5-Line Playwriting Tips from the Experts

It’s the last week of YPT’s 5-Line Playwriting Challenge!  Have you submitted your play yet?

We’ve already received some amazing plays from YPT’s super creative community. Check out these teasers below, including this touching play sent to us from our Young Playwrights’ Workshop alumna, Reyna Rios:reyna


Jasmine: Hi, (shakes Martin’s his hand) my name is Jasmine Belen Martinez. People say that I am different, but I like to see that as a positive thing. I am always doing crazy things to show people how much I love and care about them.

Martin: But you don’t know me, dear Jasmine. I am just Martin Jackson, a homeless man that is invisible to everyone around me.  How do you expect me to believe that you love    someone like me?

Jasmine: Well let me show you that I do. Please say “yes?” (to be continued on December 21st!)

Or your play can be a comedy, like this one submitted by our newest board member, Catherine Crum, written with some of her friends (5-line plays can be a group effort!)


(two girls sit at desks.  a teacher hovers in the background.)

Girl A: (whispers) I have to pee so bad!

Girl B: Girl, you know you can’t leave during the SAT!

Teacher (slapping a ruler in his hand):  If you two continue discussing answers, you will be asked to leave, you will never go to college and you will end up playing the electric cello for pennies …

(Will she finish her SAT? Visit our YouTube channel on December 21st to find out!)

Did these great plays give you some ideas of your own? There’s still time!

Donate $25 or more before Friday and submit an original 5-line play, and you’ll get to see your play performed on YouTube.  We’re calling in the most talented artists we know – our students – to turn the tables on our supporters and bring YOUR words to life.  Plays can be funny, serious, dramatic, touching, satirical or just plain weird!  There are no wrong answers, and no idea is too crazy!  For complete challenge rules, click here.

Stuck on that first line? We know it can be hard to get started, so we went to our award-winning student ensemble for help! The Young Playwrights’ Workshop’s original plays have been featured in the Capital Fringe Festival and Intersections Festival, and will be seen in the 2013 Source Festival, so they know a thing or two about playwriting, and they agreed to share their own words of wisdom:

“Use current events! Take a piece of reality and make it fun!” – Edwin

“Never say you can’t do it. All plays start with weird ideas.” – Patriciopatricio

“Take your time. Think of a long term character, if one is used.” – Maxwell

“No matter how hard it is to think of what to write, keep it going. Don’t stop.” – Chris

Think outside the box. Think of something only your true self can write.” – Jardel

“Live your mind and express it all.” – Chrissilly

“Agarra tu papel y pon toda tu pasión y también has lo como que enserio fuera real, lo que tu estas actuando.” – Claudia

“Get silly” 🙂 – Morena

Click here now to make your donation of $25 or more to support YPT’s fall fundraising campaign, and send your 5-line play by 5pm on Friday, December 14th to abeyrle@yptdc.org.

Thank you, as always, for your support. Our students can’t wait to perform your plays!

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

Madeline Hendricks: It Matters

When I was seven years old, I auditioned for my first musical at a local children’s theatre program. I was shocked to find that not only did I get into the musical, I got a solo too! The show was called “The People Garden” and it was about a classroom full of elementary school-aged students. I was playing the part of the little girl who always got left out at recess.

I will never forget the first rehearsal. It was just my director, Jill, and me. We were working on my song. Jill kept telling me to sing it over and over again, and every time I just got more and more frustrated. I wasn’t singing the notes right and I kept forgetting the words and I knew the tempo was all wrong. Jill kept insisting that the music didn’t matter; she just wanted me to act. I remember thinking, “What are you talking about? I’m singing. Isn’t that enough?” Suddenly I realized what made those fancy Broadway actors so special. They act and sing at the same time! At that moment, I promised myself I would forget about the music and just focus on the acting.

I remember looking at the clock and seeing that Jill and I only had five minutes left in our rehearsal together. I had one last chance to act and sing at the same time. I took a deep breath, looked at Jill, and sat down where I was supposed to start the song. Jill smiled and winked at me, encouraging me that I could do this. I felt like the world was hanging on my shoulders. Once the music started, I looked out towards the house and opened my mouth to sing. I thought about the character and how she honestly felt like nobody at school cared about her. I thought about the other kids and how cruel they were to her for no particular reason. I remember messing up a few words and notes, but I didn’t care. I was someone else at that moment. I was my character.

