Fernando Romero: It Matters

Fernando Romero graduated in May 2006 from Antioch College with a major in theater.  His life as an actor is one he could have little imagined as a young boy growing up in a mountain village in El Salvador.
The transition from his childhood in El Salvador to his adolescence in DC was the topic of a play entitled My Story that Fernando wrote with YPT.  Fernando first became acquainted with YPT while he was a student at Bell Multicultural High School.  After graduation, YPT offered Fernando a job, first as a receptionist and then as a Program Coordinator from 1999-2002.  Founder Karen Zacarias gave him his first acting job with YPT’s Express Tour.
Fernando says, “It was an amazing experience.  If Karen hadn’t given me the opportunity to act with the Express Tour, I probably wouldn’t have decided to study theater.”
YPT was proud to welcome Fernando back to the fold with his performance in African Roots/Latino Soul in the Fall of 2006 at the Smithsonian’s Discovery Theatre.  Fernando has continued to work with YPT over the past five years – as an actor and as an enthusiastic community advocate for the company.
 
Watch Fernando explain why arts education matters so much to him in the video below.

Want to help keep the arts in DC schools? Learn more here.

Fernando Romero
YPT Actor

The Best Experience I Ever Had in School

Check out this beautiful letter to YPT from Saviya Brown. Saviya, a junior at Bell Multicultural High School, wrote the play Taken 4 Granted, which will premiere in the New Play Festival, on April 13, at 7:30pm, at GALA Hispanic Theatre (3333 14th Street NW).

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Dear YPT Reading Committee and YPT staff:

I would love to thank the YPT Reading Committee and staff for their support and encouragement as I wrote my play. I would especially like to give my thanks to Patrick Torres for giving me the advice that I can do it. Without him I think I would not have done or finished the play. Working with YPT was the best experience I ever had in school. I say that because they gave me a chance to actually open up and experience better ways of writing. YPT is better than English classes, from my point of view, because you have people to sit side by side with you and help you without being rushed. They also give you extended time if you need to work on something. This is something that I will really remember as the best thing from all my years of high school.

I would also like to share that I am now writing a book. I wrote one last summer but it disappeared somehow, so I am currently writing one called Twisted. I have also invited people to help me write it [by contributing ideas] from their life experience, so hopefully it will come out well. The people who are featured are Tomas Rodriguez and Harold Dawson, and I would love to thank them also.

I would really love to thank YPT again. Thanks for being supportive and honest about our plays in all of your ways.

Sincerely,

Saviya Brown
YPT Young Playwright

History in the Making: Reflections from New Writers Now!

On Monday, February 7, 2011, an unprecedented number of community members from all over the DC metro area filled every available seat in GALA Hispanic Theatre to enjoy New Writers Now! – From Civil War to Civil Rights.

YPT presented original plays that explore the ways our history shapes us today, including I am a Slave by Maret School student Jack Brotman, Mercy, Mercy Me by Bell Multicultural High School student Ellen Hubbard, and Woodlawn, created collaboratively with residents and organizations throughout DC’s Ward 7.

After the performance, the audience was invited to reflect in writing on the plays they had just experienced. The results were insightful, honest, and poignant. Take a look at some of the responses, and feel free to comment below with your own thoughts!

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 The plays made me think about the big, often nasty and almost always glazed over and left unsaid conflicts in DC today.

  • How do newcomers to DC, who want to be part of a community, or part of creating a new “story”, interact with the existing community?
  • How do we get beyond gentrification/provocation, and the inherent conflicts of race and class that people are too ready to glaze over?
  • How do we talk to one another about development and progress without resorting to caricatures or engendering greater distrust and conflict?

Theater’s a good way to air these—thanks for your work.
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My own personal belief is that history should be preserved, but in order for history to last, it must be taught. In Woodlawn, I saw the generational gap where the personal history of the Elders had not been shared with the young people. Apathy can set in, and it corrodes the history. So the responsibility falls on the previous generation to teach the next generation the history and importance of a particular area.
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My father was buried not far from where I lived as a child, but we very rarely went to the site. This was partially due to the fact that we lost him so young, and it was just too painful to live with on a regular basis. I had gone to college and my mother had moved away before I decided to try and go back. I wandered through the rows of tombstones for twenty minutes before finding his. When the people in the play talked about the necessity for a place dedicated to them, a place where they live on, I was thrown back to the near-panic state I reached during the time that I couldn’t find his stone, the fear that, in never visiting the site and revisiting his memory, I might have lost him forever.
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A young audience member responds to the play Woodlawn with a drawing.

