Listen Up

Trayvon Martin’s death and George Zimmerman’s trial and subsequent acquittal have sparked a heated and important national conversation. Many intelligent thinkers are trying to make sense of this tragedy, searching for ways that we as a nation can heal and move forward. As I reflect on the work that we at YPT do with young people, specifically teenagers, I feel compelled to speak from my point of view as both an artist and an educator.

As adults, we have got to listen to teenagers. Now more than ever. We have got to let African American teenagers and teenagers of color and all teenagers know that they deserve safety, health and happiness, and that their voices matter.

Too many teenagers in our society are plagued by violence in their schools, in their homes and in their neighborhoods. They are marginalized because of racism, sexism, poverty, homophobia, transphobia and combinations thereof. They are judged unfairly, labeled “dangerous,” “threatening” and “difficult.”

I am deeply troubled by all the negativity surrounding the “millennial” generation. Millennials are supposedly “lazy” and “entitled.” They’re attached to their phones. They’re the “me generation.” At the same time, studies report that the time to invest in young people is in early childhood, an excellent strategy but one that I worry may inadvertently suggest a hidden corollary: that by the time children have become teenagers, they cannot learn, cannot grow, cannot make important contributions to their communities.

In my five years with YPT, I have met amazing teenagers. YPT’s teenage playwrights have written insightful plays that comment on real issues facing their communities such as gang violence, teen pregnancy, bias crime, bullying, gentrification and immigration. And they’ve also penned delightful comedies that lift the spirits of all who watch or read them. I’ve met teenagers who surprised me by sitting silent in the back of the class for a whole semester, only to hand in brilliant plays. I’ve seen teenagers work together and forge connections with other students who were different from themselves.

When I walk into a high school classroom, I know that I will have to work hard to earn the respect and trust of the teenage students. Why should this reflect poorly on them? Teenagers are savvy. Just like adults, they ask us to prove ourselves. That doesn’t make them “bad” or “difficult” – it is their right as human beings.

Now more than ever we need to empower young people. We need to listen to their stories and honor their perspectives. We need to encourage and allow them to speak their truths to help us as adults “widen our circles of compassion,” as President Obama put it. Our circles of compassion must grow to encompass all teenagers. To do that, we’re going to have to listen up.

Nicole Jost
Artistic Director

Announcing YPT’s 5-Line Playwriting Challenge

This winter, YPT is turning the tables and giving our supporters the chance to be playwrights!

YPT couldn’t ask for better supporters. Over the years, you’ve packed houses at performances, participated in our online contests, joined the conversation on Facebook, gotten 15 to give 15, and run an 8k for us, all helping us grow to serve almost 2,000 students throughout the DC region each year. But demand for YPT’s programs grows, we do not currently have the capacity to reach all the students on our waiting list. That’s where you come in.

Our students really want you to say yes to them … so they’re going to say yes to you.

We’ve seen how YPT has impacted our alums as they’ve gone on to study everything from theater to business to neuroscience, and we think everyone should get the opportunity to be a playwright. So here’s your chance!

Now through December 14th, donate $25 or more to YPT and send us an original 5-line play, and our students will perform YOUR play.

Here’s how it works:

1) Donate $25 or more to YPT here or mail your check, made out to Young Playwrights’ Theater, to 2437 15th Street NW, Washington, DC, 20009.

2) Write a 5-line play and email it to abeyrle@yptdc.org by 5pm on December 14, 2012.

3) YPT elementary school students will rehearse and perform your play in their classroom and YPT staff will film it.

4) On December 21, YPT will post all the plays on our YouTube channel.

5) Share your play with your family and friends and show your support for arts education and our students!

Your donation will help YPT say YES to new classrooms and shrink our waiting list, helping more students discover the power of their voices and stories through playwriting. And to thank you, YPT students will share YOUR story with the world.

Play Guidelines:

1) Your play must be no more than five lines.

2) Your play must have two characters.

3) You must use the phrase “say yes” somewhere within the play.

4) Plays will be performed by elementary school students, so age-appropriate language and subject material please!

5) Your play must be submitted to abeyrle@yptdc.org by December 14, accompanied by a donation of $25 or more to support YPT’s fall fundraising campaign.

Tips:  Use your favorite books, movies or even pop culture as inspiration (age-appropriate please). Include a conflict! Think outside the box! As we’ve seen from our students’ plays, even inanimate desk objects can become vivid characters. There are no wrong answers, and no idea is too crazy!

Help YPT make our holiday fundraising campaign our biggest ever, and show our students that anyone can be a playwright. Click below to make your donation and get started!

Need inspiration?  Here are some examples!

