YPT Secures New Partnership in Hyattsville, Maryland

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YPT Director Jared Shamberger explaining a writing exercise with students

This spring, Program Director Jared Shamberger had the pleasure of meeting the students of Magruder Park Recreation Center’s after-school program. Located in Hyattsville, Maryland, the recreation center serves as a place for youth to play and learn. Through two introductory workshops, Jared showed the students the power of storytelling through plays.

“At first I thought it was going to be a lot of talking,” says 10th-grade Northwestern High School student Kayla, “but then we got up and did skits, and I liked it.”

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10th-grade student Kayla talking through her new play idea

The students were introduced to playwrighting by reading aloud short plays before beginning the process of writing their own. Some of the students had never written in this way before, and some, like 6th-grade Nicholas Orem Middle School student Emily, hadn’t written creatively outside a classroom since early childhood.

Kayla, on the other hand, was ready to go! Having written stories at home, ideas for what to write in a play were flowing. “It wasn’t really hard for me to write,” she told us.

From stories about fantastical universes to family drama to powerful superheroes, the students at Magruder Park Recreation Center have a lot in store for us when YPT officially begins the After-School Playwriting Program in Fall 2019!

Want to learn more about how to bring YPT to a school or education program? Contact Jared Shamberger at jshamberger@yptdc.org or complete the YPT Program Request Form.

Three Cheers to Grace Playwright, Josie Walyus, Shares Her Experience of the Play’s Premiere


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Josie Walyus (center) at Three Cheers to Grace Opening Night Reception with (l-r) Three Cheers Director Eric Ruffin, YPT Founding Artistic Director Karen Zacarias and Artistic Director Farah Lawal Harris.

YPT’s first-ever production of a full-length student-written play, Three Cheers to Grace, came to a successful close March 3 after 12 performances seen by over 650 audience members. An amazing cast (Elenilson Ayala, Katie Rey Bogdan, Suzanne Edgar, Madelyn Farris, Stefanie Garcia, Mimsi Janis, Tre’Mon Mills, Naima Randolph, Sisi Reid, Karen Romero and Marlon Russ) directed by Eric Ruffin, brought Josie Walyus’ play to life in such a special way. Timothy J. Jones, Moyenda Kulemeka, Arnika Downey and Crescent Haynes made the world of Three Cheers to Grace blossom with excellent set design, costume design, lighting design and sound design, respectively.  

Thank you to the Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs, the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts and everyone who supported YPT throughout this monumental undertaking!

YPT Communications Intern Kelly McDonnell sat down with playwright Josie who talked about her experience seeing her play make its way to production. Read more about Josie’s experience below!


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Josie Walys with the cast and creative team of Three Cheers to Grace

The stage lights dimmed, and, for a moment, the audience was silent, reliving the show they had just watched. Finally, instrumental music began playing, and the audience applauded and rose to their feet to praise the cast and the story of Three Cheers to Grace.

The world premiere of Three Cheers to Grace, YPT’s first production of a full-length, student-written play, has come to a close after an exciting two-week run at Dance Loft on 14.

Three Cheers to Grace was written by Josie Walyus, a sophomore at H-B Woodlawn. A story of two best friends grappling with trauma and friendship, the play was originally featured in the 2018 New Play Festival, and, at the time, was only produced as an excerpt of the amazing 90-minute show that has closed its successful run.

After Josie crafted and redrafted her play, with mentoring from YPT Artistic Director Farah Lawal Harris, her hard work paid off.

“It was just words on a page,” Josie said. “Then, when we were doing the production for two weeks, seeing it come to life was just huge.”

When she first saw the set, designed by Timothy L. Jones, Josie said she hadn’t imagined any of it, but she was amazed by how it all “fit so well.” She said she finally saw her words in a more realistic way by helping choose costumes and lighting for the show.

Following the opening night of Three Cheers to Grace, with the audience full of Josie’s family and friends, alongside long-time YPT supporters and new fans, YPT hosted an opening night reception to celebrate the artistic achievements of Josie, the production team and the cast.

“I was worried about how people I know would react to the show,” Josie said. “Seeing people I know feel so in touch with this play, I didn’t expect that. … I shouldn’t have been so worried.”

After seeing the show, Josie said her friends talked to her about their favorite scene or character. “We talk about that stuff with books and movies,” Josie said, “and now we’re doing it for something that was in my head.”

