Every so often, however, a playwright comes along who demonstrates a long-term commitment to the craft, whose artistic project exceeds the bounds of one performance and who has shown an interest in an ongoing mentorship with YPT staff. For those young playwrights, YPT is proud to announce the Young Artist Fellowship: a year-long mentorship designed to engage one teen writer in a play development process from start to finish. Presently in its first year, the Fellowship seeks to cultivate the Young Artist Fellow as an artist as well as a future member of the workforce, teaching accountability and commitment through one-on-one mentorship with a YPT staff member.
YPT’s inaugural Young Artist Fellow, Dominique Butler, emerged from our In-School Program at Cardozo High School with an extraordinary piece of writing. Entitled Like Father, Like Son, Dominique’s play follows a young black man trying not to repeat the mistakes that landed his father in jail. The play’s emotional honesty struck a chord with our New Play Festivalreaders, and Like Father, Like Son wound up closing our 2015 Festival to resounding applause.
But Dominique wasn’t done yet. The poet and storyteller, who started writing at age 13 to cope with the death of his grandfather, had more to say—and he wouldn’t stop until he said it. “It happens here all the time…if you’re out there just chilling, you’re a target,” he says. “These people got names.”
The people Dominique means have names like Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner: young black men killed by police or other authority figures, victims of a pattern of institutionalized racism and violence that has galvanized our nation. As the #BlackLivesMattermovement rose to prominence, Dominique found himself compelled to join in their call—especially when his own friend, Davon, was shot and killed by DC police. From his grief emerged Who’s Next?, a play which imagines that Davon, Trayvon and Freddie are friends who use music to speak out against police brutality—and whose clarion call leads to a dramatic confrontation with a police officer. “It’s a message,” Dominique says. “It’s not just a play.”
Dominique’s message began to take shape at Curious Theatre Company’s Curious New Voices National Collective in Denver, which he attended over the summer. “Dominique is amazing,” writes Curious New Voices Program Director Dee Covington. “Quiet, diligent, taking it all in. …[The other playwrights] had no idea his piece, at once personal and political, was there to shake up the world.” As Like Father, Like Son had at the 2015 New Play Festival, Who’s Next? closed the Curious New Voices final performance to a standing ovation and watery eyes. “Some people were crying,” Dominique admits.
Back in DC, Dominique strove to continue working on Who’s Next?. We at YPT had been considering launching a Young Artist Fellowship for some time, and realized that Dominique’s project provided us with the perfect opportunity to pilot the program. So, in October, 2015, we signed a contract with our first-ever Young Artist Fellow, and began meeting with him regularly to finish Who’s Next? and deepen its message. After a reading at Cardozo High School, Who’s Next? inspired our next production, Silence Is Violence: Who’s Next?, a professional staged reading and multidisciplinary artistic response to the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Join us on Monday, February 29, at 7pm at the Anacostia Playhouse for this powerful continuation of YPT’s Silence Is Violence series. Free and open to the public!
Though Dominique’s time as YPT’s Young Artist Fellow will conclude in June, we are excited to continue the program next year and beyond with another talented young artist. Who will take up the mantle and shape his or her own project? What will the next Young Artist Fellowship hold? How will this one impact Dominique—and, through him, the world—in the next few years? We don’t know yet, but we can’t wait to find out!
At the end of every year, we here at YPT like to count down the top ten most memorable moments of the year that was. This year, in our continuing celebration of YPT heroes, we decided to honor the Top Ten Hero Moments of 2015! These are moments big and small, when members of the YPT family acted heroically or honored the heroes who inspire them.
Want to be a #YPThero? There’s still time! Donate to YPT by December 31 and help over 2,000 DC-area young people realize the power of their voices next year.
Thank you, and enjoy the countdown!
YPT Students and Theater Artists Speak Out at Silence Is Violence: A #BlackLivesMatter Event
YPT’s first event of the year was also one of our most powerful: Silence Is Violence: a #BlackLivesMatter Event. Held in the early days of the Black Lives Matter movement, this pop-up performance brought local students together with professional theater artists for a night of creative responses to the movement. In front of a capacity crowd at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, these artists shared their profound, sometimes tragic and often uplifting feelings about racism and police brutality in America. The night ended with a space for community reflection and art-making!