Inspired by The Book and the Restless by Aayanna Collier (featured in YPT’s 2012 New Play Festival and 2012 Express Tour)

The Book and the Restless: The Proposal

BENJAMIN: Annie, will you marry me?

ANNIE: Oh Benjamin! I really want to say yes … but before I do I need to tell you something … something that I’ve wanted to tell you for a long time …

BENJAMIN: What is it?  Are you in love with Manny? (Annie shakes head) A Geography Goon?  (Shakes headPerry?  (Shakes head) Then what? What could possibly stop us from living happily ever after in the fairy tale section?

ANNIE: I … I think I want to become a vegetarian.

BENJAMIN: (Faints)

The 5-Line Play: Can It Be Done?

NO: Say, Yes?

YES: What?

NO: Will you help me write this five-line play? I really want to help YPT serve more students and see my play on YouTube!

YES: No.

NO: HA! THE END!

Still stuck? We’re here to help! For updates, inspiration and playwriting tips be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter throughout December!

Thank you, as always, for your amazing support.  We can’t wait to read your plays!

I’m Running for YPT Because …

It’s hard to believe, but the mornings are getting cooler, shelves are stocked with back-to-school supplies, and here at YPT we are gearing up for an amazing new year of programming and performances. Summer is almost over, and in less than two months, YPT staff and friends will be lacing up their running (or walking) shoes to Race for a Cause on October 14th!

Why run for YPT? For a little inspiration, check out some of our staff members’ personal motivations, and register today to join us! Already registered? Share why you’re running for YPT in the comments section, or on our Facebook page and help inspire others. Let’s show Acumen Solutions that we have the best community of support around!

Name: Nicole, Associate Artistic Director

Team: Magnet Dude

I’m running for YPT because …

I want to say yes to all the schools on our waiting list. There is so much demand for our programming – we need to grow so we can serve more students!

I run … never. Never ever. That’s dedication right there! I’ll be huffing and puffing with the “go at your own pace” crew. In fact, I’ll probably be behind the crew. But I’ll be there!

Name: Alison, Development and Producing Associate

Team: Supergirl

I’m running for YPT because …

I want my first official race to support an organization that I care deeply about.

I run … sometimes. A couple miles on the treadmill, or a few laps around my block on the rare occasion when it’s not a steam bath outside. But I’m ready to go beyond my comfort zone, and what better reason to participate in my first 8k than running to support the arts, and YPT’s goal to serve more students than ever before this year! If our students are brave enough to share their dreams, hopes and fears with the world through their plays, I think I can make it to the finish line. I just may need a very large Gatorade.

Name: Laurie, Program Associate

Team: Flatworm

I’m running for YPT because …

Finally, I will be able to truly compete in something involving physical ability. 

Ever since I was a kid I’ve been extremely competitive, but have never been able to channel that into sports because I’m pathetically unathletic.  When it came to geography bees or Crypto (an awesome math game from my freshman algebra class) I was known to flip desks and scream “IN YOUR FACE!” when I was on a winning streak, but in gym class I always hung back.  I mean, I rocked at badminton when we got to play that, but anything that involved real coordination or strength was not my forte.  But now that I am in the Flatworm 1 Mile Walk/Run group, I feel confident that I can dominate over the children and elderly that will be running alongside me.  Finally, I will be able to truly compete in something involving physical ability.  Please have “Eye of the Tiger” cued up for my victory lap around Arlington.

Name: Brigitte, Acting Executive Director

Team: Magnet Dude

I’m running for YPT because …

I believe that what YPT students have to say matters. Plus, it’s a great excuse to buy sweet new running shoes.

I’m going to be honest. I don’t run. I’ve never run a city block – let alone an 8K. But I believe deeply in YPT, and I’ll do anything for our students – even it means running/walking/dragging myself over the finish line on October 14. I’ve even downloaded a running app for my phone and started thinking about my 8K playlist. That counts as training, right? I’m so excited to see the YPT community pull together this October to show YPT students that their voices matter, their stories are important and their dreams are achievable. It’s going to be an inspiring day, and I can’t wait to be part of it.

Are you already planning how to spend your share of the $2000 that Acumen Solutions will award to top race winners, or are you just excited to get outside and get some exercise with friends? Share your story with us, and follow us throughout the fall for training tips, inspirational stories and updates! Remember, the more people who race for us, the more money we raise to teach young people that their voices count! 

Thank you, as always, for your amazing support!  See you on October 14th!

For more information on the 2012 Acumen Solutions Race for a Cause8k and 1 Mile Fun Run, click here.