Audiences applauded the show and Josie’s ambition as a young playwright. One member of the audience said Josie’s play showed that “no matter how afraid we are, we have the power and voice to change our fear into courage.”

Approximately 300 DC students from six schools saw Three Cheers to Grace as well. Students said that the show was funny and inspirational and showed them how fun theater could be.

Overall, audiences encouraged Josie to keep writing.

In a review for DC Metro Theater Arts, John Stoltenberg praised Three Cheers to Grace’s interwoven characters and stories, the costume design by Moyenda Kulemeka, the sincerity and wisdom of Josie’s writing and much more.

Judging from the achievement of Three Cheers to Grace, Josie Walyus is going to have many more stories to tell and much more to say,” Stoltenberg wrote.

“Before this, I never thought of myself as a playwright,” Josie said. But now, she said, “This is what I want to do with my life, this is what I want to do more of.”

As part of Young Playwrights’ Guild, Josie will be debuting new writing with YPT at the end of this year. You can read John Stoltenberg’s DC Metro Theater Arts review here and visit our Facebook page for photo highlights.

YPT is awarded the 2018 Mayor’s Arts Award in Excellence in Education

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YPT Artistic Director Farah Lawal Harris accepting the award.

On Tuesday, September 25, 2018, the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities hosted its 33rd Annual Mayor’s Arts Awards, an event that celebrates excellence in DC arts across all disciplines. This year, the DC Commission also celebrated its 50th anniversary. The elegant and fun event, hosted by native Washingtonian and film/television actor Lamman Rucker, included the honoring of legendary DC Go-Go Band Rare Essence for lifetime achievement and Step Afrika! founder Brian Williams with this year’s Visionary Leader Award.

Young Playwrights’ Theater (YPT) was thrilled to receive the 2018 Mayor’s Arts Award for Excellence in Arts Education recognizing our positive impact on District residents across the city through arts education. YPT Artistic Director Farah Lawal Harris accepted the award on behalf of YPT, thanking the Mayor and the Commission for their support and sharing our belief that our students are brilliant and encouraging people to come and see upcoming performances to see for themselves. This is YPT’s second time receiving the city’s highest award for an organization of our kind, having received it previously in 2006!

YPT is truly proud to be recognized for excellence in arts education and thanks the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and Mayor Muriel Bowser for the incredible honor. YPT will continue to fulfill its mission to help students realize the power of their own voices with excellent programming and professionally produced platforms for young writers and creators to share their inherently brilliant selves with the world!

New Theater Partnerships Enhance the Young Playwright Experience

Young Playwrights’ Theater has forged partnerships with local and regional theater companies and arts organizations to enhance the arts experience for our out-of-school time program participants and our New Play Festival playwrights. Currently, YPT has partnered with the National Theatre, The Welders and Forum Theatre.

With each partnership, YPT students are able to experience theater beyond the classroom through live performances and engagement with notable playwrights, actors and theater professionals.

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Dramaturge Linda Lombardi with YPT students

This initiative sprang in the summer of 2017 with The Welders and the National Theatre. The National Theatre invited YPT students to see the 20th Anniversary production of Rent: The Musical where they were able to speak with dramaturge Linda Lombardi who discussed the historical and cultural context of the time the play first premiered. Students were tasked with creating monologues for the characters that spoke the most to them.

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Alexandra Petri with YPT students

The Welders playwright Alexandra Petri invited YPT students to The Washington Post. Petri is an acclaimed columnist and blogger and her play, To Tell My Story: A Hamlet Fanfic, premiered this past July. The students toured The Washington Post headquarters and got to pick Petri’s brain on everything from playwriting to politics to Shakespeare and more. Student Advisory Council member Eva Sirotic said of her time with Petri:

“Her satirical writing is hilarious and reminds me a lot of my own style of writing, and I felt that a lot of the advice she gave really pushed to me to start thinking about my future as a writer, and maybe starting to take this playwriting passion seriously.”

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Deb Sivigny working with Young Playwrights’ Guild

This week, The Welders’ playwright Deb Sivigny visited the first meeting of the Young Playwrights’ Guild (formerly, the Student Advisory Council) and led a creative crafts activity that helped students develop dramatic characters. Sivigny’s play, Hello, My Name Is premieres next month and YPT students will be taking a trip to see the production.

This upcoming spring, YPT and Forum Theatre will also partner up for guest lectures and performances for the students.

