"On my bad days it's super hard for me to focus and I really can't write anything, but ... I still try."
Nola James speaks softly and carries a big pen. Shy but sharp as a tack, the sixth grade student at the Lab School of Washington chooses her words carefully, then delivers them with a self-assurance far beyond her years. Whether discussing her favorite subject (Lunch), her pet snake Rojo or her hobby of doing aerial silks with the Trapeze School of New York, Nola seems to have a way of saying exactly what she means the first time around.
That same presence comes across in her work for YPT's In-School Playwriting Program. "Nola's writing is extremely advanced for her age group," notes her Teaching Artist, Farah Harris. "When I first read her play, I was blown away."
Nola's play, which is still in process and untitled, centers on Faith and Jude, brother and sister dancers whose parents are thrown in jail for doing drugs. "We were reading this book in class about these parents who didn't actually do the crime ... but they were still put in jail," Nola says, "so I thought about flipping it around." In doing so, she takes on challenging themes of drug abuse, abandonment and the "shame of having parents in jail."
This is not the first time that Nola has grappled with difficult issues through creative expression, however. At home, she writes and records her own music, much of which deals with her struggles with ADD and dyslexia. "I have learning differences, so it's kind of hard," she says. "On my bad days it's super hard for me to focus and I really can't write anything, but ... I still try."
Through her effort and the unique, arts-based work of the Lab School, Nola has gained tools to manage her learning style and improve her writing skills. "I gave all the students the choice to write their own plays or dictate them," says Farah. "Nola didn't hesitate, and said she wanted to write it herself."
Though she still struggles with translating her ideas onto the page (and what writer doesn't?), Nola is excited to finish her play. Don't ask her how it ends, though: if you want to find that out, "You actually have to read the play!"
We can't wait to do just that.