In late 2014, former YPT Teaching Artist and longtime supporter Adrienne Nelson approached YPT’s Student Advisory Council with a compelling project. She and her team were launching the DC premiere of One in the Chamber, a new play about children and gun violence, and they wanted the Council to get involved.
Seeking young people’s perspectives on guns, the Chamber team invited the Council to write response pieces to the play. Four students wrote pieces, and two were selected for a FREE staged reading after the closing performance on Sunday, September 6.
Read excerpts from the four response plays below, then come to Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint on 9/6 for a gripping performance and free staged reading! The play begins at 8pm, the reading at 9:30pm.
WINNAH: Guns are okay and all– But who’d want a gun as a gift. I’d rather have skates or a bike.
ELENA: I didn’t know you knew how to handle a gun.
WINNAH: I don’t. I’m not even allowed to know where it is in the house. But every time my father goes out hunting, he comes back with dead squirrels, rabbits. Once he even brought back a whole deer. I felt horrible at first, just lying there looking pitiful. But once momma cooked it, it was delicious.
ELENA: Well your father’s rules apply here in the palace too, Winnah. No handling of anything that looks like its dangerous. And the same goes for Anna too, okay? There’s a lot going on these days, and I want you both to stay safe. Promise me.
WINNAH: Okay, I promise.
The Life and Times of Julie Parker, by Anna Vargas
ANDY (ADULT): They say when you die, your life flashes before your eyes.
LIGHTS UP on JULIE (YOUNG) standing neutral in front of a swingset as ANDY (ADULT) continues to speak from the side of the stage, papers in his hand.
ANDY (ADULT): I find that ridiculous. First of all, if your entire life was condensed into a single flash, a single moment, it would go by so fast you won’t be able to register the fact that it was your life before it would be over. So for this to be true, it would have to be select scenes from your life. But what dictates what parts are chosen? The happiest moments? The moments most crucial to your development as a person? The saddest moments? Your first steps? Your first breath? What could be so important to relive right before you forget it all?
Red Cabinet, by Paul McCoyer
ELIZA: Can you play checkers with me?
BEN: Sure, lemme go get the board…
He exits. ELIZA notices the red cabinet.
ELIZA: (Shouting) Ben!
BEN: (Shouting from offstage) What?
ELIZA: (Shouting) What’s in the red cabinet?
BEN: (Shouting from offstage) I dunno, why don’t you open it if you’re so curious?
ELIZA sighs, gets up from the table, and opens the cabinet door. She removes a small handgun from the cabinet with a mixed look of curiosity and awe and takes it back to the table with her. BEN reenters.
BEN: Couldn’t find the checkers and (Tone changes to a worried one) WOAH where did you get that??
ELIZA: (Nonchalantly) In the red cabinet.
BEN: (Nervously) You know what that is, right, Liz?
ELIZA: Yeah. It’s a gun. It’s cool.
BEN: No, no, it’s not cool, it’s dangerous, and you need to put it down right now.
Dodge, by Will Larrocca
(MICHAEL is at a bar.)
(ASHLEY walks next to him.)
A: A Budweiser please.
(She glares at him.)
M: Do I know you?
M: Then do you mind not glaring at me? (ASHLEY still glares at him.) Oh, I get it. You watch the news.
M: So I’m going to guess that you know who I am.
M: I’m gonna take another guess and say that you don’t like me.
A: (Sarcastically) You’re good at this.
M: Thank you. Well, let’s get this over with. What do you want to say to me?
A: I just want to let you know that I think you should be ashamed of yourself.
M: (Sarcastically) Wow, you think I should be ashamed! That really hurts my feelings. Well, I don’t feel ashamed so you can save that one.
A: Really? You don’t feel any guilt?
M: Nope. I mean, I’m sorry that he died, but I’m not ashamed of anything I did.
For more of these powerful, poignant student-written plays, come to the FREE staged reading on Sunday, September 6 at 9:30pm! Click here for tickets. Recommended for ages 13 and up due to adult subject matter.
On January 27, 2015, YPT organized an open mic-style pop-up event to respond to the #BlackLivesMattermovement 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
For more information on Silence Is Violence and resources to continue the conversation around #BlackLivesMatter, visit our website.
Named after the 524 miles separating DC and Detroit, The 524 Project brought the two schools together for a hybrid curriculum of poetry, playwriting and media arts. Students met weekly during the spring semester of 2014 to create works of art investigating and challenging dominant narratives of the cities each call home.
Then, they shared their voices with each other! Equipped with iPads, basic video editing software and free Google Hangouts, 524 Project students recited poems and asked each other questions via recorded videos and live online exchanges. The Project culminated in a simultaneous, live-streamed multimedia Final Presentation of student work, that introduced the larger communities of DC and Detroit to the powerful insights of the young people in both cities.
Now that The 524 Project is all but over, we asked some of the staff members responsible for the program to reflect back on the journey. Here are some of the Wows(highlights), Wonders (questions) and Lessons that came out of this amazing, challenging, inspiring process!
