Who’s Next? Dominique Butler and YPT’s Young Artist Fellowship

Dominique Butler cutout “I’m not just writing for myself, I’m writing for everybody.”
– Dominique Butler

The young playwrights that YPT serves are all immensely gifted: smart and creative; funny and dramatic; profoundly invested in the world they create on the page. All go on to do great things, and many who complete our In-School Playwriting Program choose to stay involved with YPT, through our Young Playwrights’ Workshop, Student Advisory Council or other opportunities.

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 Festival readers, and Like Father, Like Son wound up closing our 2015 Festival to resounding applause.

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Dominique watches his words unfold onstage.
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Reginald Richard as Dominique in LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON

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 #BlackLivesMatter movement 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.

 

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Dominique and the other playwrights in the post-show talkback.
Actors performing WHO'S NEXT
Professional actors perform WHO’S NEXT? at Curious New Voices.

 

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!

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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!

Reflections on Silence Is Violence: A #BlackLivesMatter Event

On January 27, 2015, YPT organized an open mic-style pop-up event to respond to the #BlackLivesMatter movement in America. Held at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, Silence Is Violence: A #BlackLivesMatter Event featured YPT students and professional artists reading work inspired by the movement. The event culminated in space for community reflection and response.Farah headshot

YPT Program Associate and Teaching Artist Farah Lawal Harris co-produced and emceed Silence Is Violence, in addition to reading her own original poem at the event. Read on for Farah’s thoughts on the event, the movement and the importance of highlighting student voices!

 


My name is Farah Lawal Harris. I am a Washington, DC-based actress, poet and playwright; a founding member of Wild Women Theatre Company; the Program Associate at Young Playwrights’ Theater and a YPT Teaching Artist. Working at YPT has always allowed me to explore the intersections of my identity, but never so much as when we decided to do Silence Is Violence: A #BlackLivesMatter Event.

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Since Mike Brown’s death on August 9th of last year, I have been on edge. As a black woman in America, I am always aware of my surroundings. But the onslaught of news stories that followed the events in Ferguson, about people who look like me and those I love dying at the hands of police, became too much for me. I felt so vulnerable and so small. As an artist, I had no idea how to turn these feelings into something that could be shared with others. As an educator, I was unsure of how to engage my students in this important discussion. All I knew was that I had to do something to keep this conversation alive – both for myself and for the young people I serve.

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Photo credit: ShelbyWorks

Silence Is Violence was born out of the desire to allow YPT’s students to express their own thoughts on an issue that affects them directly. Too often, young people are excluded from conversations about their generation. To help bridge this gap, some of our YPT Teaching Artists facilitated artistic activities about #BlackLivesMatter in the classroom.

Our students came up with poems, monologues and essays that were both beautiful and heartbreaking. We then performed many of those pieces at Silence Is Violence: some were performed by the students who wrote them, while others were read by professional actors who chose to volunteer their time. A few local spoken word and performance artists also performed pieces about #BlackLivesMatter and audience members were invited to participate in their own artistic response after the performances. The event ended up being a powerful collage of voices.

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YPT student Nakia participates in the #IHaveADream response exercise after the event.

Since Silence Is Violence, I have received emails and messages from audience members and involved artists about the event’s impact. So many people noted how powerful our students’ perspectives were on the matter and how they felt catharsis through hearing those words. Silence is violence, and expression is freedom. I am grateful that YPT created a safe space for our students and community members to feel free and to hear that they matter.

Click here for more photos from the event!
Click here for more photos from the event!

For more information on Silence Is Violence and resources to continue the conversation around #BlackLivesMatter, visit our website.