Thank you to all the YPT heroes who shared their voices at Silence Is Violence: a #BlackLivesMatter Event! For more, visit silenceisviolencedc.tumblr.com.
Evan Alston Donates His Allowance at YPT’s 20th Anniversary Gala
Though Diane Rehm touched us all with her inspiring words, the night’s true hero was Evan Alston, a fifth-grade student at E.W. Stokes PCS. After reading an original poem he wrote about YPT, Evan donated his very own money to YPT at the live auction! That’s the mark of a true #YPThero!
YPT Playwright Ja’Neza Honors Her Heroic Brother at the 2015 New Play Festival
Among the many magical moments we saw at the 2015 New Play Festival, perhaps the most touching was seeing elementary school playwright Ja’Neza Andrews-Washington honor her serviceman brother through her play.
Ja’Neza’s play, The Confusion of Being in the Army, is based off her brother’s experiences leaving home for Army boot camp. Her brother came to the performance and seemed to truly cherish his little sister’s tribute!
Click here for information on YPT’s 2016 New Play Festival, which will be unlike any we have ever held before! Taking place over three weeks at three theaters around DC, the 2016 Festival will engage the larger community in exciting and innovative ways.
YPT Hero Dominique Butler Shines at the Curious New Voices National Collective
Just before the 2015 New Play Festival, YPT received an exciting email from Curious Theatre Company in Denver, CO. Their Curious New Voices National Collective, a week-long summer intensive for promising teen playwrights, was set to begin, and they wanted a YPT playwright to attend! We invited Cardozo High School student Dominique Butler, whose stirring play we were producing in the Festival, and who had expressed an interest in continuing his playwriting education.
Dominique flew to Denver (his first time on a plane!) and wrote a powerful Black Lives Matter play called Who’s Next? The play, which follows three young black men (including Freddie Gray and Trayvon Martin) through a trying encounter with a policeman, received a standing ovation at the intensive’s final showcase! As Curious New Voices leader Deb Covington wrote to us, “[The audience] had no idea his piece, at once political and personal, was there to shake up the world.”
Click here for photos from a recent reading of Who’s Next? at Cardozo, and stay tuned for more on the play in the new year!
YPT says goodbye to one staff hero and hello to another!
In August, YPT entered into a time of exciting transition, as long-time Artistic Director Nicole Jost left to pursue her MFA in Playwriting and we welcomed DC theater veteran Thembi Duncan onto our team as Creative Programs Director! Since joining YPT, Thembi has led her first in-school playwriting workshop and produced her first YPT staged reading: Girls Write Out!, our entry into the Women’s Voices Theater Festival!
To rally the DC theater community around young women’s voices, Thembi also began our “What Happens When?” video campaign, getting contributions from across America—including one from Nicole, who remains a dear member of the YPT family all the way from San Francisco!
Celebrate the heroes who dedicate themselves to the arts: donate to YPT in honor of a staff member or theater artist!
YPT Students Tackle Mental Health and Gun Violence in Original Plays
The Young Playwrights’ Workshop’s 2015 original play, The Art of Understanding, delved into perceptions of mental illness through three powerful vignettes woven together with poetry and personal reflection. Written and performed by the Workshop’s teen artists, The Art of Understanding wowed the packed house at the Source Festival in June!
In the fall of 2015, the artist-advocates of YPT’s Student Advisory Council contributed to a landmark event: the DC premiere of gun control play One in the Chamber. Council members wrote short plays in response to One in the Chamber, and two were chosen for a professional staged reading that followed the show’s closing performance on September 6. Congratulations to the current and former Council members who wrote such powerful, complex pieces!
The Workshop and Council will be back with more performances in 2016: click here for the dates, and mark your calendars now!