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I think about space, place, and meaning as inscribed in the built, or un-built environment. This play was incredible in helping me realize even more the importance of learning the history of those before me who have inscribed meaning in place. And that each person has a voice, and it should be heard.

So thank you, for telling these stories.

A loyal fan and neighbor,
Liz, age 22
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Thank you to everyone who came out to GALA Hispanic Theatre to celebrate our playwrights on Monday. It meant so much to see you all there.

We hope to see you all at the New Play Festival in April. Click here to learn more.

Raina
Community Engagement Associate

Oppression. Rebellion. Unrest. Family. Devotion. Equality. Progress.

These are just some of the issues explored  by 12th grader Ellen Hubbard in her play Mercy Mercy Me, which will be featured in next month’s New Writers Now! – From Civil War to Civil Rights.

Mercy Mercy Me focuses on one African American family living in mid-sixties Chicago, at the peak of the Civil Rights movement. Parents Charlotte and James struggle to make ends meet, focusing on their family despite the injustices they face every day. Neither they nor their children, however, can ignore these injustices for long.

Ellen, who was in 11th grade at Bell Multicultural High School when she wrote the play, is passionate about the Civil Rights period.  “Everything from that movement inspired me because if all those people could get through that, you could get through anything,” she says.  “And they kept their sense of humor through it all. That’s important.”

While her poignant portrayal of one family’s search for equality takes place more than four decades ago, Ellen knows it will still strike a chord with today’s audience.  “There are still a lot of movements going on,” she points out. “Animal rights, the women’s movement…There are still a lot of people struggling to get their rights recognized.”

In addition to identifying with the themes she examines, Ellen also hopes that her audience will find inspiration in James and Charlotte’s story.  “I hope people will be inspired to do whatever they want to in spite of the obstacles in their way, as far as money or whatever else.  And be thankful for what they have,” she says.  “I hope the audience can relate to it – and still have a couple of laughs!”

New Writers Now! – From Civil War to Civil Rights will be performed on February 7, at 7pm, at GALA Hispanic Theatre (3333 14th St. NW).  Admission is free.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Laurie
Program Assistant

whYPT? Let’s Ask the Students…

In the end, the answer to “whYPT?” is the students. For the last few weeks, we have been sharing the perspectives of staff and teaching artists on why YPT matters. But why do students actually take the time to imagine, write and turn in plays to their Teaching Artists during the In-School Playwriting Program? Why, after a day of school work, do they come to the Young Playwrights’ Workshop to learn acting and writing techniques as an ensemble?

“Young Playwrights’ Theater is a wonderful program where young adults can express themselves in many ways. Every Wednesday is full of new activities, new lessons and a more enjoyable time than the week before. The reason why I enjoy YPT is because it’s fun, it’s something I look forward to every Wednesday. In my opinion it should be more than just one meeting a week.”
-Reyna, 11th grade, Bell Multicultural High School

“When I decided to join YPT’s Young Playwrights’ Workshop I was looking to learn new writing techniques. In the Workshop, I learned how to make a character more interesting, practiced my English, and got feedback on my play from my teacher. By participating in YPT, I learned the power of writing. I found out that writing can be powerful because a play can inspire people, bring them joy, make them feel sadness, or learn something new. YPT to me is a door open to express yourself and be heard in our community.”
-Alfonso, YPT Alumnus

 “I first started off as a student in the In-School Playwriting Program my junior year of high school. I enjoyed the games and acting exercises that came along with the playwriting, and I decided to take it a step further and participate in the Young Playwrights’ Workshop. The acting workshops were sometimes a challenge; David wanted to stimulate our thoughts and have us thinking and writing outside our comfort zone. I enjoyed it so much that even after I graduated, I still wanted to be involved with YPT.”
Mercedes, YPT Alumna

“Normally, the prospect of writing a play can be really intimidating. But in our activities, YPT showed so much respect for our ideas; you felt that your perspective was valuable. Kids that had been unengaged in class were suddenly putting their experiences and fantasies down on paper to share. To us, this project was worth more than a grade.YPT was genuinely interested in what we as individuals wanted to write about. And because of that, I had the privilege of seeing students from all over the academic spectrum create something unique and communicative about themselves. I sincerely hope that YPT will continue to have the support it needs in order to facilitate that for future students and the support it needs to continue showing us how natural and liberating creativity can be.”
Sarah, YPT Alumna

YPT Goes on a Field Trip

On Thursday, November 4th, we took two hundred twenty-eight students to see Ameriville, the new play by performance ensemble UNIVERSES, at Round House Theatre.

