A Superhero Play by a Superhero Student

Dakota Wenberg is not sure what she wants to be when she grows up. She’s thinking she’ll either be a playwright or an astronaut (or maybe both), but she knows she still has a few years to decide.

Dakota is an eighth grade student at Swanson Middle School, and one of the fifteen talented young writers who will be featured in YPT’s 2011 New Play Festival.

I was thrilled when YPT’s Program Manager Nicole Jost invited me to serve as Dakota’s dramaturge and help her revise and develop her play for production. I remembered reading Dakota’s play, A Jewel of a Date, when I participated in YPT’s New Play Festival Reading Committee in January. Each Reading Committee member was responsible for reading and commenting on dozens of student-written plays from YPT’s In-School Playwriting Program, but Dakota’s play stood out for me. I was so impressed by her imaginative characters and her quick, witty dialogue. I remember sitting in my kitchen laughing, reading Dakota’s opening monologue out loud to my husband, and telling him, “YPT has to produce this play.”

A Jewel of a Date is an unconventional superhero story. The play’s protagonist is Superman’s daughter, Supergirl (also known as Liz). Throughout the play, Liz struggles to balance her life as a teenage girl navigating the new and uncertain territories of dating and high school, with her life as a tough, crime-fighting superhero. As Liz says in her opening monologue, “Girl stuff is hard, superhero stuff is super. So girl superhero stuff is SUPER HARD.” The play is often hilarious, sometimes poignant and always thoroughly entertaining.

I loved working with Dakota to develop her story. Dakota is a busy student. Last month, she was the stage manager for her school’s production of Beauty and Beast. She has swim practice every Tuesday. She sings in an after-school chorus at school and a youth choir at her church. But she still managed to come to each of our dramaturgy meetings completely prepared (with a laptop, multiple copies of her play and all of her YPT paperwork completed and signed) and excited to engage in an enthusiastic, focused dialogue about her play.

Dakota turned in the final draft of her play last week. Over the next month, she will have several opportunities to sit in on New Play Festival rehearsals and give the director and actors feedback as they bring her words to life. I can’t wait to hear what she thinks.

Brigitte
Development Director

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.

Brigitte
Development Director

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

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

Movie Break: Why the Film “Inception” Made Brigitte So Excited for YPT’s 15th Season

“A single idea from the human mind can build cities.  An idea can transform the rules and rewrite all existence.”

–     Cobb (from Inception)

This past weekend I took a break from writing grant proposals for YPT and saw Inception, the imaginative new Christopher Nolan film that’s bringing in the box office big bucks this month. I left the film inspired (I loved it) and, believe it or not, thinking of YPT.

In Inception (I promise I’m not giving anything away), a crack team of dream “extractors”, lucid dreamers who infiltrate people’s minds and coerce them into revealing their deepest secrets, work together to tackle the risky, untested challenge of “inception” – implanting an idea in the subconscious mind of a dreamer. The film is smart, visually stunning, and contains a mind-blowing fight scene that takes place in a hallway (if you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about).

So why on earth would this sci-fi thriller make me think of YPT?

Inception is a story about a perfect team – each team member contributes something unique and necessary to the mission of the group. They give it all they’ve got. They trust one another.

As YPT expands this year to serve more students than ever before (1,000!), I cannot help reflecting on how lucky I am to work with such a perfect team.

Each YPT staff member, board member, teaching artist, actor, director and designer plays a specific and invaluable role in achieving our daily mission to use playwriting to teach students the power and value of their own creative ideas – ideas that can move hearts and minds, ideas that may, indeed, change the world.

In fact, the imaginative idea behind the film Inception is the kind of innovation that I find so inspiring in the work of our students. Plays written by YPT students tackle challenging issues including gender roles, self-worth, power dynamics, immigration, drugs, and gangs; and explore such universal themes as family, relationships, heritage, and love. And YPT students take on these big ideas in such inventive and unexpected ways. Just this past year, YPT produced a dark, sci-fi play that imagines a future world in which women have been deemed obsolete and eliminated, a brilliant mafia play that challenges the very concept of theatrical form, and a fantastical comedy about an arrogant knight and a dragon that wants nothing more than to be left alone.

In the next few weeks, YPT will announce our 2010-2011 Season, and (I promise) you will not be disappointed by what our students have in store for you.