Spotlight on Sam Burris: YPT Featured Playwright

Sam Burris was a student in YPT’s In School Playwriting Program at Swanson Middle School last semester.  His play, The Stranger, deals with a young war veteran battling his demons after returning to the United States. Sam gives this tale a unique twist through his personification of Fear as the protagonist’s opponent.  Below, Sam talks about his experience of conceiving and writing The Stranger, which will be produced in YPT’s New Play Festival on April 24. 

Reflection on the New Play Festival Process
by Sam Burris

Like most of the kids in my all year drama class, I groaned when I heard that we were going to be writing a play every Wednesday for the next twelve weeks. But secretly, I was really looking forward to it. At first trying to write my play was really frustrating. I had a distinct idea in my head, and I just didn’t know how to put it into words. But once I got the words flowing, it was really easy and enjoyable to write this play. There were so many great plays in my class, so I was really surprised when I found out I had been selected to even be considered, let alone have my play produced.

After my play was selected, I was thrilled to learn that [YPT Program Associate] Laurie Ascoli would be my dramaturge, especially because she had been the teaching artist for my class. She was very helpful in the original process of writing my play, as well as when I had to make my final edits. Although we didn’t spend as much time together working on it, as I think some of the other playwrights may have, I never would’ve been able to write my play without her help. She guided me to make changes that helped me to better understand my own characters and find the words to describe the newfound aspects of the characters to the audience.

Throughout the whole process, I was afraid my play wasn’t “good enough”. Especially at the first read when I heard everyone elses’ plays. They were so spectacular, I was afraid to have mine read. But after I heard it read, I knew that it would do just fine. I loved hearing my words come to life through the actors. It was amazing.

I’m honored to be featured in the New Play Festival, and I’m astounded by the emotional capacity that the other playwrights express in their plays. I’m sure it’ll be great!

Sam Burris
YPT Young Playwright 

Workshop Visitors Inspire and Get Inspired

Workshop and Chinese Theater ArtistsLast week, our Young Playwrights’ Workshop participated in their third international exchange of the year. Six Chinese theater artists visited our studio space along with two translators to learn more about theater in the US. It was fitting that the students were in the midst of writing and rehearsing an original play about meeting strangers!

Everyone introduced themselves and why they were spending that afternoon in YPT’s studio. The Chinese theater artists spoke of their dreams of visiting the US, and the enthusiasm with which they partook in every activity during their trip. Our students were, as always, well-spoken and inspiring when it came to explaining why they were there. Patricio said, “I come to YPT because I can be more creative here than anywhere else” and was met with nods of approval. “I come here to get a new perspective on life,” proclaimed Amber, and her sentiments were echoed by Kevin. I think I was as affected by their answers as our visitors were! Already people were getting a better sense of each other. Working with these students all year as the assistant in the Workshop, I see them bursting with creative energy each week, but it was touching to actually get a chance to hear from them about why they keep coming back.

Inspired by the students’ play and this real experience of meeting strangers, the students and visitors wrote monologues about a time when they met a stranger who changed them. This person could have affected their life in some momentous way, or just made them see things differently for a moment.

Workshop students and Chinese theater artists write monologuesMany of our visitors chose that very day as the inspiration for their monologues. With the help of the translators, we heard tales of their experience so far in DC. One man said being here was like a dream and he was waiting to be pinched and awakened. Another credited a specific Workshop student for drawing in the group with her warm smile and kind demeanor, saying she made them feel so welcome and comfortable despite the language barrier. The final monologue tied together the afternoon, with the Chinese visitor speaking movingly about her experience watching the Workshop students write, perform and interact. Throughout the hour and a half, she had learned so much about them, and shared so much of herself. We were strangers. We are not anymore.

See the Young Playwrights’ Workshop’s play on June 11 at GALA Hispanic Theatre!

Liza
Communications and Graphic Design Associate

Celebrating a Season of New Plays

In 2011, YPT students wrote more than 700 new plays. That’s a staggering number! And just like literary managers at theaters across the country, we’re overwhelmed with more amazing work than we could possibly put on stage.

That’s why we send actors directly into the classroom, so all of our playwrights can hear a selection from their work performed by professionals. Students consistently report that seeing the actors is their favorite part of the In-School Playwriting Program. (In fact, our students are delighted whenever the actors visit – sometimes they beg teaching artists to “bring back the actors!”)

These in-class readings are powerful events, as students are often inspired by the work of their peers. At Bell Multicultural High School, some students were moved to tears by the work of playwright Javier Reyes, whose play was featured in the 2011 New Play Festival, and playwright Cristian Miguel, whose play was read at New Writers Now! – The Fight for Family. Both young playwrights explored difficult issues, depicting a character’s struggle with addiction, and a family’s struggle with the decision to serve in the military, respectively. There was electricity in the air in Ms. Restak’s room as seasoned actors read the plays for the first time, bringing overwhelming emotion to the tragic stories.