Yeah. TWO HUNDRED TWENTY-EIGHT STUDENTS. It took a lot of work to get all of them from school to the theater and back again, but it was totally worth it. Field trips are one of my favorite things to do at YPT. It’s always an eye-opening experience for students to see professional theater, but the best part is that it creates renewed investment in their own plays.

The two hundred twenty-eight students are eleventh graders at Bell Multicultural High School. They’re right in the middle of our In-School Playwriting Program, in fact the second drafts of their plays were due just one week after the trip. Bell is one of our favorite schools – we’ve been there for fifteen years, since the beginning of YPT.

Ameriville promised to be a perfect fit for our Bell students. The play fuses jazz, Gospel and hip-hop with storytelling. At Bell, we’ve found that many of our students feel a strong connection to music. Over the years, when teaching artists have met with students who were struggling with their plays, we’ve often asked them to think about sound design. It’s almost foolproof – music provides a gateway into all kinds of artistic expression. Students identify a song that matters to them, and suddenly they realize that they do have something they want to say. So, yeah, a play with beat boxing in it? That was gonna go over well.

The morning of the trip was rainy and hectic. Teachers rushed to check students in and make sure they had permission to attend, and students ran onto the buses, trying to avoid getting wet. But when we finally got to the theater (on time!) everyone’s mood had brightened. A Round House staffer recognized the students from the stage: “We have Bell Multicultural High School here!” and the whole house erupted in loud cheering. Jennifer Restak, one of the eleventh grade English teachers, was overjoyed. “They DO have school spirit, they DO like school!”

The play was fantastic (you can read one review here), and I loved it, but I have to admit that I was also watching the students watch the play. They were definitely not a passive audience: they laughed loudly, clapped for the moments they especially liked, and occasionally responded with Ohhs and Ooohs. Kelly MacIsaac, Round House Education and Outreach Program Assistant, told me that our students were among the show’s best audiences, and that she could tell that the actors were feeding off their energy. “I’m so happy you’re here. These are the kids that need to see this show,” she said.

Back at school, I bumped into Patricio, one of the eleventh graders. I asked him how his play was going, to which he replied, “Okay. I have a lot to do. It’s just that the play gave me a lot of ideas.”

Big thanks to the whole eleventh grade English team at Bell, our wonderful volunteer chaperones, the incredible Round House staff, and of course, UNIVERSES for making this trip happen.

Nicole
Program Manager

YPTimeMachine…

As we count down to YPT’s big fifteenth birthday celebration next week (Come share birthday cake with us at the Express Tour Showcase, November 3-6!), we would like to take you on a journey into the past – all the way back to 1995, the very first year of Young Playwrights’ Theater.

In 1995 Karen Zacarias returned home to Washington, DC with an MFA in Playwriting from Boston University and a desire to use her art to make a difference in her community. She began volunteering her time providing free playwriting workshops to students at Bell Multicultural High School and Fillmore Arts Center. By 1997, Karen’s workshops were so successful that she incorporated Young Playwrights’ Theater as a nonprofit organization, employing a full-time staff and teaching playwriting and theater arts at schools and community centers throughout DC. Fifteen years later, in 2010, YPT is a nationally recognized theater education company, serving 1,000 students annually throughout the Washington, DC region.

1995 was quite a year. The cost of a gallon of gas was $1.09, the Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress, Brave Heart won the Academy Award for Best Picture, O.J. Simpson was found innocent, POGs were voted most popular toy, Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill was Album of the Year, Jerry Garcia died, and the Atlanta Braves won the World Series. Over the next week, YPT will take you back in time to 1995, celebrating the good, the bad, the inspiring and the just-plain-hilarious of the early ‘90s.