YPT Staff, Board and Volunteers Team Up to Clean Up Tubman Elementary School
Two days before the 2015-2016 school year began, YPT staff and volunteers—including a great team from Acumen Solutions—met at YPT partner school Tubman Elementary School, to help get the campus ready for students to arrive. From spreading mulch in the garden to decorating display cases, the YPT family banded together to make Tubman an even more delightful place to learn. After the volunteer event, many gathered at Pete’s Apizza for a pizza party fundraiser supporting our work!
In the two years since it began, YPT’s partnership with Tubman has grown so close that we recently decided to adopt the school, through DCPS’s Adopt-a-School program. Since the beautification event, we have assisted Tubman in improving their assemblies, and held a holiday clothing drive to support their homeless and low-income students! We look forward to many more years of partnership with Tubman.
Thank you to YPT’s amazing volunteers and corporate sponsors for supporting our work and ongoing partnerships!
YPT serves over 1,500 students with playwriting programming in 2015!
Part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival, Girls Write Out! featured the powerful voices of four young female playwrights. From the hilarious to the tragic, their words resounded through the DC theater professionals who brought them to life onstage! The performance concluded with a wonderful playwright talkback, led by YPT founder Karen Zacarías.
Leading up to Girls Write Out!, some of the most celebrated women in the DC theater community contributed to our “What Happens When?” video series, sharing their thoughts on what happens when a girl realizes the power of her voice. Even Shakespeare Theatre Co. Artistic Director Michael Kahn, YPT’s 2016 Giving Voice awardee, got in on the action, delivering a powerful address before the show!
In the words of one Girls Write Out! playwright: “The ladies overall take power.”
YPT heroes help SAVE arts education during Hero Week!
In the wake of Girls Write Out!, YPT realized just how many amazing heroes we have in our lives: our students, our teaching artists and actors, our Board of Directors, our volunteers and the entire YPT family. In honor of those heroes, we launched Hero Week, a celebration of the heroes our young artists create and the heroes who make YPT great!
Our goal for Hero Week was to raise $5,000 to support our students in 2016. Instead, thanks to the over 125 YPT heroes who donated that week, we raised nearly $6,500! With a match grant from the Cafritz Foundation, that money immediately doubled to over $10,000.
But we’re not done yet: our goal is to raise $25,000 by the end of 2015, with every dollar going directly into the classroom. Click here to donate, and help bring a young person’s voice to life in the new year!
Now through the end of 2015, we are seeking out those heroes who will stand up for the forces of arts education, to give of themselves so that young people can experience the joy of creation. Will you make that difference?? Just $10/month pays for one student to take the In-School Playwriting Program for an entire semester!
Join YPT for Hero Week!
Starting on Monday, November 16, YPT is holding our first-ever Hero Week, celebrating our young heroes and the people who paved the way for their greatness. Every day during Hero Week, we’ll honor heroes big and small with fun social media activities. Post photos of yourself as a superhero, share stories of everyday heroes in your life and much, much more!
Stay tuned for all the details on Hero Week, coming next week to this blog!
Follow the whole campaign on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram@yptdc, using hashtag #YPThero! Thank you for helping DC’s young people become the heroes of their own stories!
Nora Foster and Kaitlyn Murphy are two strong, ambitious young women. The DC-area teens, who studied playwriting in YPT’s In-School Playwriting Programthen saw their plays come to life in the New Play Festival, dream of making a difference in the world through their words and talents.
YPT sat down with Nora and Kaitlyn to learn more about their experience in the program, their hopes for Girls Write Out! and the value of sharing girls’ voices. Read on for the interview and photographs of these fabulous young playwrights!
YPT: What did you think when the In-School Playwriting Program first came into your classroom? KM: I was really excited to see what I could write, and [see it] being acted out.
YPT: How did you react when you found out your play was going to be performed?
KM: There were a lot of students in my class, so when I realized that my play was going to be produced I thought, ‘Oh wow, this is cool!’ NF: I was really surprised, I was really happy…when YPT picked mine, I was just ecstatic. Having people not only compliment your work, but criticize it so you can grow and learn more from professionals [was really great].
