This year, three YPT superstars – Sam Burris, Nana Gongadze and Anna Vargas – graduated from high school. All three have been in our work since middle school, have had their plays produced and were long-term members of our Student Advisory Council. Most recently, Sam and Anna interned with us as part of their “Senior Experience” month at Washington-Lee High School.
As Sam, Nana and Anna go off to college, each left us with beautiful parting words. We have reprinted them here to celebrate their accomplishments, their growth and all they have given to the YPT family! Enjoy!
Senior Experience Reflection, by Sam Burris
Imagine, if you will, being in eighth grade again. Your friend group is constantly oscillating, you are trying to decide where you are going to attend high school, and hair is growing in places where hair has never grown before. Then, in one of your most beloved classes, a stranger walks in one day. This stranger brings with them a tantalizing new idea: playwriting. With this idea comes the promise that at the end of the year, a select few lucky students will have their play professionally produced.
This was the situation I found myself in when I was first introduced to Young Playwrights’ Theater (YPT), a DC nonprofit which works with students in the metro area to write full-length, completely original plays. I was one of those lucky few who had their play produced in YPT’s annual New Play Festival way back in 2012 (though I started working with them in 2011) and when it came time to decide on my “senior experience” internship a whole 5 years later, I couldn’t think of anywhere I would rather do it.
I’ve been working with YPT consistently, though in different capacities, for the 5 years I have been affiliated with the organization. Of course, my work with them started when their In-School Playwriting Program came into my eighth grade drama class, but since then I’ve performed alongside their hallmark after-school Workshop program, been a member of their Student Advisory Council, and spoken at various events, all of which has culminated in this internship. Going into senior experience, I was not only excited to give back to an organization which had given me so much in the past, but I was also ready to learn about one of the few fields of theatre arts I was not already well versed in: arts administration.
Luckily for me, that is exactly what myself and fellow senior and YPT alum Anna Vargas got throughout our internship. No one ever really considers the nitty gritty work that arts administration requires when seeing the work presented before an audience. In the past four weeks I have sorted twenty one years’ worth of records, amassed a number of quotes and drawings for use in later publications, and extensively researched DC public schools. If you ever have any questions about the demographics of Cardozo Education Campus during the 2016 Fiscal Year or the production history of Savoy Elementary School as far back as the 2011 Fiscal Year, I am your man. Sadly though, we were never sent to get coffee for the office’s senior staff members. For that, you would probably have to ask many of the other senior experience candidates.
This internship has certainly taught me innumerable things about the field of arts administration and while I think that I will stick to creation and performance for the foreseeable future, I will always cherish the time I spent here. I have known since the eighth grade that I would miss YPT when I finally went off to college. However, working with them for the past four weeks has given me not only a deeper understanding of the inner-workings of their operation, it has given me insight into why I will miss it so dearly. The YPT staff strive to be much more than just administrators, teachers, and mentors; they sincerely want to be your friend. And, in my case, they are friends who I would rather not say goodbye to.
Sam Burris will attend the New School for Drama this fall, with his eye on becoming a professional actor. We will miss him dearly, too, and wish him all the best in the Big Apple!
Senior Experience Reflection, by Anna Vargas
YPT and I go waaay back.
I’ve been involved with the program since I wrote my three character murder mystery play through the in school program and was selected as a finalist for the New Play Festival in 2012. However, I’ve known YPT staff since I met Laurie Ascoli the summer of 2011, where she was my camp counselor. Since that fateful summer and following fall, I have managed to maintain my ties with YPT as a member of the Student Advisory Council for four years, up until my graduation this year.
Yet, that was not the end of my tale! Sam, my fellow New Play Festival playwright in middle school and Council member in high school, and I interned at YPT through a program at our school allowing us to use the last month of our senior years to help YPT in any way they saw fit. After a good five years, I feel like I’m a seasoned pro at YPT and know a thing or two about this organization, which I’d like to share below.