We hope to continue expanding these partnerships and we’re so glad that our students get to see theatre first-hand and hands-on!

New Play Festival Playwright Maya Schindler’s Trip to Baseball For All National Girls Tournament!

Maya talks to teams from all over the country at the Baseball For All National Girls Tournament!

This summer, we received a very cheerful note from 2017 New Play Festival featured playwright Maya Schindler and her family recounting the amazing experience Maya had in Rockford, IL for the Baseball For All National Girls Tournament! There, she was invited to talk at the opening ceremonies about the New Play Festival production of her inspiring play I Got This! and shared her experience as a baseball player and playwright with girls baseball teams from all over the country. In her own words, Maya discusses her trip to Rockford and the incredible experience at the Baseball for All National Girls’ Tournament.


Last year, I was fortunate to be able to participate in Young Playwright’s Theater’s After School Program, where I wrote a play called I Got This.  My play told the story of a girl who perseveres to continue playing baseball–not softball–from the time she was a young girl all the way through college, despite being told that she shouldn’t be playing baseball because she is a girl.  This isn’t unusual. Many girls are discouraged from playing baseball, and often they are directed to play softball instead.

Maya meets Tracy Reiner who played Betty Spaghetti in the classic film A League of Their Own

I was also very lucky in that my play was selected for the 2017 New Play Festival, where it was performed by professional actors. That was a big honor for me and very exciting!  

More recently, I played in the Baseball For All National Girls Tournament with my teammates from D.C. Girl’s Baseball’s DC Force. The tournament was 200 girls coming together from across the country and Canada in historic Rockford, Illinois (the home of the Rockford Peaches, who became famous in the movie A League of Their Own). We were there to simply play the game we love. Yet it was so much more than that. We met girls who were going through the same thing as us, showing that we are not alone and we have the right to play this game.

While at the National Girls Tournament I also had the honor to meet some of the incredible women who played in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) including Maybelle Blair. In Rockford, I felt like we were playing for them, which was our way of thanking them for all they had done for girls baseball; if it weren’t for them some of us may have never even touched a baseball, let alone be playing baseball.

Maya gets interviewed by Yahoo Sports

One of my favorite moments from the tournament was before one of our games, we were watching Canada 150 play the Boston Slammers and Canada was way behind. A big part of this tournament and I Got This! was encouraging girls to play baseball and for them to keep their heads up, despite what challenges they might face. As we were watching the game alongside our opponents in the next game, the Caminos, we came together and cheered for Canada… together. Personally, this was a very beautiful and humane moment because it shows that baseball brings people together, people who don’t even know each other.

Since the tournament, my team has been recognized in articles in The Washington Post and Yahoo Sports, and we received invitations to appear on the field at home games of the Washington Nationals and also the Bowie Baysox.  I hope that people who hear about the Baseball for All tournament and DC Girls Baseball will agree that girls should have the same opportunity as boys to pursue our dreams, whether as baseball players, playwrights or anything else we want to do.


We thank Maya for sharing her wonderful story! To learn more about the Baseball for All National Girls Tournament, visit www.baseballforall.com.

To learn about  DC Girls Baseball visit dcgirlsbaseball.com.

A YPT wedding!

Reyna and Edwin’s engagement photo! Photo by Samuel Diaz.

“Don’t be afraid to share yourself with someone. Love doesn’t grow on its own … it takes two people to teach it to one another.”
– Reyna Rios

In the fall of 2010, two standout students from YPT’s In-School Playwriting Program at Bell Multicultural High School joined our Young Playwrights’ Workshop. Both had written terrific, touching plays, and both were excited to develop their artistic talents. But each had an ulterior motive, too: to explore their feelings for each other.

“We met in AP Spanish class,” Reyna Rios explains. “I was shy and sat at the back of the class, hoping to not be noticed. Yet, Edwin saw me.”

“The teacher told us to find a partner to share our story with,” Edwin Martinez continues. “I immediately turned towards Reyna and asked if she would be my partner. Little did we both know that was the start of something special in our lives.”

After Reyna took our In-School Program, she loved it so much that she decided to join the Workshop. She invited Edwin to join with her, and he readily accepted. Soon, the two established themselves as core members of the ensemble: setting the tone with their energy and commitment, and pouring their spirits of kindness and respect into the beautiful anti-bullying play, Out of the Shadow.