To kick things off, we are pleased to present some juicy gems from the personal history of YPT’s staff. You saw it here first, folks – the fifteen-year-old professional biographies of YPT’s current company members…

David Snider, Producing Artistic Director and CEO
In 1995, David is a professional actor in New York, having just finished a season Off-Broadway with the Jean Cocteau Repertory, including The Cherry Orchard, Hamlet, The Country Wife and the US premier of Napoli Milionaria. Recently chosen by legendary producer Rosemarie Tischler to be in the inaugural class of the Shakespeare Lab at the Joseph Papp Public Theater, David is spending the summer training with Christopher Walken, F. Murray Abraham, Bill Irwin and Irene Worth, among others. He’s praised in an article written by a new writer on theatre for the New York Times, Peter Marks. He hopes to attend the NYU Graduate Acting Program next year. He often temps to pay the bills, spending his days photocopying and faxing – and dreaming of the days when he’ll do something more meaningful with his life. Whenever possible, he tries to look busy – while getting paid to read Shakespeare at his desk.  He’s quickly realizing that he really wants to be in charge.

Patrick Torres, Associate Artistic Director
In 1995, Patrick is busy managing all of his futile crushes and dreaming of getting out of Odessa, Texas. He is proud of his decision to boycott prom and is looking forward to college where people see theater as a valid art form and the ratio of females to males is 5 to 1. To this day he remains a dreamer.

 

 

Brigitte Pribnow Moore, Development Director
In 1995, Brigitte lives in Connecticut with her mom, two brothers, a dog, two cats, two gerbils, a rabbit, and a hermit crab named Dennis Nedry. An over-eager seventh grader, Brigitte recently voluntarily turned in an unassigned book report on Les Miserables (the unabridged version). She dreams of participating in the eighth grade field trip to Washington, DC, where she hopes to visit the love of her life, Fox Mulder, in the basement of the FBI building.

Nicole Jost, Program Manager
In 1995, Nicole is a student at Janney Elementary School in Washington, DC. She enjoys spending recess sharing secrets with her best friend, a.k.a. “dishing up stuff.” She is a feminist and a semi-vegetarian, and her favorite food is anything made out of chocolate. Her greatest wish is to be 17, when she knows she will have a cute boyfriend and have figured out her whole life.

Raina Fox, Community Engagement Associate
In 1995, Raina enjoys climbing trees, being out in the Portland rain, making crafts, camping, and putting on plays with her friends and siblings. She is currently working on her first screenplay, based on the board game “Candyland” and featuring several original songs never to be released. An avid reader and artist, Raina is honing her creative skills to become a children’s book author/illustrator when she gets older. Her favorite book is A Wrinkle in Time, which she reads under her desk during math class, knowing that ultimately this knowledge will prove far more useful than multiplication tables. She is correct.

Liza Harbison, Communications and Graphic Design Assistant
In 1995, Liza is hard at work learning cursive after a successful education in coloring inside the lines. She enjoys rollerblading, playing Oregon Trail and making forts out of blankets and chairs. Liza hopes to one day own 50 dogs and work with orangutans. Not much will change.

 

 

 

Alison Beyrle, Development Assistant
In 1995, Alison has just begun third grade at Janney Elementary School.  She is involved in activities such as soccer and Brownies, and recent accomplishments include selling enough Girl Scout cookies to earn a t-shirt and writing a story with chapters in her class writing workshop.  In her free time Alison enjoys reading, especially Babysitters Club books, writing, soccer, drawing, watching Legends of the Hidden Temple on Nickelodeon, and baking with her E-Z Bake Oven.  Next up, Alison will be moving to the Czech Republic thanks to her parents, who work for the Foreign Service.  She writes them an angry letter protesting this move, but will probably end up appreciating it years later.

Laurie Ascoli, Program Assistant
In 1995, Laurie lives in Rhode Island with her parents, big brother and new kitten, Casey.  She dreams of being an author one day and has already received two awards for her novella “The Journal of a Stuffed Pig” as well as for the “Just Say No” play she wrote for her DARE class and performed at an assembly.  In her spare time, she enjoys reading the Babysitters’ Club series, watching TGIF, playing Donkey Kong Country on Super Nintendo, and pretending to be Harriet the Spy.  She is delighted to announce that she will be making her stage debut in the fall as Melinda in Inherit the Wind, performed by the Middletown High School drama club and directed by her dad.

Feeling brave? We dare you to send us your photos and memories from 1995 (Email to bmoore@yptdc.org!). The best submissions will be displayed in the lobby on the opening night of the Express Tour Showcase, on November 6.

Brigitte
Development Director