On May 16, 2014, Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) professionals from all over the world made their way into the Family Theater at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Laughter echoed off the wood-panelled walls as they caught up with old friends and admired the elegant space where they would spend the next three days.
They had assembled for New Visions/New Voices (NV/NV), the Kennedy Center’s biennial TYA conference and international showcase of new work. They had come from Atlanta, Minneapolis, Ireland and France. They had brought scripts, business cards and notepads for sharing ideas on how to engage new audiences and communities. They were prepared for three days of readings, panels, lunches and happy hours. They knew what they were in for.
Or did they??
Before they even had time to settle into their seats, the NV/NV audience found out they were in for a treat – YPT was in the house! Jumping onstage, YPT Artistic Director Nicole Jost announced that she had some special guests in tow who wanted to say a few words about what playwriting means to them.
To the surprise and wild applause of the crowd, out walked YPT playwrights Joshua Brown, Sam Burris, Nakia Greene and Reyna Rios! One by one, the playwrights introduced themselves, told the crowd “what kind of writer” they were, then read an excerpt from a story or play they might write for New Visions/New Voices 2020.
Their pieces, as always, were as wonderful as they are. Take a look!
Hello, my name is Joshua Brown. I am an animal playwriter. I write plays about animals. (Huh?? What?? OH!! OK). My dog, Buddy, wants me to tell you that there’s a BAD guy named Serpent on the loose! (Huh?? What?? Speak up!) Oh, yeah. He’s gone for now. In case you don’t know … Serpent is EVIL! EVIL!! EVIL!!! Oh… Did I mention that he’s EVIL!? He kidnapped Buddy when he was a pup and tried to make him fight in a Dog-Fighting Arena. OK … I’ll stop talking now. Hope you enjoy my little skit!
The Bestest Friends/The Biggest Battle, Part 2 (for Part 1, click here!)
The Awakening: Serpent’s Revenge
JOSH: Buddy! Give me the remote! I know you have it!!
BUDDY: Woof! Woof! No I don’t! WOOF!
JOSH: Yes you do!! I saw you with it yesterday!
BUDDY: I’m trying to catch a squirrel! Be quiet!
JOSH: Hmmm… (Thinking)
JOSH uses his super speed to run outside and scare the squirrel away.
BUDDY: Hey!!! You did that on purpose! What do you want!?!?
JOSH: I want the remote to the TV!!
BUDDY: I don’t have it. WOOF! It was destroyed in the battle with Serpent. Remember?
JOSH: Oh yeah… (Scratching his head) Speaking of Serpent, we haven’t seen him in FOREVER! What if he comes back?
BUDDY: Don’t worry … we FINISHED him off! (Grrrrr!)
Scene 2: Ten weeks later
SERPENT under rubble.
SERPENT: Oh… What??… Where am I?? Oh yeah!! That Stupid Dog and that Stupid Kid!! I’ve got to get my REVENGE … And the only way to do that is to get that Stupid Dog’s Powers!!! But how??………….
To be continued…
Hi, my name is Sam Burris. I’m a playwright and I suppose a storyteller.
This is my Blue Bear. Say hello Blue Bear! My grandma got him for me in Paris when I was born. In case you haven’t notice, Blue Bear isn’t doing too great… Poor old boy has seen a lot. We’ve been through everything together. He’s been with me from my first step, to my first kiss, and even my first day of college. We’ve travelled around the world together and, well, Blue Bear is finally showing some signs of wear and tear. He’s lost an eye, his nose is coming unraveled, his legs are falling off… I don’t know what I’d do without him… So a few years ago I started looking for a way to make ‘ole Blue better! I would do anything to help my oldest friend, I mean who wouldn’t? I scoured the internet, combed through old library books, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find anything anywhere about how to put Blue Bear back together, and that scared me to death. I could only think of one other place to look. Grandma’s house. She must have some ancient secret hidden away right? And I was right. She did. Out from the pages of a dog eared and yellowed copy of “Mother Goose” fell a slip of paper, with the title “How to Fix Your Teddy Bear” scrawled across the top. I couldn’t believe my eyes! After all this time the solution to my problem was in the palm of my hand.
How to Fix Your Teddy Bear
Step 1: Gather all of the bits and piecesyou think you need to fix your teddy.
Step 2: Put them all in a small bag and put them somewhere safe.
Step 3: Hug your teddy!
Wait wait wait… This couldn’t be right! Blue Bear wasn’t fixed, he was just the same as he was before! This guide was completely worth- Wait, what’s this? Just then I noticed a note scribbled at the bottom of the paper…
P.S. I bet you’re wondering how that fixed your teddy bear… Simply put, it didn’t need to be! Your teddy bear was already perfect! All its little flaws are what make it your teddy bear, what make it special!
And then it hit me. I never loved Blue Bear any less because he was falling apart. If anything I loved him more because all those imperfections reminded me of all the adventures we had had together. They reminded me that he was my friend. My Blue Bear.
My name is Nakia Greene. I’d call myself an experimental writer. I like trying different styles, different plots and different settings. There are an infinite amount of universes to explore, and I want to discover them all. I’d write a story:
“So,” John starts, almost at a loss for words. “You lost.. everyone?”