YPT: Tell us about your play! KM: My play is called Ayo’s Audience. [It’s] about a girl trying to follow her dream to become a spoken word artist. It’s very much like my story, so it was pretty easy to write it. [Ayo] lives with her father, and…is struggling to make him understand that she has a passion for this art. In the end, her father and her overcome obstacles, and their relationship becomes stronger. NF: My play is Stuck in a Fairy Tale, andthis girl basically gets thrown into different fairy tales. Like Snow White, Rapunzel…it’s a twist on these classics.
YPT: Where did that come from in your mind? NF: I have no idea! We were doing some exercise with YPT, and…all of a sudden it just popped into my head! I was just like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll write about this!’ Turned out pretty good…
YPT: What is your play’s moral/what do you want audience members to walk away with? KM: My wish [is] for everybody to relate to the characters…my moral is, ‘Keep striving for your dream, no matter what. You have to push through the obstacles and keep steady.’ NF: I just hope that when people walk away from seeing my play, that they remember it…you have to do what’s right for you, and no matter what people say you have to know what’s good for you and follow through. Stand up for yourself. KM: I want more people to involve themselves in the arts more…that’d be a really cool thing, to see other girls involve themselves in things that [are] a release for them.
YPT: What happens when a girl realizes the power of her voice? KM: I’m still trying to find the power of my voice! (Laughs) The power of your voice comes when you start affecting people by what you say, and you realize that your voice has a meaning, and that it can make an impact on certain situations or people. NF: Once you find your voice, it makes a really big impact on others. As long as you use it for good, and you tell people…whatever you’re passionate about, it can make a big impact.
YPT: Do you have any advice for young playwrights in YPT’s program right now? KM: Don’t worry about nobody else. Have your stuff set, do what you need to do—no matter what, your play is amazing, because you wrote it. The process of writing a play is the best thing ever: you just wrote a play! That’s great! I bet you haven’t done that before! …Appreciate it for what it is. NF: Don’t doubt yourself…just write what you think is good, don’t compare yourself, because everyone is different in their own way, everyone is unique. Just believe in yourself and keep doing what you think is creative.
Thank you to Nora and Kaitlyn for speaking with YPT! See their creativity on display at Girls Write Out!, Monday, October 19 at 7pm at the Forum in Sidney Harman Hall! FREE! Part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival.
YPT’s 2015-2016 performance season begins with Girls Write Out!, a FREE, one-night-only staged reading of four plays and monologues written by young female playwrights. Professional actors bring to life tales of magic bracelets, superhero sisters, evil queens and more!
Featured plays include:
With monologues by:
Each of these playwrights wrote her piece in YPT’s In-School Playwriting Program. Ranging in age from 12-22 years old, they are among theyoungest playwrights featured at the Women’s Voices Theater Festival!
After the performance, YPT Founding Artistic Director Karen Zacarías will lead an engaging talkback with the playwrights. Karen is a resident playwright at Arena Stage, and her play, Destiny of Desire, is Arena’s contribution to the Festival!
YPT will also be making a special announcement at Girls Write Out!, so join us and hear the good news!
Click here to RSVP to Girls Write Out!, and reserve your (free) tickets in advance here.
For more on the featured playwrights and plays, read on!
KRYSTAL: My daughters who have betrayed me … Come out, come out! I said come out now. Don’t be afraid Laura, Lauren, Lauriann, Lauribell and Laurie. You should love me, I’m your mother. So come out NOW.
LAURA: We’ve come out to battle you!
KRYSTAL: Really? Battle your powerful mommy?
LAURA: Come on girls. It’s time!
Nevaeh Edwards’ Diamond of Destiny pits five sisters from the planets Lexaton and Vertex against their evil mother in a fight for the fate of Earth. Full of action, adventure and fun, this is one serious family feud!
RAPUNZEL: (Astonished) Who is it?! I’m here! Don’t leave! Stay! Just-just… wait a moment!
