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

A Day at the Canadian Embassy with YPT

Reflections from a YPT Board Member

A few weeks ago, I spent time at the Canadian Embassy with some of our YPT students and fifteen students from Suchitoto, El Salvador, and it was fabulous!

With our Program Manager Nicole Jost acting as their teaching artist, the two groups of students worked together to develop four skits in about three hours, which they performed for Embassy officials and the other conference attendants. Watching these students in action was a truly powerful and exciting experience! Although there was a language barrier, the kids bonded immediately through their love of theater. The work they created was fun, vibrant and full of great physical energy. And most importantly, the students connected.

At the end of the show, they shared that they had learned that many things were possible, they had more in common than differences and that cultural awareness and understanding can be achieved through the arts. You could feel the positive vibe pulsating in the room. The collaboration was mind-blowing. So, it reminded me why I love YPT so much. It’s an experience that will live with these kids (and me) forever. And, it is the type of global education experience our young people need more of to build bridges across cultures and solve problems creatively and peacefully. Also, I was so proud of our YPT staff – everyone did such an outstanding job bringing this project to life.

After seeing that energy in the kids, I felt energized! Just feels great to be part of such an incredible nonprofit and to be a part of this fabulous Board.

Miriam Gonzales
Vice Chair, YPT Board of Directors

Reflections from a YPT Student

Walking into a room full of voices from a different tongue is intimidating. Or at least it was until this unique experience, when the assumption that we would be divided by that one difference quickly changed.

Together we made a circle and started to learn about one another, our names. Then we moved into groups where the wrong mindset would have been to the detriment of what we were supposed to create. However, our one difference was quickly dissolved by the many similarities we had in common.

We are all humans, we love theater, and we perform. Being a student and watching a barrier disintegrate was amazing. One of the students from Suchitoto said something close to, “I wanted to come here and I thought I would need English, but because of what we all believe in, I don’t have to.”

I guess actions do speak louder than words.

Amber Faith Walton
YPT Student


Thankful

It’s that time of year again. Time for us all to reflect and give thanks for the things in our lives that make us, well, thankful.

In the spirit of the season, I want to take a moment to share some of the things YPT is thankful for this year.

We are thankful, first and foremost, for the bright, insightful, inspiring students who are the living, beating heart of our company. You are why we come to work each day. Your dreams are our mission.

We are thankful for our hard-working staff and the devoted and talented army of professional teaching artists, actors, directors, stage managers, and designers who work tirelessly throughout the year to give voice to the dreams and imaginations of our students.

We are thankful for our volunteers – our dedicated board of directors, our Community Ambassadors, and our network of program alumni. You are the community voice of YPT.

We are thankful for our community of supporters – the thousands of people who attend our free performances of student work each year, our very cool friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter, and the corporate and nonprofit partners, donors and funders who give so generously each year to make our programming possible.

We are very lucky to know so many creative, passionate and giving people.

Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.
Without you, there would be no YPT.

 

Brigitte
Development Director

A Moving, Moon-filled Evening – YPT’s Fifteenth Birthday Season Opens!

Jenny Wrenn Models the Costume Worn by the Character Blockman at New Writers Now!

On October 4, I had the pleasure of attending YPT’s first New Writers Now! event of the season at GALA Hispanic Theatre in Columbia Heights. The theme of the evening was “Outside In”, and the three terrific plays that were performed posed the thought-provoking question, “How can we learn about ourselves from those who stand apart?” The playwrights’ inspiring, creative work brought both laughter and tears to the entire audience, as always, and as a member of YPT’s Board of Directors, it was particularly gratifying to me to see some of our fantastic community partners in the audience, along with the friends and families of the playwrights!

One piece which I found particularly moving was the beautiful play Moon Man, by Abby Melick. The piece tells the story of a young man who, after living alone as an orphan on the moon for years after losing his parents in a spaceship crash, finds himself on Earth again. The adjustment isn’t easy, and he has a difficult time reciprocating the small kindnesses he receives from the young girl who finds and tries to befriend him. At one point, the Moon Man, unable to take the pressures and frustrations of his isolating situation, contemplates ending his life.

As the Moon Man stood there, talking about why he felt this was the only way out for him, my mind couldn’t help but immediately think on those tragic young losses that a number of communities have had to cope with recently. When the young girl reached out a hand to help him and bring him away from the train tracks, tears welled up in my eyes as I thought about just how many helping hands are needed these days –  hands that are willing to reach out and comfort kids who might be struggling through their own tough and challenging times. It was a moment on stage that reminded me what great theatre can be: challenging, thought-provoking, and deeply, profoundly moving.

After the performance, we were invited as a group to write brief letters to specific characters from the plays we had seen and to share them with the playwrights and the rest of the audience. I felt compelled to write mine to the Moon Man (who, as it turned out, also shared my love for the works of Shakespeare – what a kindred spirit!) Here’s a little excerpt of what I wrote:

“I am SO incredibly glad you decided to stay with us. Keep shining on, Moon Man.”

And so I say this too to every young person out there who might be doubting themselves right now:  Your voice counts. We are listening. And we continue to need your amazing stories to remind us of those small kindnesses – those small moments of salvation – that make us all human.

Jenny Wrenn
Vice Chair, YPT Board of Directors

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