The stranger smiles and nods solemnly, his face dark. John’s heart twists.
“Yeah.” He stares at his now cold coffee, falling silent. John’s only known him for almost an hour, but he can clearly see the change in his demeanor. He tries to start, but the stranger opens his mouth before he can.
“It isn’t like the movies, really. You don’t get a new set of people to love; you don’t get a happy ever after.” His voice cracks.
John apologizes for the upteenth time that night, hesitantly putting an arm around the boy’s shoulders.
“I wish I could understand.” He says, quietly. He’s being honest; he can’t. John grew up in a wealthy household, John grew up with his family, John didn’t know real heartache.
“No, you don’t!” The stranger loudly says, suddenly breaking out of his stupor. “I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.” John’s arm retracts impulsively as he jumps at the sudden boldness.
The stranger dons a sheepish smile, and John rolls his eyes in a mock fashion. The quick moment of zen is gone, though, as both faces turn somber. A pair of eyes return to cold coffee. A different pair focus on those. The soft jazz of the diner’s jukebox plays idly.
John’s gaze is intense. He waits for the stranger to continue.
John licks his lips before speaking, and he looks away.
“I…” He forces himself to continue, words tumbling out of his mouth. “Do you… do you ever regret things?”
The stranger stops brooding for a moment to weigh the question.
“Unconsciously, yeah,” He says, shrugging a little. “But. I don’t think I would actively change anything that’s happened to me.”
John doesn’t reply, silently urging him to go on.
“I guess… my experiences make me, me? I don’t want to change that. I wouldn’t be the person I am right now without those experiences.” He looks up at the ceiling, contemplating what he just said.
John hums thoughtfully. “I think I can understand that, at least.”
The stranger turns to him, and stretches out an arm. “The name’s Michael, by the way.”
I am an every-character-is-the-love-of-my-life writer.
Recipe for Happiness
Year 2020. “Hello I’m Jasmine, 26 years old, teacher at Powell Elementary school.”
Jasmine walks out dressed in all grey. She sits center stage.
On stage lies lipstick, she puts it on her hand and says, “Wow, I like this color on me… What?” She looks surprised at what she said. “Wait, I can talk? I thought that the only words that I could say were all in my mind.”
She looks at some flats on the floor, “Hmm, what are these?” She puts on the flats and starts to dance. “What am I doing? I like it. It feels… it feels liberating!”
While she is dancing she steps on a piece of paper and a pencil. “Ouch, what did I just step on?” Picks up pencil. “Hmm, I wonder if this goes with this flat piece of something?” She puts pencil to paper, and draws a flower. “This is so pretty, I wonder if these exist somewhere… I’ll call it a flower. ” Writes “sausage” on paper.
Jasmine starts looking around the room for some flowers and a mirror, “I wonder who that is. Wait, its copying me. Stop copying me! Wait is that me? Am I that girl?…. Hmm, I have to say that I look pretty. Except for this clothes.” Jasmine takes off grey shirt and underneath has a floral patterned shirt. “Wow, that is a lot better. Look at me,” moves her hand up, “Wearing color, on my hand and looking pretty with my new sausage shirt.”
“But I can’t help but feel like something is missing, I can talk, I can dance, I can draw, I can write, I can fully express myself.” Spins around.
She walks around the stage, and notices a door. She knocks on the door, but no one opens it. She turns the knob, and walks through the door. She sees someone else sitting down with grey clothes. She walks toward them and touches their shoulder. “Hi, My name is Jasmine… Jasmine That sounds like a nice name. I’m keeping it… What is yours?”
The person looks up, but doesn’t say anything. “Hmm.” Jasmine walks around the person. “I have color.” She takes out the lipstick and draws a line on their hand. The person looks at their hand. “I’ve never seen that before.” The person slams their hand on their mouth. “What? Did I just say something?” Looks surprised, “I did! I did just say something!”
Jasmine starts laughing, “You are just like me! You probably don’t know many things.” She looks down at her shoes and takes them off. She hands them to the person sitting down. “ I am going to teach you everything I know! To dance, to write and draw, to express yourself. I will be your teacher!” Jasmine laughs to herself.
“Who would have thought, I found what I was missing. Another person to share my thoughts, my laughter, myself with. I thought that I was alone, that I wasn’t capable of anything, but maybe there is a purpose in me. Maybe I was meant to teach. ”
Reyna ended her time by telling the audience a bit about YPT and the importance of arts education, then our fantastic playwrights left the stage to a standing ovation.
What was the reaction of the crowd? Let’s take a look at some of the tweets that came out of New Visions/New Voices that day…
They like us—they really like us! In fact, YPT Founding Artistic Director Karen Zacarías – whose musical, Oliver of Brazil, was performed at NV/NV this year – said that we were the talk of the conference.
Thank you to the Kennedy Center for inviting us to be a part of this special event, to Karen for always advocating for our work and to YPT Board member Miriam Gonzales (herself a TYA playwright whose work has been featured in New Visions/New Voices) for helping our young people develop their scripts.
We’ll see you at New Visions/New Voices 2020!