A Meaningful Gift for Cyber Monday

Today is Cyber Monday – the biggest online shopping day of the year. You have probably already received dozens of emails from online retailers with exclusive, one-day-only deals.

As you work off your turkey hang-over and get a head-start on holiday shopping today, I urge you to consider making a meaningful gift that will wow your family and friends:  a gift that helps a local student fulfill her dreams.

The impact that YPT has on our community is deep and enduring. For many of our students, YPT is their first experience with an interactive, creative writing process. And YPT teaching artists are often the first adults to show these students that their dreams, ideas and beliefs are valuable and can have a powerful impact on the world around them.

Here are some truly meaningful gifts that you can purchase for our students today:

$10 buys a writing portfolio and writing supplies for one student to develop her very first play.

$25 provides a  local student with his very first playwriting workshop – showing him the value of  his dreams and ideas, and helping him engage in his education in fun way.

$50 provides a classroom of local students with their very first experience of live, professional theater – inspiring them to write and share their own stories with the world.

Click here and purchase any of these gifts today in the name of a loved one, and the gift recipient will receive a personal note of thanks from YPT, with a description of the impact of your gift. He or she will also receive a limited edition “Innovation through Arts Education” bracelet, and two, reserved front-row seats at the New Play Festival this April.

Celebrate Cyber Monday by investing in innovation, investing in our children, and buying your share of the future. Now that’s a great deal.

Thank you, as always, for your amazing support. Without you, there would be no YPT.

Brigitte Pribnow Moore
Deputy Director

I would like to thank [YPT] for their support and encouragement as I wrote my play. Working with YPT was the best experience I ever had in school. This is something I will really remember as the best thing from all my years of high school.
            -Saviya Brown, YPT Student

YPTimeMachine: Week Two

As YPT launches our 15th birthday celebration, we’re spending a lot of time reflecting on 1995 – both what was popular at the time (snap bracelets and pog collections, anyone?)  and where we were in our own lives.  Some staff members were embarking on new chapters in their adult lives, while others were still navigating their way through elementary school.  But reading all our 1995 staff bios, I noticed a common thread – an interest in the creative arts, and a drive to succeed in the things we were passionate about.  Raina, our Community Engagement Associate, performed plays for her family and friends and read under her desk in class.  Laurie, our Program Assistant, had a play she wrote produced at a school assembly.  Brigitte, our Development Director, turned in an unassigned book report on Les Misérables in middle school.  Patrick, our Associate Artistic Director, looked forward to a college because it offered new opportunities for theater, and David, our Producing Artistic Director and CEO, was a working actor in New York City – not an easy job!

While I wasn’t lucky enough to have a program as cool as YPT come into my classroom, I was an avid writer in 1995, filling up notebooks with stories inspired by my favorite books at the time.  In second grade, we did have a class called “Writer’s Workshop” where we were instructed to write whatever we wanted, and I looked forward to it every week.  It was during these Writer’s Workshops that I produced the only story with chapters in my class, and learned how to use quotation marks for dialogue.  I was also spellbound by all the school plays (I have memories of Janney Elementary’s production of Oliver! as a theatrical masterpiece) and, inspired, I would put on plays at home, often playing multiple roles.  As I got older the idea of being on stage became less appealing, but I kept writing and remained fascinated with theater, which led me to major in theater in college and, many internships later, land a job with YPT.  I, like so many of us in the arts world, discovered a passion for the arts at an early age, and without exposure to creative opportunities and encouragement from teachers and parents, I probably would not have pursued working in the arts, which has led to some amazing experiences and a job I feel lucky to have.

As part of our look back, we found a huge box of YPT material circa 1995-1997.  Some of the plays are hilariously mid-90s, including a play submitted for consideration for 1996 Express Tour in which Madonna discovers that Dennis Rodman is really a woman, and a play in which Tia and Tamera (presumably from the 90s classic Sister, Sister) go to a party at Puff Daddy’s house.  But many plays have themes that we still see today in student work.  Plays from early Express Tour performances dealt with issues such as forbidden love, violence in the community, AIDS and, on the lighter side, a kid who puts a love note to his secret crush in the wrong locker.  Today, that character would probably text his declaration of love (in 160 characters or less) to the wrong cell phone, but the ideas and the quality of the work has remained the same.  We’ve seen high-waist jeans come and go, we’ve seen the rise and fall of boy bands, we’ve been through several presidents, but the talents of young students and the importance of arts education opportunities remain as important now as they were in 1995.