Wows: The trip to Detroit last October was totally amazing. I’d already been to and fallen in love with the city itself, so being back there was really exciting. But even better was getting to hang out with YPT and iO artists for four days and explore ideas, brainstorm, write poetry, make journals for each other, create performance pieces, study art. We’re all artists, but I feel like that often gets buried under the day-to-day logistics of running an organization. It was really amazing to just sit together and explore, deeply, the creative impulses that drive us to do what we do. It felt like a retreat back into the center of our mission.
Wonders: Technology is a relatively simple and truly incredible way to connect people from all over the world, people who never would have interacted otherwise. But what do you do when not everyone has easy access to this technology? Despite its growing presence, access to the Internet is still something that is largely only available to developed, financially secure communities, so a huge percentage of the population that we could be communicating with and learning from is shut out from these opportunities. How can we change that?
Lessons: With a project this ambitious, I think it can be easy to lose track of how, specifically and directly, the students are benefiting from it. We always aim to keep students at the center of everything we do, but between negotiating with two other organizations and two schools, dealing with unreliable technology, and tracking our progress for a major funder, the students themselves can easily get lost in the shuffle. It’s important to continually come back to them and remember that they are the soul of the project, and the reason for all the other logistical madness.
Wows: One of the major challenges when working on a media project with any new community can be openness to embracing something new. Typically it’s not just learning new technology or a new tool, but also adopting a new way to think about storytelling. In the case of The 524 Project, we introduced iPads, video capture, and exchange software, as well as social media platforms that were new to most team members at the onset of the project. We were completely humbled and wow-ed by people’s enthusiasm for working with unfamiliar creative tools. Team members embraced the discomfort, handled setbacks admirably, and emerged with a new set of skills and appreciation for the technology. In a sense, the project staff were students as well – I would say they earned an A+.
Wonders: I wonder what could have been done to more directly provide our actual students with strategies for employing the 524 Project tools in their own artwork after the class concluded. As staff, we were still learning the technology as the project was in progress and figuring out how to master it ourselves. So it was definitely more challenging to pass the torch to our students. By having more time before the launch of the project for dedicated staff trainings, we could have alleviated some of these stresses. But I also think that the newness of the whole concept meant that there would be a good deal of figuring out along the way, no matter how much prep time was carved out. As the dust settles following the final performance, I do wonder how the students will become ambassadors of the lessons learned from The 524 Project. What will they pass on to their friends and family? And what are the breadcrumbs we’ve all left for the future?
Lessons: It sounds simple enough, but having an exceptional understanding of your limitations was a major lesson learned during the project. In our ambition and excitement to just do it, I think we may have lost some sight of what was actually possible within the time and technological constraints we were given. In future projects, we may consider how to be slightly less ambitious with the technology in favor of deepening our ability to train partner project staff to build their own mastery and ownership of the process. The idea of structuring a collaboration as more of a professional-development type relationship may not have quite as many bells and whistles, but it could lead to a more sustainable structure that imparts more lasting knowledge.
Wows: The big wow moment for me was seeing the Detroit students go from being critics of their hometown with opinions shaped by the media, to having a newfound sense of city pride. Through their research and writing, students became vocally more confident in their city, neighborhood, school, and even D.C. Also, by running a multidisciplinary program (writing, filming, acting, researching), each student found ways to be involved – even those who had struggled with classroom participation prior to 524.
Wonders: I wonder if we could have made better use of the technology by encouraging more one-on-one youth interaction since video conferencing as a group was sometimes troublesome. I would have loved to see one or two D.C. and one or two Detroit students craft a group poem or play scene together, or simply interview each other. I also wonder if having longer classroom periods (1.5-2 hour sessions multiple times a week), or having had the in-class programming start earlier would have allowed students more hands-on experience with the technology (the cameras and editing software were mostly used by the staff).
Lessons: Students are easily frustrated if there are breaks in the flow of the lesson. Technology was a challenge we were determined to conquer, and sometimes the battle between humans and iPad interrupted the flow of class. Lesson: always have an engaging plan B and tech-savvy staff on hand for mishaps. It’s also fair to be honest with students about what challenges are occurring. Many of our students knew how to bypass blocked web pages needed for instruction, connect the projector, adjust speaker volume, etc. Learners are great resources! Also, many students showed great leadership toward the end of the project. In hindsight, identifying, developing, and utilizing class leaders early on would have benefitted the class when one-on-one attention from the staff was stretched.
For more lessonslearned from The 524 Project, click here!
The 524 Project was made possible by the generous support of the Metlife/TCG A-Ha Program, whose Think It, Do It grants enable theaters and other arts organizations to experiment with new forms of collaboration and creative problem-solving. Without the A-Ha Program, there would be no 524!
On April 22 and 23, YPT will present twelve new student-written plays in the 2013 New Play Festival. Join us on Monday, April 22, for seven fun, family-friendly plays, including A Walk in the Woods by fifth grader Ben Perez. Below, hear from Ben about his inspiration for writing an environmentalist play set in Ecuador, and how the editing process is going so far!