But when it comes to selecting our season, it can be painful to let a really good play go unseen by a larger audience. Out of that big pool of 700, only 12 plays go on to the New Play Festival. Others make it into our New Writers Now! staged reading series. And some go on to be seen by audiences across the region in our Express Tour. Our 2011-2012 season already includes 22 plays, plus additional scenes, poetry and devised work. But we wondered: could we do more?

So with this year’s New Play Festival, we decided to celebrate more student playwrights than ever before. In addition to the twelve Featured Playwrights, we named fourteen Finalists. These Finalists are the students who made it to the top level of our Reading Committee (composed of YPT Company Members, staff, teaching artists and students). There’s Paola Rivera, whose play Super Ness Save the World! impressed readers with a smug, hilarious villain named Mean Cone. (Mean Cone’s first line? “I just tipped over a building with lots of innocent people in it and they all died!” And then he delivers an evil laugh!) Then there’s Evan McLean, who wowed us with his bold decision to personify the concept of war, transforming the idea into a character with fiery red hair and an aggressive attitude. And there’s Christian Bullock, who bravely told the story of a teenager struggling to escape an abusive home. These sometimes moving, sometimes funny, always inspiring plays deserve to be heard!

In the weeks leading up to the New Play Festival showcase performances at GALA Hispanic Theatre, we’ll present plays written by these Finalists in a series of Community Readings. We launched our season of new plays with readings at our Kickoff Party in January. Then in early March, we presented exceptional work by middle school Finalists in an Arlington Community Reading. We’ll visit neighborhoods across the region to make sure each of our fourteen Finalists gets a chance to see their play brought to life.

You can check out outstanding plays written by elementary school Finalists at our Capitol Hill Community Reading on Tuesday March 20 at 7pm at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop (CHAW). The evening promises to be a fun (and family-friendly!) collection of wacky characters and comic performances. And don’t miss our Featured Playwrights on April 23 and 24 at GALA!

See you there,

Nicole
Program Manager

What’s So Great About YPT? Ask the Students.

This Wednesday evening, a group of very special guests dropped by our YPT Board meeting. Five members of YPT’s Young Playwrights’ Workshop and new Student Advisory Council shared pizza and cookies with our Board of Directors and talked about their experience working with YPT.

They had participated in YPT programming in a variety of ways – as students in our In-School Playwriting Program and our after-school Young Playwrights’ Workshop, and as featured playwrights and performers in our New Play Festival and our New Writers Now! reading series. They were YPT experts – a true authority on our work in and out of the classroom.

Listening to these students share their thoughts – on YPT and the value of arts education, on school, on their dreams for the future – was deeply inspiring.

One student described her experience as a shy student, afraid to speak out in class. She credited YPT with helping her find her voice and share her ideas with confidence. (Listening to her speak, it was hard to believe that she had ever been a quiet student.) “I want to thank you,” she told the board. “Without you, I wouldn’t be here speaking like this today.”

Another student said that YPT is like a family. She explained that YPT’s Young Playwrights’ Workshop provides her with the opportunity to interact with students that would never be friends or even necessarily feel comfortable speaking with one another in school. At YPT, these students are equals, removed from the clique culture of the school day, and working together to create something bigger than themselves.

One Board member asked the students what they would say to a principal or administrator if he or she decided to cut YPT from their menu of in-school and after-school programming. All five students vehemently responded, “We would never let that happen.”

One of the students – the one who described herself as formerly shy – explained that YPT teaches students to learn and think creatively, and that this kind of thinking is the glue that connects and holds all the other academic and extracurricular activities together. “Without YPT,” she said, “everything else would just shatter.”

Another Board member asked the students how YPT could make their experience even better. The students threw out a number of ideas to build on existing programs – like finding ways to include YPT alumni in programming after they move on to college.  They expressed a strong desire to return to YPT after graduation to serve as mentors and advocates for their younger peers. (We think that’s a great idea.)

One of the younger students told the Board Chair that we should find a way to let kids know that writing a play with YPT is different and better than “just another writing assignment.”

“What makes it better?” the Board Chair asked.

The student shrugged. “It’s fun.”

Interested in meeting our students and joining in on the fun? Check out New Writers Now! – Mad Love, on February 13, our next free professional performance of student work (and our first-ever anti-Valentine’s Day celebration).


Brigitte
Deputy Director