So come check out our Express Tour Showcase November 3-6!  Maybe in 2025 we’ll be laughing at the dated references as we show up to YPT’s 30th birthday celebration in our flying cars, but right now, it promises to be a great show.   And we’ll have birthday cake.  See you there!

Alison
Development Assistant

Curriculum Writing Is Like Playwriting

At YPT one of the best things we have to offer is this magic moment. It’s the moment when a student’s idea is translated into performance through the work of an actor. We’re kind of obsessed with it. Students frequently make this transition from don’t-look-at-me-I’m-hiding-behind-my-hood to wow-I-created-something-so-amazing-I-rock. Performing student work is our way of showing our students that they are smart, creative, and important, instead of just telling them.

I should know. I’ve had my own magic moment with YPT. When I was in the tenth grade at Wilson High School I wrote The Fear and the Pope, a play about two girl criminals. It was the memory of that amazing performance of my first play that got me hooked. I thought, “This is incredible. I LOVE this.” And later that became, “Everyone deserves this.”

Over the past couple weeks it has been my great pleasure to attend the first YPT workshops at many of our partner schools. It’s a treat for me to see our teaching artists in action. Being in the classroom reminds me why we put so much work into our curriculum (something I’ve written about before).

At Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School, I sat in on a class led by YPT teaching artist Rachel Stevens. Rachel is a talented actress as well as a talented teacher, and it was wonderful to see her bring her presence as a performer to this room of fifth graders. She hammed it up, they ate it up. And then she asked them, “What makes a good audience member?” Bam. Magic moment. I went from isn’t-it-nice-being-a-passive-observer to I-recognize-that-question! Because, of course, she’s teaching the YPT curriculum. That question had a journey from paper to classroom, and this was its conclusion.

All of a sudden I could see the journey the whole curriculum had taken: years being tested in the classroom; years being revised, reworked and tweaked; finally being questioned and amended and dreamed about this summer; and now, here it was on its feet. Working! Really well! The students identified “listening”, “clapping at the right time”, and “being quiet” as traits of a good audience member. They set the standards, and Rachel held them to those standards during the lesson.

Curriculum writing is like playwriting. It starts on paper, in theory. It has no life until it’s taken up by someone who can skillfully bring it forward to others. The exchange between that teacher/facilitator/performer and her student audience is its purpose.

I am so proud of my role in creating and shaping YPT’s curriculum. I believe in what we are giving to students. It’s just icing on the cake that it’s also personally rewarding (read: magic).

Nicole
Program Manager

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

Tips For Elementary School Teaching Artists

by Nicole Jost

In my experience working with elementary school students, classroom management is a big challenge. I find myself entering the space with lots of enthusiasm and a desire to engage these young students, only to be derailed when I can’t get them to listen to instructions. Unlike classroom teachers, who see their students every weekday, I typically only work with students once a week. So how can teaching artists build effective classroom management strategies with such limited time? And how can we do that without becoming evil (read: not fun) teacher dictators?

I got one great idea from a teaching artist who works with YPT, Meg Greene. In her classrooms she uses a tool called “Star Audience Member.” To get students to buy in to this tool, I first asked them what makes a good audience member. (My students offered suggestions like “listening quietly,” “staying in your seat,” “looking at the person who’s talking,” etc.) These traits became my criteria for picking one Star Audience Member per class. The Star gets their name written up on the board, and I also gave him/her a YPT pen as a small prize.

What I love about this tool is that a) you can use it to encourage students to focus (i.e. “I’m still looking for today’s Star Audience Member!”) and b) because the students themselves identify what makes a good audience, they understand the teaching artist’s choice for the Star. A few times, my students guessed who I was going to pick based on their observations during class. There aren’t many complaints of unfairness because basically, they made the rules.

What other strategies do people suggest?

Does our education system kill creativity?

In this highly amusing Ted Talk Sir Ken Robinson makes the case for creativity in the classroom.  He says, “My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.”

He goes on to say “There isn’t an education system on the planet that teaches dance as rigorously as we teach mathematics.” He goes on to tell of the famous choreographer, Gillian Lynne, who discovered her talent because she couldn’t sit still in class. The school administrator recommended to her mother that they enroll her in dance school.  Sir Robinson posits that if she were a student today, she’d be medicated for ADHD.

Do you agree with Sir Robinson’s points? Do we need to revolutionize our education system to include more creative opportunities? Where did you learn to be creative?