ALEX: Okay… I’ll wait.
RAPUNZEL: Um, this might sound odd, but I’d like it if you would just climb up my… rope. Yes, rope. It might look weird, but no need to worry, just climb as best you can.
In Nora Foster’s Stuck in a Fairy Tale,teenage author Alex falls asleep and wakes up in a strange and fantastical land! Before she goes, she teaches Cinderella and company a few things about being a 21st century teenager.
ELOISE: …You see this bracelet, wait, donde esta?! (Sees it on the floor.) Oh what a relief! Jakey estas bien? (Cuddles with bracelet. Pause.) Oh you think…? No No No No No Jake turn human K?
(ELOISE throws bracelet to a side. Poof!)
JAKE: (Offstage) Oh Elly!
(ELOISE and JAKE hug.)
JAKE: Oh Elly, you’re my best friend. I’m so happy I’m with you.
ELOISE: Oh. Um. This is my bracelet…boyfriend. Bracelet-boyfriend. Bracelet-boyfriend. OK let’s say he’s a magical bracelet who just happens to be my boyfriend.
Carmela Pascale’s The Magic Bracelet tells the tale of Eloise, a young bilingual girl picked on by a group of bullies. With the help of her magic bracelet, she turns the tides on the bullies and teaches them a lesson they’ll never forget!
In late 2014, former YPT Teaching Artist and longtime supporter Adrienne Nelson approached YPT’s Student Advisory Council with a compelling project. She and her team were launching the DC premiere of One in the Chamber, a new play about children and gun violence, and they wanted the Council to get involved.
Seeking young people’s perspectives on guns, the Chamber team invited the Council to write response pieces to the play. Four students wrote pieces, and two were selected for a FREE staged reading after the closing performance on Sunday, September 6.
Read excerpts from the four response plays below, then come to Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint on 9/6 for a gripping performance and free staged reading! The play begins at 8pm, the reading at 9:30pm.
WINNAH: Guns are okay and all– But who’d want a gun as a gift. I’d rather have skates or a bike.
ELENA: I didn’t know you knew how to handle a gun.
WINNAH: I don’t. I’m not even allowed to know where it is in the house. But every time my father goes out hunting, he comes back with dead squirrels, rabbits. Once he even brought back a whole deer. I felt horrible at first, just lying there looking pitiful. But once momma cooked it, it was delicious.
ELENA: Well your father’s rules apply here in the palace too, Winnah. No handling of anything that looks like its dangerous. And the same goes for Anna too, okay? There’s a lot going on these days, and I want you both to stay safe. Promise me.
WINNAH: Okay, I promise.
The Life and Times of Julie Parker, by Anna Vargas
ANDY (ADULT): They say when you die, your life flashes before your eyes.
LIGHTS UP on JULIE (YOUNG) standing neutral in front of a swingset as ANDY (ADULT) continues to speak from the side of the stage, papers in his hand.
ANDY (ADULT): I find that ridiculous. First of all, if your entire life was condensed into a single flash, a single moment, it would go by so fast you won’t be able to register the fact that it was your life before it would be over. So for this to be true, it would have to be select scenes from your life. But what dictates what parts are chosen? The happiest moments? The moments most crucial to your development as a person? The saddest moments? Your first steps? Your first breath? What could be so important to relive right before you forget it all?
Red Cabinet, by Paul McCoyer
ELIZA: Can you play checkers with me?
BEN: Sure, lemme go get the board…
He exits. ELIZA notices the red cabinet.
ELIZA: (Shouting) Ben!
BEN: (Shouting from offstage) What?
ELIZA: (Shouting) What’s in the red cabinet?
BEN: (Shouting from offstage) I dunno, why don’t you open it if you’re so curious?
ELIZA sighs, gets up from the table, and opens the cabinet door. She removes a small handgun from the cabinet with a mixed look of curiosity and awe and takes it back to the table with her. BEN reenters.
BEN: Couldn’t find the checkers and (Tone changes to a worried one) WOAH where did you get that??