When the song ended, I took a deep breath and then looked up at Jill. Before I knew it, she was picking me up and spinning me around, screaming, “You did it! That was it!” I felt like I conquered the world.

This breakthrough moment I had with my director was not life-changing because it made me a better actor—after all, I was only seven. It was life-changing because it taught me a life lesson: if you believe in yourself and focus on the present moment, you will be successful. Since my seven-year-old breakthrough experience, I’ve found that most rules in theatre directly apply to life. For example, always support your fellow actors. Or, actually listen to what your stage partner is saying to you, otherwise you will anticipate rather than live in the moment. These theatrical rules apply to life because the arts and life are intimately connected. Without arts programs, kids would not learn how to build the confidence to express themselves creatively. Arts programs have the potential to change people’s lives at any age—why not start young?

When I volunteered with YPT this past year in Ms. Jone’s fourth grade classroom at Watkins Elementary School, I personally noticed the spark that I once had as a seven-year-old in the eyes of the young, budding playwrights. As a volunteer for YPT, I’ve been able to see how good arts programs shape and form children’s views on life. I think most of us are jealous of children because they have the liberty of always jumping into situations with open arms; they have not yet learned the need to protect themselves or not to trust someone. Arts programs are necessary for children because children are open and ready to explore their creative thoughts. And they have brilliant thoughts! I have loved every moment of volunteering with YPT, and I have no doubt that this program has changed the lives of many young students.

Click here to learn more.

In high school, Madeline got to meet Elton John after her play won the Fidelity FutureStage Playwriting contest.

Madeline Hendricks
YPT Volunteer

My Answer to the Question: whYPT?

My relationship with YPT began eight years ago, when I was in high school. It was a very weird time in my life. I wasn’t investing in my education, I was just trying to get by. I put way more work into the play I wrote for YPT than I did into Chemistry and Math.

I’ve spoken before about how powerful it was for me when YPT produced my play. I watched as professional actors, people who are trained to use words, actually said my words. It was a huge boost of confidence. I often think back to that moment when I’m in the classroom. I get to say to my students, “I was where you are. If I can do it, so can you.”

I went to college in Santa Cruz, California. When I left DC I didn’t think I was coming back. I was going to paradise and I was going to become happy and mellow. Instead, I developed this yearning to return here. I really wanted to change things. I saw such injustice: it’s poetic in a sick way, the poverty that exists in our nation’s capital. YPT became that thing that I was going to contribute – I could come back home and make a difference in the lives of students.

When I think back to my first interview with David and Patrick, who had just started as Producing Artistic Director and Program Manager, it’s pretty embarrassing. I was very naïve and I may have actually said that I wanted to “change the world.” I was so earnest, but I think it worked for me because at that time David and Patrick were just starting their journey with YPT. Being over-eager simply made me a good fit for the new leadership.

I’ve worked closely with David and Patrick since that first interview, and this year I took on the title of Program Manager – Patrick’s role when I met him. Patrick has been a mentor to me, and YPT has been a place where I’ve honed my skills as an arts educator. I’m so grateful for this.

I’m sure you can guess that being Program Manager is not always a breeze. I love to brag about how creative our students are, and what amazing writers they are, which is very true. What I don’t always love to talk about are the struggles that we as teaching artists confront in the classroom. I’ve worked with groups of students that were challenging for any number of reasons: students who were struggling to learn English, students who were coping with serious problems in their personal lives, and sometimes simply a group with tough social dynamics. These experiences are always rewarding in the end. These are the students that force you to fight for what you want – something we tell them makes a good character.

I said to my students just the other day, “You may not care about this, but that’s tough. You’re going to do it. Because I care too much about you to let you give up.” I’ve found that when you invest in students in that way they never disappoint you.

Program Manager

Join YPT’s Get 15 to Give $15 Friend-raising Challenge and Win an Original Theatrical Piece ALL ABOUT YOU

“I was a very shy student, afraid to speak out. And here I am addressing the First Lady of the United States – and it’s all thanks to Young Playwrights’ Theater, to the arts and the humanities and to the power of my own ideas.”

Mariana Pavón Sánchez, YPT Student, The White House

As you’ve probably heard by now, YPT received a very special 15th birthday present this year: we won the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award. This award, presented by First Lady Michelle Obama at a private White House ceremony, honors YPT for making a marked difference in the lives of young people by improving academic scores and graduation rates, enhancing life skills, and developing positive relationships with peers and adults. Administered by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, it is the highest honor in the nation for a program like ours.