“That’s when the liking [Edwin] turned into loving him,” Reyna explains. “We would go to the Workshop, and we would see this whole other side of each other: the creative, fearless, passionate, and most times silly side.”

Edwin (bottom L) and Reyna (top R) in their first Young Playwrights’ Workshop!

After Workshop hours, the two teens’ love deepened. Edwin would escort Reyna home on the Metro, “[just] to spend as much time with her … as I could,” then turn around and head back to his own stop. On these train rides, they discovered a mutual love of self-expression, social justice and youth work.


“I feel like I can contribute a lot,” Reyna said.

“I want to help … people younger than I am to choose a better path,” said Edwin.

Their eyes met, and they smiled.

Thus began a relationship that has captivated all who know and admire Edwin and Reyna. The two began dating in October, 2010, and have been going steady since then. In that time, they have gone to college, volunteered with YPT and Higher Achievement, worked as teachers and community organizers and given back daily to their communities.

Reyna is now the Program Administrator at Big Learning, a nonprofit that “operate[s] instructional programs in language, sciences, and creative enrichment for elementary and middle school students in Montgomery County, Maryland.” Edwin works in Web Operations for National Geographic, and does side projects “in hopes of building something better in the future.” They also continue to be terrific ambassadors for YPT, speaking at our 2013 and 2014 galas about the impact of our work in their lives!

Edwin accepts the Tornado Boy Award for Super Awesome Alumnus at our 2014 gala!

Recently, the YPT family started wondering how long it would be until these two young leaders tied the knot. Then, in November, 2016, we got the news: they were engaged! We were over the moon with joy for our beloved friends. But the news only got better from there: they were going to get married in December in the Josephine Butler Parks Center, one floor beneath our office!

“[The] Parks Center [is] where we were able to think creatively with one another,” says Edwin, “a gateway of expression to the public and into ourselves at a personal level.”

“[It’s] the perfect place for our love to be sealed,” Reyna continues. “It’s YPT’s home!”

We can’t wait to be there – in person or in spirit – when Edwin and Reyna knit their lives together forever. As far as we know, this is the first marriage to begin in a YPT workshop, and we couldn’t have wished it for two better people!

We love you, Reyna Rios and Edwin Martinez, and we wish you all the joy and happiness in our hearts. We know that you will continue to strive for social change, and will impact more lives than we can ever imagine. Look out, world, the power couple is coming! As Reyna says: “Together, we can do anything.”

Congratulations, Edwin and Reyna! Best of luck to you both!



Reflections on the Lincoln Heights Arts Camp

Lincoln Heights Arts Camp campers and teaching artists after their final showcase!

In July 2016, YPT held our first-ever multidisciplinary arts camp: the Lincoln Heights Arts Camp! Led by YPT staff and local artists, campers explored the faces and places of Northeast DC through photography, playwriting, audio design and visual art. The camp culminated in a final showcase, where campers read excerpts from their plays and showed off photos and art pieces that encapsulated their lives in Northeast!

After camp ended, camper Brittany Butler and photography week teaching artist Kenji Jasper wrote blog posts about their experience in camp. Read on for their thoughts and memories of the Lincoln Heights Arts Camp!

 Lincoln Heights Arts Camp Blog – Brittany Butler

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Brittany Butler (R) performs during the Lincoln Heights Arts Camp’s final showcase.

My name is Brittany Butler, I’m 17 years old and I was a camper at YPT’s Lincoln Heights Art Camp. I was placed here as a job assignment for the Summer Youth Employment Program so I didn’t really know too much about the camp. IMG_0691My first day there was not what I expected and I honestly had no interest in staying for the whole camp. There was a lot of young kids there and I was basically the only one there that was my age so I was pretty bored. The following week is when things began to get better! There were no more young kids and more teens around my age began to come. The activities we did the first week were very fun as well. We started off learning a bit about Photography with Mr. Jasper.  I liked working with him because he made us engage with each other by having us work in groups. Doing this helped us get to know each other a little better. We also took a few little trips while working on photography. We went to Benning Road Metro Station, Marvin Gaye Park and to the famous landmark, The Shrimp Boat to shoot some fun shots of each other. The first week’s activities were so fun that I was really looking forward to next week which was playwriting.