ELIZA: (Nonchalantly) In the red cabinet.
BEN: (Nervously) You know what that is, right, Liz?
ELIZA: Yeah. It’s a gun. It’s cool.
BEN: No, no, it’s not cool, it’s dangerous, and you need to put it down right now.
Dodge, by Will Larrocca
(MICHAEL is at a bar.)
(ASHLEY walks next to him.)
A: A Budweiser please.
(She glares at him.)
M: Do I know you?
M: Then do you mind not glaring at me? (ASHLEY still glares at him.) Oh, I get it. You watch the news.
M: So I’m going to guess that you know who I am.
M: I’m gonna take another guess and say that you don’t like me.
A: (Sarcastically) You’re good at this.
M: Thank you. Well, let’s get this over with. What do you want to say to me?
A: I just want to let you know that I think you should be ashamed of yourself.
M: (Sarcastically) Wow, you think I should be ashamed! That really hurts my feelings. Well, I don’t feel ashamed so you can save that one.
A: Really? You don’t feel any guilt?
M: Nope. I mean, I’m sorry that he died, but I’m not ashamed of anything I did.
For more of these powerful, poignant student-written plays, come to the FREE staged reading on Sunday, September 6 at 9:30pm! Click here for tickets. Recommended for ages 13 and up due to adult subject matter.
Hello! For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Thembi Duncan and I am YPT’s new Creative Programs Director. I am overjoyed to meet all of you, and to take on a leadership role in an organization I have loved and admired for so long!
Allow me to tell you a bit about myself: I was born and raised in the DC area, studied Theatre at the University of Maryland and have been dedicated to DC’s young people and performing arts community throughout my artistic career here. I began as an actor, then transitioned into playwriting, teaching and producing—though I still find myself on stage every so often. 🙂 Before coming to YPT, I was the Lead Teaching Artist at Ford’s Theatre, the Producing Artistic Director of the African Continuum Theatre Company and a co-founder of UMD’s Black Theatre Symposium.
When I was first getting my start in DC theater, I met an up-and-coming playwright named Karen Zacarías, who told me about a new arts education nonprofit she had founded called Young Playwrights’ Theater. Before she could even finish explaining it to me, I was hooked. The idea of creating avenues for young people to freely express themselves, and then hiring professional actors to realize their visions, spoke to me on so many levels: as an artist, a black woman and a new mother, I saw right away the potential for YPT to transform young peoples’ lives. “Where do I sign up?” I asked. Karen Evans, YPT’s Managing Director at that time, was another huge influence on my decision to contribute my talents to the nurturing of young playwrights.
For the next several years, I worked on and off with YPT, performing student-written plays alongside such DC theatre luminaries as Jefferson Russell and KenYatta Rogers. My crowning achievement as a YPT actor came when I was cast as Lil’ Red in Lil’ Red in Da Hood, a YPT Communitywrites! production that we performed at the Carnegie Institute of Washington and the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage. Since then, I have stayed involved with YPT in an artistic capacity, most recently reading a poem I wrote at Silence Is Violence, YPT’s inspiring #BlackLivesMatter community event.
Though, over the last few years, my career has taken me away from working directly with YPT, the organization and the young people it serves have always been near and dear to my heart. Thus, when I found out that YPT was hiring a Creative Programs Director, I jumped at the chance! This truly is a dream job for me, as it not only combines my two great loves—theater and education—but it also gives me a chance to make a difference in the lives of DC’s young people, every single day.
I am truly grateful to the YPT team for entrusting me with this mission, and to the YPT family for supporting this work for over 20 years. I cannot wait to meet the young playwrights of the 2015-16 In-School Playwriting Program, dive into our 2015-16 performance season and help plan exciting new collaborations with students and artists across DC and beyond! Stick around—it’s going to be a great year.
Again, it is a great honor to be a part of this terrific organization, and I look forward to accomplishing great things together. I hope to meet each and every one of you at our upcoming performances and events!
All my best,
Creative Programs Director,
Young Playwrights’ Theater