When my teacher said that YPT was coming, I was so excited. I really wanted to write a play. We learned a lot about playwriting from [YPT teaching artist] Mr. Enrico. When I started writing my play, I was wondering what it should be about. Mr. Enrico said to think about things that have happened to you or things that you have created. I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to have a play about environmentalism? So I wrote about a nature guide who had an exciting conflict. Mr. Enrico gave us ideas about how to improve our plays and how to show what we wanted to say by writing.
When I started writing I wanted there to be a guy who would save the tortoises in the Galápagos Islands, so that was my main character. Then I thought there had to be someone who wanted to harm the animals, so he was my antagonist. I developed my play around the conflict between these two characters. Then came the day when Mr. Enrico said he was going to collect the stories. I was nervous about my play because I didn’t know if he would like it.
One day some actors from YPT came to our class. They presented a tiny part of each play. I liked the plays and at the end of the day Mr. Enrico announced the four New Play Festival finalists from our school. When he said my name I was so happy and really excited! An interesting thing is that he also said my twin sister’s name, so we were both finalists from our school!
A couple of weeks later, my mom got a phone call from YPT with some great news. My sister and I both moved up to the final round! A few days later we got another call that my sister’s play would be read at the kickoff party and my play would be produced in the spring! It was a very exciting day.
After the celebration with all the finalists, I started working with my dramaturge, Mr. Enrico. So far my play has improved a lot. It is really helpful to work with him because he notices things and gives me ideas. For example, he helped me develop my characters and also he said I could use some Spanish in my play since it happens in Ecuador. He asks me a lot of questions to help me think about what should happen in my play. It is really fun working with Mr. Enrico!
Learn more about the 2013 New Play Festival plays and playwrights on our website!
This past Saturday was DCPS Beautification Day and a team of us from YPT (I, our Program Manager, our board chair and vice-chair, one of our actors and one of our teaching artists) descended on Plummer Elementary School in Ward 7, at 8:00am, to help out. We didn’t know what to expect and hoped we’d be useful.
Boy, were we useful. It ended up being a really fun and full day. When we arrived we were met by Andrea from Kaplan, a company supplying classrooms with all kinds of materials, from bookshelves to dramatic play puppets. There was entire truck to be unloaded and brought into four different classrooms (after the furniture in each had been rearranged). We divided and conquered, with three of us helping to unload while the rest unpacked and sorted the classrooms with the help of a few teachers.
The supplies were amazing and abundant – and so much of it (play sand, doll houses, toy trains, art supplies) made all of us want to run right back to pre-K and play again. It felt great to be directly helping the teachers and students get ready for the opening of school – and to have an activity that brought our staff, teaching artists, actors and board members together to serve the community in a different way and get to know each other better.
After a few hours we had the classrooms ready for the teachers to finish setting up – with less than 48 hours until students arrive. Then we moved on to beautifying the outside – we weeded, planted flowers and mulched the entire front of Plummer, hopefully brightening students’ nervous first few days of school and helping them to see how much we all care. We grabbed t-shirts (provided by Target, apparently) and took some photos you can see here. By two o’clock we were done, thanked profusely by Principal Gray and his staff at Plummer and bidding farewell until we start our In-School Playwriting Program again with the 5th graders in a few weeks.
We’d all been dreaming of lunch for a few hours, so we ran down to Denny’s on Benning Road (one of the only sit down restaurants in my neighborhood of Ward 7) and dared each other to order the Grand Slam. We laughed and talked a lot over lunch and reflected on how much the teachers and school still had to accomplish to get ready for Monday’s opening. And also how great it is that DC students will start this year with so many great resources at their fingertips. It was an exhausting and exhilarating day – we hope to do more soon.
This year Young Playwrights’ Theater is working in partnership with Fannie Mae and their Help the Homeless program to create an original play about the issue of homelessness in the Washington metro area. In the coming weeks, we will be implementing workshops at transitional housing facilities and several public schools to discover the many perspectives, feelings and beliefs surrounding this issue that will find their way into our play. Last night, we conducted our very first workshop at Community of Hope, and we were absolutely blown away by the residents there. We had a group of seven women and their children. The first workshop requires participants to play a role in a made-up drama concerning citizens at a town hall meeting who are deciding whether or not to allow a transitional housing facility to move into their neighborhood. Each person is given a character to play in the fictional community, many of whom disagree with the initiative. Since this was our first workshop, we were unsure if our partners would be willing to voice opposition to a transitional housing facility, but the participants played their roles with vigor and honesty. We had quite a debate for our guided drama, and in the end, the community voted to have the “Good Neighbor Transitional Housing Facility” built in their neighborhood. After the play concluded, we reflected on it and asked the participants to speak openly about the varying opinions of the characters they just enacted. They spoke candidly about the way homeless people are stereotyped and the injustice of writing off the problem as drug abuse, mental illness or apathy. Needless to say we were honored to work with these remarkable women and look forward to the rest of our workshops related to this project.
Please start making plans right now to come see this play at our Express Tour Showcase November 3 through November 6. If the experience of last night is any indication of the depth and sincerity we will meet over the next month of conducting these workshops, then you do not want to miss this showcase!