Week Two we worked with Ms. Harris and Ms. Laurie to write a short play for our final showcase. The idea of playwriting did not seem like something I’d enjoy at first but of course Ms. Harris made the week very enjoyable! We chose a photo out of the ones we shot during Week One to base our play off. Mine ended up being about a girl who had no friends at school but had a connection with trees. She also had super powers that her mom didn’t like which led to an unexpected turn of events in the play! I ended up really enjoying the playwriting week and didn’t want to move on to the next week because I had so many ideas I wanted to add to my play.

Sound design with Kevin!

Week Three was music! We worked with Mr. Kevin who was a music engineer who worked with many people whose music I actually listen to. This week turned out being my favorite week out of the entire camp!! We created really cool sound effects and music that we added to our plays. It was really cool seeing how he could make a song sound like it was coming out of earphones or make footsteps sound far away to close up by just using one computer program. At the end of Week Three I was really excited to perform my play because of these sounds we created because it made everything more interesting!

The fourth and final week was visual arts. During this week we worked with Ms. Asha and made collages about our passions. I chose to do mine about Cheer because that’s one of my passions. I gathered a bunch of my favorite action shots of my cheer team and I, printed them out and created a beautiful collage that I am very proud of. So proud of that I took it home and hung it on my wall!! Next we made keychains out of wood. I wasn’t sure what to do so I ended up just writing my zodiac sign and birthday on it with puffy paint. When it was finished it actually looked really good. We also decorated old records. I kept this project simple and just painted my favorite saying on it, “Always Strive and Prosper”! I plan on hanging this in my locker when I go back to school as motivation to get through my SENIOR YEAR!

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Final showcase photos. “Always Strive and Prosper” on the left in green!

At the end the Lincoln Heights Art Camp ended up being a complete success and I am glad I got to spend my summer being involved with this camp. Not only was it fun but it taught me a lot as well and also brought out the creative side of me which I really enjoyed. The final showcase was very bittersweet because I was finally able to show everything I did throughout the camp but I also meant that the camp was over. I made some new friends that I look forward to building better friendships with and met some awesome teachers and mentors like, Ms. Harris and Ms. Duncan, which I plan on keeping in touch with for things in the future. 

Thanks to Brittany Butler for this blog post!

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Kenji Jasper speaks at the Lincoln Heights Arts Camp’s final showcase.

Teacher’s Log: Photography Week – Kenji Jasper

I came to YPT as a veteran of teaching creative workshops for inner-city youth.  I had started just barely out of high school as a co-instructor for The Institute for the Preservation and Study of African American Writing, which eventually led to my work with organizations like the Brooklyn Center for the Environment, The Bedford-Stuyvesant ‘I Have A Dream’ program, CentroNia and most recently Guerilla Arts and The College Success Foundation.  I knew how to work with teens, but I had only taught photography once before.  And as I would only have three days of class time, I decided that I would focus less on techniques and equipment and more on sparking competition between groups and allowing the students to have a good time in the rising summer heat.

Having grown up partially in Benning Heights, I knew the area where Daybreak Ministries was holding the camp.  So I developed a curriculum based around students working in small groups outside of the classroom for the second half of each day, following an in-class first hour where they worked individually [ fortunately in air conditioning].  I knew that the more I kept them moving, the easier it would be to engage them in photography.  Using cellphones and two YPT iPads, students found the picture taking to be easy and enjoyable.  Those that didn’t like taking pictures served as models and muses for the others.

Once they began to see their work on the overhead projector at the start of each day the spirit of pride and competition encouraged them to take better pictures in hopes of cornering a little more spotlight for themselves among their peers.  They scaled high fences and repelled down hills to pose by a creek.  They framed shots on playgrounds and grassy hills behind orange brick buildings surrounding the camp headquarters.  And they now have the photos to prove it.

The best part of the experience for me was watching the students rise to each creative challenge.  Presented with a glass full of candy, each student had to take one photograph for each M&M they ate, resulting in a diverse array of photographs that captured not only the dwindling candy but the other students as they fired their best shots at the exercise.  They did the same with a game of chess and a team battle in playing cards.  With each outing, they learned that neither the job of photographer or model was an easy one.  But with effort and focus, everything is possible.

M&Ms have never looked so beautiful!

My reward came with the sadness and regret students expressed on the last day, as they all seemed to wish that we had more time.  Working with YPT provided me with one of my best teaching experiences to date.  I hope that we get to work together again.

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Thank you to Kenji Jasper for a terrific week! The students – and we – love you!