their creativity will make it easier for them to deal with these obstacles. Unfortunately, she also believes this is happening less and less.

Toby Tarnow, artistic director at the Riverbend School of Theater, started acting as a child. She hasn’t stopped in 50 years. When she began teaching the craft she would ask herself, “What was it that I loved about acting?”

She realized it was the creative process — working together with writers, actors and directors — that was so special.

“It allows you to create magic,” Tarnow said. “Creativity is a spiritual process.”

Sharpening your imagination also helps you deal with some of life’s hardships.

“The world is always throwing obstacles in our paths,” Tarnow said. “We need to learn to adapt and find ways around them. The imagination does that.”

The imagination, however, is less in demand, according to Tarnow, who said there is less time for the learning process and a liberal arts education.

That is why she uses all the tricks she has picked up over the years to teach students trust, collaboration, relaxation, confidence and of course creativity. As creativity comes from within, it cannot really be taught but it can be inspired. Tarnow said she has developed a process over the years that includes guided meditation. She invites her students to imagine a safe place and then show it to their peers through description. While this may seem an incredibly vulnerable thing for an adolescent to do, Tarnow said they love it.

This process began in the classes she teaches at Riverbend. She would ask students what stories they would like to tell. The students would get ideas from movies, books and television shows. Then Tarnow would put all the brainstorming together into three separate ideas and then kids would write scripts based on those ideas.

Six years ago this concept blossomed into the One-Act Playwriting Contest and Festival. The deadline for submissions to this year’s contest is Friday, Dec. 3 (visit www.svbgc.org). These entries are for plays or musicals that can’t be longer than 20 minutes. A panel of readers, writers and actors will read the submissions and choose three winners for a comedy, a drama and a play with music.

The plays must include consistent characters, a beginning, middle and end, and a conflict of some kind. As a stipulation for receiving a grant from the Nancy O Fund of the NH Charitable Foundation, submissions must have a theme. This year’s theme is giving back. The winners can chose to either star in or direct the play.

Tarnow said the first year of the contest, she wanted one of the board members to announce that it was the first annual, and he resisted because he wasn’t certain there would be a second. But there have been many more, mainly because of the quality of the productions.

Tarnow said they have received several original musicals and have gotten submissions from kids as young as 10 and as old as high school seniors. Some of these students have come back year after year. Tarnow said she’s lost track of others. But the entire experience has been a wonderful process.

“We all have an imagination,” Tarnow said. “It is something no one can take away.”


The Riverbend School of Theater Arts will perform The Man Who Came to Dinner the weekend of Nov. 12-14.

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