1 .) The staff and artists are everything you could ever want and more. From secret “files” being passed around the office on the day of a coworker’s birthday to the enthusiasm and creativity brought to every challenge and task they are faced with, the YPT staff dedicates themselves to showing you the best that you can be, encouraging you, cheering you on, and making you feel like part of the family. Not a single person made me feel anything less than complete every time I entered the office. These people (and the stairs up to their offices) absolutely take my breath away.
2 .) You will learn things about yourself you never knew. I didn’t know I could write or had the skills or imagination to do so until YPT provided me the platform to not only express, but explore all corners of myself and my mind. I remember after the first in school workshop, my friends all sat around at lunch speaking of exactly what they were going to write about, while I hardly had a clue. I was sure one of their plays would prove itself better than mine, as I was not the strongest writer nor had the wildest imagination that I knew of. Yet here I am, and I am still improving daily.
3 .) The communities YPT helps are truly changed for the better. One of my jobs whilst interning was to input self assessment surveys that students took before and after the in school workshop. It warmed my heart seeing the pre survey scores for questions like “My ideas are important” improve by one to three points from before the workshop to afterwards, and the suggestions section on the back filled with pleas from students for YPT to come back next year. I have seen students talk about YPT like the teaching artists have practically hung the moon for teaching them playwriting. I know for a fact that not only this skill, but ability to believe in yourself and what you can accomplish is going to help the next generation in creating a world we would all like to live in.
So, in closing, whether you’re a seasoned YPT pro like myself, or someone who scrambled up a web address and didn’t mean to happen across this blog post but managed to read all the way to the bottom anyway, I sincerely hope you invest your time in YPT. Donate! Volunteer! Intern! Write! They deserve so much. I’m quite thankful for all the time and opportunities they have provided me over the years, including the most recent one to invade their bean bags everyday for a month. Thank you.
Anna Vargas will attend Wellesley College in the fall. We’d better see you when you come back for Winter Break, Anna! 🙂
A Parting Letter, by Nana Gongadze
Dearest YPT family,
It’s hard to say in a few words how much the last few years with all of you have meant to me. It has been a wonderful journey since I first stepped foot in your office four years ago – I have a clear memory of driving up for the very first NPF reception with butterflies in my stomach, because I didn’t know what I was in for or who I was going to meet. I am so thankful that what I did discover was a truly beautiful, big-hearted group of people who would inspire me so much throughout my high school days.
Thank you so much both for the experiences you all have given me, and the work you do every day. People talk sometimes about those experiences you have in your adolescent years that shape you and change you, that really impact you as a person – my time on the SAC has been one of those for me. The words we have created and achieved as an ensemble there have been some of the things I’ve been most impressed and surprised by, and most proud of. Every year I have been consistently blown away by how great our final product was, even if there were doubts along the way. Thank you so much for helping me to learn how to better work with an ensemble and a team, because those are valuable skills that I’ll surely take forward with me. Being honestly able to grow up alongside you and the little group we have has been a constant treat over the last few years and a consistent source of inspiration for me.
I also want to say that the work you do elsewhere in our community blows me away always. It seems like an unlikely thing to come together around, playwriting, and I think that’s one of the things that makes YPT so unique. I have always been proud to be a DC resident(ish) – all the work you do in the community honestly impresses me so much and makes me want to do good too. I know that I am just one of the lives you’ve touched – saying I’m not getting emotional writing this letter would be a lie, and it makes me so happy to think that so many other students get this feeling too thanks to you. You are all such a magnificent, kind, energetic, resourceful, fun and hardworking group of people. I hope you always can be reminded of how awesome you really are.
Goodbyes are SO hard for me because I am really sentimental – but I am exaggerating in now way when I say I’m never going to forget you all! I know it is not goodbye forever and I look forward to staying in touch as I move toward the end of the weird world of teenagerdom. I have so much love in my heart for you guys and I think what you do is really truly magic. The warmest of thanks to you all for the last five years. Have a wonderful summer and always keep on keeping on.
PS: Please enjoy a small token of my thanks! It is delicious.
Nana Gongadze will attend American University in the fall. We are delighted to have her so close by, though we promise not to have her come speak at ALL our events…just some of them. 🙂 We love you, Nana!