YPT Welcomes Raina Fox as Our New Community Engagement Associate!

Sometimes artists get a bad name: they are disorganized and unreliable. They let their ideas get ahead of their ability to perform. They live in a world of their own.

I am so thrilled to be part of a team of artists who share none of those traits.

As I end my very first week as Community Engagement Associate at the Young Playwrights’ Theater, I am overcome by the energy, intelligence, organization, creativity, and passion of the folks who make it possible for our young playwrights to contribute to and be a part of our creative world.

On Tuesday evening, YPT held its first ever kick-off event, at which actors performed teaser scenes from three student plays. Students, families, board members, supporters, and staff gathered to celebrate and watch as these plays begin to form. We watched as a boy from the moon struggled to understand earth, a young man and his turtle friend confronted their own personal hell (high school), and a couple’s relationship started to deteriorate because of a text message.  The plays were funny, insightful, clever, and entertaining. However, the best part was watching the young playwrights as they saw their characters come to life through the words they had written. Though they seemed a bit embarrassed, they absolutely radiated pride and excitement. I was so happy to approach the essence of YPT by experiencing these plays alongside their young writers and so many members of the wonderful YPT community.

I also experienced the first stage of a Fannie Mae-commissioned play on homelessness in the form of workshops at N Street Village and Martha’s Table. The women of N Street and children of Martha’s table were amazingly eloquent, perceptive, and enthusiastic when speaking about the issue of homelessness. They were not only willing to share their perspectives, but thrilled to be part of the play to come. I too am excited to see where these community perspectives lead the creative process and to have my perspective of homelessness tested along the way.

This week was the perfect introduction to my time at YPT—I was able to see the brainstorming and writing processes, experience the first stage in producing a play, and begin to connect with YPT and the broader community. As I start to develop ways to further engage our community, I know this is rooted in a strong, supportive, passionate group of folks, who, yes, happen to be artists.

Raina
Community Engagement Associate

Back to School with YPT!

It’s such an exciting time of year. Last week YPT successfully trained our entire team of teaching artists to execute the In-School Playwriting Program. It was a somewhat daunting task. We’ve been dreaming all summer about how to make YPT better, how to create a richer experience for students, and how to make everything run more smoothly. All of a sudden it was the end of August (how did THAT happen?) – time to pull my head out of the clouds and get down to business.

Fortunately, (and I think this is a proven scientific fact) YPT has the best teaching artists in the entire world. They made training so easy, it was actually kind of confusing. I thought I might hear run of the mill questions like, “When are the first drafts due again?” Instead, we spent our time discussing strategies for serving students with special needs and testing the fun factor of YPT’s educational games. Seasoned teaching artists were generous enough to share their knowledge with those who will be teaching with YPT for the first time.

One such YPT veteran, Danielle Drakes, has experience teaching our After-School Playwriting Program and has also served as an actor for the In-School Playwriting Program. She spoke in particular about her experience with high school workshop six – The Language Workshop. The Language Workshop focuses on how a playwright uses word choice and grammar to affect an actor’s delivery. In one exercise, students are given a basic character (like “an old woman from the country trying to get some lazy kids off of her lawn”) and asked to write a couple lines that demonstrate how they imagine that person would speak. The actor’s role is to perform these lines exactly as the students write them.

Danielle said that it was her experience as an actor in The Language Workshop that made her want to teach the In-School program. She spoke about how powerful it was for students to find out that using language isn’t always about “right” and “wrong.” When you’re capturing a character’s voice, it’s OK to spell creatively and use unconventional grammar. Danielle told us about a student at Ferebee-Hope Elementary School who used the word “gunneh” in a play. She was able to have a sophisticated conversation with all her students: what’s the difference between “gunneh,” “gonna” and “going to”? Each choice communicates something specific about a character, and none of those choices are wrong!

YPT’s teaching artists are so intelligent, so creative, and so committed to students that it will blow your mind. We’re sending six of them to seven schools this fall. With help from Laurie Ascoli (our Program Assistant), Patrick Torres (our Associate Artistic Director), and me, YPT will reach twenty-one classes and serve about 450 students.

Did I mention that’s only the fall?

Welcome back everyone! Game on.

Nicole
Program Manager

David Speaks on the Role of the Arts in Students’ Lives – Why We Do What We Do

This year I and YPT were honored to receive the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation’s Exponent Award for visionary leadership. On Monday, June 7th, at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, we received the award during a fun and compelling ceremony that highlighted the importance of the work of nonprofits in our community. I am so grateful to the Meyer Foundation, for the award, but also for the simple opportunity to share a few thoughts about why we do what we do. I’ve had several requests since that evening to post or share my remarks in some way, so here they are. I hope you’ll in some way connect with how we at YPT feel about the arts in students’ lives.

Monday, June 7, 2010
“Thank you so much. I’m so grateful to Julie, Rick, Carmen, Amy, the board of directors and everyone at the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, to have their amazing support in my life and the life of Young Playwrights’ Theater. As those of us running organizations know all too well, the proof is in the people. And the Meyer Foundation is filled with true partners, true advocates and true friends to us in the nonprofit sector. I’ve dedicated my life to helping students express themselves and engage the world around them. Because I believe as much as we need to eat, sleep and clothe ourselves to be human, we need to express ourselves. We need to be able to share with our neighbors and the rest of the world what’s bothering us, how others can help us and what we fear or dream of for our future. And that beyond basic reading, writing and arithmetic, students need to be able to think for themselves. They need to be able to imagine, envision, and explain. They need to understand – not just know, but to understand what they’re learning and why. They need to be able to stand up, put their ideas forward and defend them. And they need to be able to inspire and be inspired.

