Author and director Stephen Chbosky “stopped by” Ottawa Hills this week to talk about the creative process and bringing art to life with juniors and seniors in the district’s theatre department.
About 30 students attended the 90-minute virtual discussion moderated by Darrin Broadway, a high school English teacher and theatre program director. The invitation idea came from OH parent Jen Gerlach. “The talk was designed to provide emotional support for our students during these times,” Mr. Broadway said.
“I have spoken at many universities. I was totally blown away with the quality of the students' questions and responses,” Mr. Chbosky said. “And I was so unbelievably impressed with Darrin and the theatre curriculum at the high school.”
Students enjoyed hearing about Mr. Chbosky’s 25-year career as an author of books and screenplays and director and producer of films and TV programs. His 1995 independent film. “The Four Corners of Nowhere,” was accepted by the Sundance Film Festival, and became one of the first films shown on the Sundance Channel. His first novel, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” was published in 1999 and became popular among teenage readers but its content was controversial to some. By 2013, more than 2 million copies were in print. Among his current activities: preparing to direct the film version of “Dean Evan Hansen,” the very successful Broadway musical.
Mr. Chbosky had a final message to the juniors and seniors on the call: “To the classes of 2020 and 2021: Teaching provides learning. Questions provide answers. And young people provide inspiration. The Class of 2020 will give us the new roaring ’20s.”
Student participants appreciated his stories and creative tips:
- Claire Petas, junior: “It was really inspiring to hear from someone who has created big-named movies and books that have shaped our culture. I absolutely loved ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower.’”
- Priya Bhatt, senior: “It was so amazing to hear from someone in the industry who is loving what he does, who was in the center of some very cool works that we have seen and loved, and will continue to produce art that will be so important to us over the next few years. I am so excited he is directing the movie Dear Evan Hansen.”
- Yale Miller, senior: “His advice on coming back the next day to rewrite work, knowing when to stop, and finding a standard of excellence are crucial points for people our age.”
- Anna Brown, senior: “His insight and passion truly spoke to me. It was very nice to hear about his journey. He provided a pathway to chase passion and turn it into success.
- Seth Niemann, senior: “I would love to hear from more creative personalities and people. Stephen Chbosky is one of the best public speakers we’ve had at our school.”
For younger students, insights gained from his own experiences will be applied to future writing.
“He mentioned how he wrote all of his ideas down and would show them to an audience, and would see what the audience thinks is a better story or idea,” said sophomore Natalie Timmerman. “He said that if you like an idea that most people don’t prefer in comparison to another idea, odds are it’s because you like a certain piece of a story, for example, a character.”
She took that advice and applied it to a story she previously wrote, one she liked but knew needed work. “By applying his advice, I realized the reason I liked the story is because I liked one of its characters in particular,” she said. “Odds are I will move this character to future works, which is something I wouldn’t have done without his advice.”
Also participating were alumni and current teachers. “Hearing about the creative process of an established writer and director gave me great confidence in the things I am already doing and many ideas on where to proceed next,” said Steve Randall (’18). “He commented several times concerning the originality and the quality of the participants’ inquiries,” added Tom McCarthy, an OH social studies teacher. “Frankly, I think he enjoyed the session as much as we did."
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