A YPT wedding!

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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.”

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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.

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“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!

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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!

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Parting Words from YPT Students

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

FY16 SAC Show-224Imagine, 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.Sam & Anna Last Day

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! 

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Senior Experience Reflection, by Anna Vargas

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

Sincerely,
Nana Gongadze

PS: Please enjoy a small token of my thanks! It is delicious.

Nana YPTea

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!


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Insights from YPT’s Summer Intern

Throughout my primary schooling, I was fortunate enough to have always been a student of the theater. In senior year of high school, I participated in Young Playwrights’ Theater’s In-School Playwriting Program. At the time, I was thrilled to have a creative release built into a school curriculum which was getting old. I was asked to use my voice and be heard in a way that boosted my confidence and excitement for college. Now that I have graduated high school, I cannot help but be concerned with my new role as a student of life; “the real world,” as they call it. The inspiration I’d harnessed with YPT quickly turned from creative momentum to pressure. The question in the forefront of my brain changed from, “What can I do?” to “What will I do?!” As a YPT student I’d learned that playwriting could be a therapeutic tool for expression and communication, but how could my love for theater translate back to the community?

I came to YPT, and they allowed me in yet again, but this time, as an intern. My summer spent with YPT has taught me how theater breeches the confines of the stage and expands to the office, and how the office can extend to the community.

Possibly the greatest reward of working with YPT is that I have gained a more thorough understanding of why theater works with education. Through reading YPT’s curricula and implementing them with youth at summer camps, I have been able to make the connection between the art I love and its educational function. I recall that as a YPT student, I was asked to take responsibility for my voice, to find inspiration and put it to work for me. That training has been put to use in so many ways, even in writing this blog post. Its value, however, is now much better understood since I have also experienced teaching this skill.

YPT gave me the opportunity to work alongside professional teaching artists to implement the curriculum we’d been working on at a summer camp workshop for five to seven year olds. At first the course was all fun and games. The simple drama-oriented games we played were catalysts for releasing energy, and also focusing it. In playing games such as “Kitty Wants a Corner” or “Doctor’s Office,” the class was forced to listen to each other and communicate as directly as possible, given the game’s rules.  Imaginations went wild during these games, and it was our job to give the students tools to put that imagination to work. When we got to creating characters and their enemies, the private lives of students began to peek through the short monologues they were writing. It was incredible to watch these young minds recreate the young lives they were living through the incarnations of a horse who hated people, or a princess who could kiss butterflies, or a pencil who hated the eraser.

In our short hour-long workshops we would explore our physical expression and bodily limits through games, and then we would breech those limits with pen on paper. I helped students sound out the spelling of words and figure out how to speak the thoughts of their characters. The effect of this hands-on learning was strikingly vivid with students so young. The idea of taking on another’s role or voice was radical to them, but as they picked up on it, I could see them really feeling for these characters and articulating more depth into the character’s own psyche.

When we moved on to writing dialogues, it became clear that this class was about more than artistic expression. We were guiding these kids through conflict resolution, and teaching the value of diction and clarity when communicating. We were witnessing the power of imagination, and then offering the tools to give that power a purpose. I would read out a line from a student’s script and the response was either an explosion of new ideas, or an awe-inspired stare. We were giving these students their own words, breathing life into them, and revealing the great influence of language and their power over it.

Back in the office, I would plug away at taking inventory and organizing YPT’s resources, and work with the YPT crew to create their own ongoing, living work of art. In the classroom, my job was to offer the gift of education that would keep on giving— in the students’ social and academic lives. In the office, YPT staff were doing the same. The job of the playwright is to envision all the aspects and needs of a performance. The job of YPT is to envision all the needs of every player—be they the teaching artist, the professional actors, the students, or the community—and then to provide it in order to facilitate the ongoing creation of art and sociality.

The variety of work I have been able to do over this short summer is a testament to the type of organization this is, and the type of people who work here, and further, to the nature of the theater arts. My creative energies have been put to use doing housekeeping of props, keeping in touch with YPT contributors and alumni, working the curriculum hands-on with kids, as well as behind the scenes doing research, and just bearing witness to all the things that go into this world. The staff never fail to have students in mind as they plan events and productions, reach out to community, develop teaching artists, brainstorm opportunities to continue work with former students, reinvigorate curricula, keep up with celebrities (such as Josh Groban) who support arts education, give time to individual students who just want somebody to read their work, or even invest in educating the summer intern!

These people are lovers of art and education, and theater seems to have the perfect make-up for such a combination. Through the medium of performance, YPT gives students the opportunity to turn real life into art and art into real life, thus revealing the artists to themselves. The staff themselves work like artists, drawing inspiration from the youth and using the local community as a resource to turn ideas into action. I was lucky enough to be one such resource this summer, and now I can see, simply enough, potential, in every interaction and every person.

Sarah Giffin
YPT Summer Intern and Playwright Alumna

From Tetris to Twitter: David on New Communication in Cyberspace

If you’re like me, quickly approaching 40 and remembering the days in college when you’d play Tetris on the little black and white screen of your Macintosh computer and “email” involved typing a whole lot of backslashes, you may be daunted by the recent onslaught of social media tools swirling through cyberspace.

Don’t get me wrong – I love Facebook and how it’s allowed us to reconnect with YPT alumni from years past.  And I’m starting to understand Twitter – though really, why do we need to know that much about that many people? And managing them all at once can get overwhelming. Luckily, we’ve started to use HootSuite at YPT to streamline these tools. But even though I’ve received a full tutorial from someone under 30, I’m having trouble using it. Maybe I don’t have the time to focus on it? Or maybe I’m just resisting one more app on my overloaded Blackberry? But maybe I’m also longing for the days when the best ways to share your latest news included 1) picking up the phone and saying it, 2) writing a note and passing it or 3) pulling somebody aside and sharing it – face to face.  And I’m wondering, as we quickly declare our thoughts to the world on everything under the sun, from coffee to candidates, how much time do we now spend pondering those thoughts, forming those opinions or considering those words?

At YPT we try to give students the time and space to think, consider, and then speak, through their characters. Later this year we’ll be launching YPText, a new initiative focused on communicating and collaborating with students and the community via text messaging.  As we explore this new type of writing, I hope we can help students find new ways to still take the time and space to think, so that they can experience those crucial moments of self-discovery, when we form our own opinions of things, our view of the world, and our view of ourselves. 

As we’re running with HootSuite, Twitter, and Facebook to give you a window into the work, please let us know what you think – and how you think we’re doing. See you in cyberspace and, hopefully, in real space, soon.

David
Producing Artistic Director and CEO