It’s happening.

Maybe this is the natural order when middle age creeps in.

It’s become harder and harder for me to distinguish what was real and what’s been altered/amended/adjusted by that gauzy scrim of time.

I actually hear myself (wince!) say things like “when I was a kid fill in the blank…”

But one thing’s for sure: when I was a kid, we didn’t have cell phones.

And at PMP’s Thursday night session in North Adams, cell phones—or putting away cell phones—is the first order of business. Not that this requires much coaxing from Kate and Leandra, the Artistic and Peer Mentors. The 12 participants know the drill: no “devices”. Add to that the posted adage “What happens at PMP stays at PMP.”

We are here. Present Tense.

Chairs in a circle and a weekly check-in, Roses and Thorns. This judgment-free pulse on the week induces laughter, camaraderie, kind words for anxieties expressed and occasionally, Kate’s probe for a deeper response. Next, some warm-up games to loosen our limbs and shake away the week’s cobwebs.

And then the pace picks up. The kids divide into two groups. Though Kate and Leandra guide the exercise, the work is all theirs: in less than five minutes, they create five wordless tableaus that convey a storyline with a beginning, middle, and end.

Ideas are tossed around and roles assumed, with everyone contributing in equal measure.

One group presents; the other group observes and then interprets what they have just seen.

The piece is critiqued. Can that emotion be “dialed up”? What are the spatial relationships? I realize that this is not about “acting”; it’s about developing a vocabulary for analysis.

Back to the drawing board, with two minutes for tweaking, and then another chance to share.

As a writer, I’ve been in more critique groups than I can recall, but these PMP kids’ editorial acumen was as sophisticated as any I’ve known.

At 7:55, we’re back in the circle for one final, unifying Check-Out. Next week, Chris, the group’s Playwright Mentor, will be here. He’ll start to get a sense of what can be mined from the improvs and possibly shaped into plays.

But right now, it’s 8:00 and time to put on coats, retrieve phones, and head out into the November night.

There is the world before 6 pm. And after 8 pm this world continues to spin in its orbit. But for two hours we are on the 2nd floor of St. Patrick’s Church. There is no math exam, tweets, text messages or anything else the world presses upon us. We are all here, in this moment.

And this moment is more than enough.

Meet our PMP Blogger

playwrightphotoJane Denitz Smith is a proud member of Dramatists Guild, through whose aegis she recently held a staged reading of Death by Chocolate and Barbecue, new full-length plays. Most recently, Spread My Ashes By the Rental was part of the Made in the Berkshires Festival. Last May, Mary Durning’s Soup and Other Cultural Divides was included in Boston Theatre Marathon. Ten-minute plays have workshopped in Jen Whiting’s Ten-Minute-Play Workshop podcasts and, in 2011, scenes from After Prom, a full-length play, were staged as part of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers. Jane is the author of three Young Adult novels, published with HarperCollins. She teaches and lives with her family in Williamstown, Mass.