Seven actors with PlayMakers Laboratory are seen onstage, performing in front of a curtain with colorful graphics and blocks with cartoon images. Three people are in the background on the left, three on the right, and the person in the middle is wearing a short purple wig, headset, and a PlayMakers T-shirt with jeans. They appear to all be dancing and singing.
The ensemble of PlayMakers Laboratory Credit: Evan Hanover

PlayMakers Laboratory (PML) stands out among other theater and arts education programs for its unique approach to teaching creative writing—and so much more—to Chicagoland area students (grades three to six).

What sets PML (founded in 1997) apart is that the adult actors and musicians in the program adapt the students’ written stories into sketches and songs, which are performed for the schools and later for the public (for most of their history, through the long-running That’s Weird, Grandma). This way, students not only learn to express themselves through writing but also get to see their stories come to life onstage. That’s Weird, Grandma went on a pandemic pause in 2020, but the company hopes to bring it back soon. Meantime, the company has been doing other occasional public performances, including touring with the Chicago Park District’s Night Out in the Parks series.

In a world where many young people spend a significant amount of time alone in front of screens, PML provides opportunities for social-emotional learning and confidence building, as well as creative expression and collaboration.

PML’s story of perseverance, growth, and change is also inspiring. In January 2022, the company almost closed because of financial constraints. But with the help of generous donors, PlayMakers returned to in-person teaching and playmaking in spring 2022. The support PML received highlights how important its emphasis on community, collaboration, and ensemble has been for creating change and empowering young people.

PlayMakers Laboratory

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