Stay tuned. It’s going to be an amazing year.

Brigitte
Development Director

A Guide to Acronyms and Agencies in DC’s Arts Education Landscape

by Brigitte Pribnow Moore

As an LEA, DCPS is under pressure from NCLB to meet AYP each year. Thanks to Title I of the ESEA, the most underserved schools have more resources to help students meet DCPS Learning Standards when the OSSE administers the DC CAS this year. Isn’t the NAEP happening soon as well? Better consult the OPGD for information on upcoming funding opportunities for arts educators. Hopefully the DCCAH can help this spring. Too bad so few government funders accept the WRAG.

Say what?

Need some help navigating the alphabet soup of DC’s arts education landscape? Here are some handy definitions and online resources:

LEA – Local Education Agency, which may include a school district, or a charter school. 

DCPS – District of Columbia Public Schools.

NCLB – No Child Left Behind, United States federal legislation signed into law January 8, 2002, aimed at improving the performance of U.S. primary and secondary schools by 2014, by:

  • Increasing standards of accountability for states, school districts and schools;
  • Providing parents with more flexibility in choosing which schools their children attend;
  • Increasing focus on teaching every student to read;
  • Re-authorizing the Elementary and Secondary Act of 1965 (ESEA), a statute which funds primary and secondary education.

President Obama recently laid out his proposal for a complete overhaul of No Child Left Behind, which is currently being considered by Congress. Check out this recent Washington Post article  for more information.

ESEA – Elementary and Secondary Act of 1965 – statute reauthorized under NCLB, funding primary and secondary education, specifically for educators’ professional development, instructional materials, resources to support educational programs, and promotion of parental involvement

Title I – First Title of the ESEA, distributes funding to schools and school districts with 40% or more students from low-income families (qualifying under U.S. Census definitions of low-income).

AYP – Adequate Yearly Progress, a measurement defined by the U.S. No Child Left Behind Act that allows the U.S. Department of Education to demonstrate a school’s progress towards reaching the national goal of 100% student proficiency in Reading and Mathematics in all schools by the year 2014. Standardized assessments are used as a diagnostic tool that determines how schools need to improve and where financial resources should be allocated. All K-12 DC public schools are required to demonstrate AYP in the area of reading/language arts, mathematics, and either graduation rates, for high schools and districts, or attendance rates, for elementary and middle/junior high schools. A school that fails to meet AYP for two consecutive years becomes a “School in Need of Improvement”. A school that fails to meet AYP for five consecutive years may be “Restructured”.

DC BAS – DC Benchmark Assessment System, which helps DCPS track student progress and achievement throughout the year for students in grades 3-10.

DC CAS – DC Comprehensive Assessment System, which is administered once a year in DCPS classrooms and demonstrates how well students are meeting grade-level standards in the areas of English Language Arts and Mathematics. Every DC Public School has been assigned an NCLB status based upon its performance on the DC CAS. Every year a school does not meet AYP,  it is “flagged” with a status that requires more attention to that school. If a school does not meet AYP for five years in a row, it enters “restructuring” status requiring a significant school turnaround. The test is taken by students in grades 3-8 and grade 10, and administered each April.

OSSE – Office of the State Superintendent for Education, which sets statewide policies, provides resources and support, and exercises accountability for all public education in DC, including managing the DC CAS.

NAEP – National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is a test that is taken nationally and allows each state to compare its students with students in other states.

OPGD Office of Partnerships and Grants Development, a DC agency that establishes partnerships between public and private, for-profit and nonprofit organizations, and pursues financial support and technical assistance from public and private sources toward improving the quality of life for DC residents. OPGD has a wonderful website that shares upcoming DC grant opportunities.

DCCAH – DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, a DC agency with a mission “to provide grants, programs and educational activities that encourage diverse artistic expressions and learning opportunities, so that all District of Columbia residents and visitors can experience the rich culture of our city.” They provide a variety of competitive grants for both organizations and individual artists.

WRAG – Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers, which promotes and supports effective, strategic, and efficient charitable investment in the Greater Washington region. They have established a Common Grant Application format, aimed at making the grant process more efficient, which is used by many funders in the DC region.

Hope this list is helpful. Does anyone have any other suggestions for acronyms we should include?