Every year, YPT’s New Play Festival features 15 of the best plays written by our students across Greater Washington. We also publish an annual New Play Festival Book, which features all 15 plays from the Festival, as well as the 15 finalist plays. All 30 students are honored onstage and given free copies of the book.
This year, YPT took this a step further, sharing the book of student voices with the DC community in a city-wide Book Giveaway. A group of dedicated volunteers from George Washington University’s Generic Theatre Company joined YPT for the day-long event, and we asked Caroline Crook to share her experience from the day.
Hello all! I’m Caroline Crook, a sophomore at George Washington University and Assistant Artistic Director in our student-led Generic Theatre Company. I reached out to Generic at first because it seemed like a fun, social way to keep theater in my college life; I stayed on because, as my mom puts it, I “found my tribe.” I love that theater provides a space for both vulnerability and safety, a space where anyone can emotionally reach out and connect using the universal language of storytelling. Young Playwrights’ Theater is great because its members reach out to schools and DC neighborhoods with this exact message in mind: everyone has a powerful story to tell, no matter how young or from what background.
On Sunday, October 26th, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Young Playwrights’ Theater, five volunteers (including myself) gave away a collection of plays written by YPT students to people in neighborhoods across DC, including Eastern Market, Anacostia, Dupont Circle and Columbia Heights. We handed out stacks of our glossy purple books to passersby and offered a chance to talk a little more about the role that Young Playwrights’ Theater played in these students’ growth as writers. In the end, we gave away 225 books throughout these neighborhoods and along the way, we met a ton of people who wanted to hear more about YPT and its goal as an organization.
When I think back to that Sunday, three groups of people stand out in my mind as individual successes of the project: the kids in Anacostia, the bookworms in Dupont Circle and the Sunday picnic crowd at Meridian Hill Park.
The Anacostia Neighborhood Library was not a busy place that morning. In fact, the only people we saw outside its doors were a group of 8-to-10-year-old boys talking amongst themselves. We said hello and offered them a few plays to read. The boys were skeptical at first; they asked if the books were for coloring, then seemed mainly disappointed by our response. But by the time we left, they were sitting quietly, reading the published work of students their age, from their neighborhood. The YPT Book Giveaway made it possible for these kids to learn more about theater and playwriting, even in a non-classroom setting.
Dupont Circle, by contrast, was crowded with people. As a result, the people I remember personally are the individuals who deliberately stopped to have a full conversation about YPT and ask questions about the book they received. One man, Johnny, listened as I explained YPT’s goal as an organization, then told me, “I’m a playwright myself and I really respect what you’re doing for this neighborhood. I’m going to go put this [he gestured to his new book] on my bike so I don’t forget it.” He shook my hand and walked away, leaving me with a renewed sense of appreciation for the Dupont community and its support of the arts. Later on, a woman stopped to talk to us about the YPT classrooms and revealed that she was an English teacher in a nearby elementary school. As she flipped through her playbook, we told her about YPT’s 20 Classroom Challenge, a plan to integrate YPT’s In-School Playwriting Program into at least 20 more DC classrooms this year. She nodded and smiled, looking genuinely excited at the thought of students across DC learning how to write plays and create their own works of art.
We finally ended where we began: in Meridian Hill Park. When I think back to that day, the image of that park is what stands out the most in my mind; I remember how by the time we finished distributing, the bright purple of the New Play Festival Book’s cover was all over the park. One man let his (adorable) son, who looked about 5 years old, grab one of the books I held out to him and said, “Maybe we can read some of these before bedtime, right kiddo?” His son nodded with his eyes on the book and I had to restrain myself from jumping up and down, I was so excited. People who had entered the park with their own books and e-readers had set them aside to read ours. Even the more active picnickers and frisbee-throwers had begun reading out loud to each other, casting themselves as characters from these student-written plays.
What I found so successful about the book giveaway was the way it allowed multiple DC neighborhoods to support YPT just by reading some entertaining plays. It was inspiring to watch a supportive DC arts community reveal itself so organically, just by handing out a book. I’m so proud of my fellow Generic Theatre Company members, Joe and Anthony, who threw themselves into the project and were only too happy to start a conversation about YPT with total strangers. I’m also proud to count myself and my fellow volunteers as a member of this DC arts community as well.