I know that as I reflect on important moments in my life when I truly learned something, most of them didn’t happen sitting silently at a desk. Most of them were experiences, conversations, dialogues with other people that taught me something I didn’t know and stirred something inside me I didn’t know I had. And in this age of Facebook, Twitter and texting there’s an even greater understanding that comes from being in a room face to face, explaining with our whole selves what we mean, and learning about the world from direct experience and dialogue with our fellow human beings.

So as we’re ensuring that critical needs are met in these challenging times, and that students can do well on the latest standardized tests, I think we need to consider not only what will get us through the night, through the next month or next couple of years, but also what we want to be, what we want to look like and what we want to represent when we get through it.  What kind of society do we want to have? How will students compete in the global arena of ideas if they have none to share? And how can we envision our future if we’re not able to dream?

At Young Playwrights’ Theater we give students the tools they need to engage the world.  And in turn they share their dreams, their fears, their hopes and their visions for the future.  Every student writes a play. Every student hears their play performed by professional actors in the classroom. We share the students’ work with their community through readings, festivals and tours and we pay the students for the opportunity to produce their plays. The students introduce their work and speak about why they wrote what they wrote; they drive rehearsals and recognize their own power in the process. Truancy rates drop when we’re in the classroom. Homework completion soars with our assignments.  We see with our assessments that students’ critical and creative thinking improve dramatically during the program. And teachers, students and parents tell us how much the program has meant to them. Because for many of our students, it’s the first time someone has asked them what they think. It’s their first time to really engage in class.  It’s their first time to tell their stories.  And it’s their first time to realize their own true potential – a revelation of who they are, and who they could be.

Tonight, this honor helps me and all of us at YPT know that what we do matters – that having a vision, and thinking outside the box, makes a difference; that we have partners who believe in our mission; and that service toward a greater good is possible, even today. And that’s a huge gift. I want to thank my fellow recipients, who bring hope, love and strength to so many; thank you to my amazing staff at Young Playwrights’ Theater, Patrick Torres, Brigitte Moore, Elizabeth Andrews, who inspire me every day with their dedication, their passion and their generosity; to our wonderful board of directors and our amazing chair Brian Kennedy; thank you to the greatest Founder a successor could wish for, Karen Zacarias, and of course to our students, for their dedication, their inspiration and their awe-inspiring work; and to my family –  my parents, my sister, my beautiful wife Alex, my son Henry and my two-week old daughter Della for their love and grace in my life. I am grateful to do this work and I am so very grateful to be here tonight.  Thank you very, very much.”

Click here to see more info on the award and the video compilation of the evening, produced by the Meyer Foundation.

Hope to see you soon!

David
Producing Artistic Director and CEO

Movie Break: Why the Film “Inception” Made Brigitte So Excited for YPT’s 15th Season

“A single idea from the human mind can build cities.  An idea can transform the rules and rewrite all existence.”

–     Cobb (from Inception)

This past weekend I took a break from writing grant proposals for YPT and saw Inception, the imaginative new Christopher Nolan film that’s bringing in the box office big bucks this month. I left the film inspired (I loved it) and, believe it or not, thinking of YPT.

In Inception (I promise I’m not giving anything away), a crack team of dream “extractors”, lucid dreamers who infiltrate people’s minds and coerce them into revealing their deepest secrets, work together to tackle the risky, untested challenge of “inception” – implanting an idea in the subconscious mind of a dreamer. The film is smart, visually stunning, and contains a mind-blowing fight scene that takes place in a hallway (if you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about).

So why on earth would this sci-fi thriller make me think of YPT?

Inception is a story about a perfect team – each team member contributes something unique and necessary to the mission of the group. They give it all they’ve got. They trust one another.

As YPT expands this year to serve more students than ever before (1,000!), I cannot help reflecting on how lucky I am to work with such a perfect team.

Each YPT staff member, board member, teaching artist, actor, director and designer plays a specific and invaluable role in achieving our daily mission to use playwriting to teach students the power and value of their own creative ideas – ideas that can move hearts and minds, ideas that may, indeed, change the world.

In fact, the imaginative idea behind the film Inception is the kind of innovation that I find so inspiring in the work of our students. Plays written by YPT students tackle challenging issues including gender roles, self-worth, power dynamics, immigration, drugs, and gangs; and explore such universal themes as family, relationships, heritage, and love. And YPT students take on these big ideas in such inventive and unexpected ways. Just this past year, YPT produced a dark, sci-fi play that imagines a future world in which women have been deemed obsolete and eliminated, a brilliant mafia play that challenges the very concept of theatrical form, and a fantastical comedy about an arrogant knight and a dragon that wants nothing more than to be left alone.

In the next few weeks, YPT will announce our 2010-2011 Season, and (I promise) you will not be disappointed by what our students have in store for you.

Stay tuned. It’s going to be an amazing year.

Brigitte
Development Director

Theater Education Failed America

by Elizabeth Andrews

In “How We Failed Theater” Jerome Weeks’ great response to Mike Daisey’s “How Theater Failed America,” Mr. Weeks makes the case that theater education (or the lack thereof) is a major factor in the decline of the American theater. He speaks of his wife’s struggles to teach theater to students at a public high school, and the numerous watered down school assembly performances that youth are routinely subjected to.  The best part of this post is that Daisey and Sara Weeks respond in the comments. Sara’s writing about why theater teacher perservere struck a chord with me:

“The spectrum of [my students’] life experience and arts experience is wide and narrow at the same time. My frustrations are often with my own sense of failure… I can never do enough to bridge this gap. In my heart I know Theater saves people. On good days, it saves me and my little Thespians, Drama Queens and aspiring Techies.” – Sara Weeks

To read Jerome Weeks’ Article click here.