During the spring and fall of 2010, hundreds of students in YPT’s In-School Playwriting Program wrote original plays about everything from vampires to gangs to superheroes. Of the over 500 plays in this pool, a reading committee composed of staff, teaching artists, actors and community members narrowed the group to 15. As part of the committee, I enjoyed having unique insight into our students’ creative processes. I was struck by the overall originality and eloquence of our young people, and especially of those we selected to produce.
For this reason, I was incredibly excited to meet our fifteen student playwrights at the New Play Festival Kick-Off Party on Saturday, February 12. Though I had never met most of these students, I felt I already knew them. Somehow reading someone’s play feels like reading the playwright, even when their story is completely imagined.
We played a game at the party that made the connection between the playwrights and their plays even more pronounced. Students were divided into groups by the night of the New Play Festival they will be produced and asked to embody their protagonist, working together to create a tableau. Program Manager Nicole Jost read play descriptions aloud and the audience had to match the play descriptions with their playwrights. The way the students embodied their characters said as much about their own personalities as those of their protagonists.
The first time Nicole called “action!”, the playwrights that will be produced on April 11 sprung into their tableau. Lauren White immediately flopped onto the floor in imitation of her superhero protagonist, Flatworm, and Marco Anderson growled into place as his fearsome feline, Mr. Jinks. Nneamaka Iwobi struck a confident pose as her singing-sensation character Kelly, while Paul McCoyer looked greedily at imaginary currency as Jack in his satirical play Money, Money, Money.
The tableaus for the Tuesday, April 12, and Wednesday, April 13, performances of the New Play Festival were more subtle. Johana Cedillos and Amber Faith Walton exhibited thoughtful creativity by melding their characters’ dark confusion into a combined tableau representing their plays Scarred with Faces and Changing Tides: Judge Me Gently. Taj Vereen stood in composed calm as the not-yet-existent protagonist of his play The Concept of Conception, while Rasheeda Williams and Saviya Brown moved broadly to display the strength of their characters Morgan and Derrick from A Thin Line Between Her & Us and Taken 4 Granted.
I loved seeing the different creative energies in the room and watching the way the playwrights interacted with each other, their families, and the community members celebrating them. The party was a reminder of what makes YPT unique among theaters in DC.
Yes, we do produce awesome plays. But we also produce awesome students.
The Kick-Off Party was the beginning of a long process of dramaturgy for the playwrights. Click here to learn more about the playwrights and their plays, and don’t forget to celebrate with us at the New Play Festival on April 11, 12, and 13, at 7:30pm, at GALA Hispanic Theatre!
Community Engagement Associate