We want to provide more students like Mariana with the opportunity to achieve their dreams, but we can’t do it without you.

In this challenging economic climate, we are working to raise $50,000 by December 31 to ensure we have the resources to continue providing our nationally recognized programming.

This is where you come in. You know us. You love us. And we love you back. Over the past fifteen years, you have come to our performances, helped teach and nurture our students, followed our progress, and given generously to support our programs. We never could have come this far without you.

Will you help us?

We invite you to join YPT’s Get 15 to Give $15 Friend-Raising challenge, in honor of YPT’s 15th birthday. By participating in the challenge, you show our students that their voices count, their ideas are valuable and their dreams are achievable. You also earn the chance to win a Big Prize (see details below).

Here’s how it works:

  1. You send out a personal request to your friends, telling them why you care about YPT programming, and asking them to donate $15 to YPT this fall. Download a Friend-raising Email Template here (We encourage you to tweak it and make it your own!) Be creative about how you ask your friends. Call them, post about the contest on Facebook and Twitter, host a party/concert/bake sale to raise money for YPT, rent a blow-horn and take the challenge to the streets. This is your gig. Think about the best way to reach your community.
  2. At least 15 of your friends send at least $15 to YPT. Be sure your friends note that they are donating because of you (that will put you in the running for the Big Prize).
  3. The supporter who inspires the largest number of gifts to YPT (any gift we receive with a a note that mentions your name counts toward the competition) wins the Big Prize.

So what’s the Big Prize?

An original theatrical piece. About you.

That’s right. YPT students will be so grateful for the donations you inspire to ensure their programming this spring that they will thank the supporter who brings in the largest number of donations by creating a new piece of theater inspired by your life.

Cool, right?

Thank you, in advance, for being amazing and taking the Get 15 to Give $15 Friend-raising Challenge this fall. Together, I know we can reach our $50,000 goal and ensure that YPT’s programs are available for our students this spring, and for many years to come.

Development Director

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!

Development Assistant

David’s Lunch with Michelle Rhee

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of sharing lunch with Michelle Rhee. It was a rare opportunity – 60 minutes of one-on-one conversation with the Chancellor of DC Public Schools, one of the most famous and controversial figures in education today – and a long-term advocate for YPT. My hope was to share with her the latest developments at YPT and to hear her vision for the next steps in the school system. I wasn’t disappointed. I was immediately impressed by her candor, her humor and the clear inspiration she derives from DC students. I shared with her the clear data from our latest, innovative evaluations of student growth in our programs, showing how much students’ critical and creative thinking develop through our process. You can see these results for high school and elementary school on our website. She was impressed – and reiterated that she wished more nonprofits had this kind of data to back up their programs. We discussed how YPT has worked for years with people like Dr. Barry Oreck to develop evaluations that allow us to capture lightning in a bottle – and truly see the impact of our work on student learning.

We talked about the planned arts magnet middle school, and had an in-depth discussion about how the arts community could play a bigger role in helping the school system become the national model we all want it to be. As I said to the DC School Board three years ago when testifying on behalf of the Arts Standards we at YPT helped to write, I believe the school system doesn’t need to spend millions of dollars reinventing the wheel in creating arts programs. Instead, we should find ways to streamline communications between nonprofits and DCPS and pursue funding streams to support the amazing artists and organizations already working with DC Public School students, as we expand and fully integrate our services. With our theatre community now only second to New York City in the nation, Young Playwrights’ Theater and the rest of the community are ready to provide all DC students with high quality arts education experiences. With a true partnership between nonprofits and schools, we could bring professional artists into every classroom and quickly establish a national model for arts integration throughout DCPS – if only the system and our nonprofit community could work more directly, and more clearly, together, as I told the Chancellor.

I also brought up the question of how we as a community can go beyond test scores to gauge and better serve students’ development. We talked about engaging parents more in their students’ education and how the system can better serve parents, families and communities overall. I pledged my interest and support for her efforts in developing a stronger arts education model throughout DC Public Schools and she pledged her continued support of YPT. By the end of the hour we knew each other better, she knew YPT better – and we left the lunch excited to find new ways YPT and DCPS can collaborate. When you come to our upcoming performances or programs, don’t be surprised if you see her there, cheering our students on. Ultimately we both want the same thing – to ensure that DC students receive the world-class education they so richly deserve. Isn’t that really the goal?

Producing Artistic Director and CEO