Celebrating a Season of New Plays

In 2011, YPT students wrote more than 700 new plays. That’s a staggering number! And just like literary managers at theaters across the country, we’re overwhelmed with more amazing work than we could possibly put on stage.

That’s why we send actors directly into the classroom, so all of our playwrights can hear a selection from their work performed by professionals. Students consistently report that seeing the actors is their favorite part of the In-School Playwriting Program. (In fact, our students are delighted whenever the actors visit – sometimes they beg teaching artists to “bring back the actors!”)

These in-class readings are powerful events, as students are often inspired by the work of their peers. At Bell Multicultural High School, some students were moved to tears by the work of playwright Javier Reyes, whose play was featured in the 2011 New Play Festival, and playwright Cristian Miguel, whose play was read at New Writers Now! – The Fight for Family. Both young playwrights explored difficult issues, depicting a character’s struggle with addiction, and a family’s struggle with the decision to serve in the military, respectively. There was electricity in the air in Ms. Restak’s room as seasoned actors read the plays for the first time, bringing overwhelming emotion to the tragic stories.

But when it comes to selecting our season, it can be painful to let a really good play go unseen by a larger audience. Out of that big pool of 700, only 12 plays go on to the New Play Festival. Others make it into our New Writers Now! staged reading series. And some go on to be seen by audiences across the region in our Express Tour. Our 2011-2012 season already includes 22 plays, plus additional scenes, poetry and devised work. But we wondered: could we do more?

So with this year’s New Play Festival, we decided to celebrate more student playwrights than ever before. In addition to the twelve Featured Playwrights, we named fourteen Finalists. These Finalists are the students who made it to the top level of our Reading Committee (composed of YPT Company Members, staff, teaching artists and students). There’s Paola Rivera, whose play Super Ness Save the World! impressed readers with a smug, hilarious villain named Mean Cone. (Mean Cone’s first line? “I just tipped over a building with lots of innocent people in it and they all died!” And then he delivers an evil laugh!) Then there’s Evan McLean, who wowed us with his bold decision to personify the concept of war, transforming the idea into a character with fiery red hair and an aggressive attitude. And there’s Christian Bullock, who bravely told the story of a teenager struggling to escape an abusive home. These sometimes moving, sometimes funny, always inspiring plays deserve to be heard!

In the weeks leading up to the New Play Festival showcase performances at GALA Hispanic Theatre, we’ll present plays written by these Finalists in a series of Community Readings. We launched our season of new plays with readings at our Kickoff Party in January. Then in early March, we presented exceptional work by middle school Finalists in an Arlington Community Reading. We’ll visit neighborhoods across the region to make sure each of our fourteen Finalists gets a chance to see their play brought to life.

You can check out outstanding plays written by elementary school Finalists at our Capitol Hill Community Reading on Tuesday March 20 at 7pm at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop (CHAW). The evening promises to be a fun (and family-friendly!) collection of wacky characters and comic performances. And don’t miss our Featured Playwrights on April 23 and 24 at GALA!

See you there,

Nicole
Program Manager

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

YPT’s Fall Semester: Reflecting on the Journey

Around this time two years ago, I was finishing my first semester as a freelance teaching artist, and my first semester with YPT’s In-School Playwriting Program.  I had spent the fall semester with a class of eighth graders at Swanson Middle School, teaching them about character and conflict, structure and stage directions, but mostly being awed over and over by their creativity, maturity and intelligence.  One particularly wonderful play, Love Math and Martians Don’t Mix by Cassidy Boomsma, went on to be produced in the 2010 New Play Festival, and then went out on the Express Tour the following season.  As I worked with Cassidy to dramaturge her play and watched her grow as a student and a playwright, I was amazed at how far she had come.

Now, as the new year begins, I am YPT’s Program Associate, and have just completed another semester at Swanson, in addition to overseeing our other in-school programming.  This fall, we reached more students than ever before, with 24 workshops in eight schools.  898 students, led by eight fearless teaching artists, dove headfirst into the art of playwriting.  Over the past few weeks, from the hundreds of plays produced by these students, YPT has narrowed the pool down to 26 finalists to be considered for the 2012 New Play Festival.  For the first time, we were aided in this selection by our Company, which was created just this year. This diverse collection of students, directors, teacher, actors and writers will continue to assist us as we choose the final ten to twelve plays that will be performed in this year’s festival. 

While I am now a full-time employee at YPT, with much more responsibility than I had two years ago, setting foot back in the first school where I taught our curriculum brought back for me many of the core reasons why I wanted to work here in the first place.  Because of our curriculum, which challenges our students, makes them think, makes them laugh, and takes them on a twelve week journey, at the end of which they have a finished play.  Because of wonderful classroom teachers like Karen Biggs-Leeds, who keeps her classes perfectly in line, while at the same time making obvious how much she cares for them.  But, most of all, because of the young playwrights: their ideas, their silliness, their perceptions of the world, their willingness to tackle something completely new and their determination to get it just right.  The joy and pride in bringing out of them an incredible story that they had all along, but never shared, or didn’t even realize was there.

And while the process for choosing the plays to feature in the New Play Festival is different, just like two years ago I find myself eagerly waiting to see which plays will be produced, wondering what the rest of the reading committee thinks about the plays that I nominated, and looking forward to working with a young playwright during the dramaturgy process.

As we enter the spring semester, we are preparing to serve four more schools, bringing us to all eight wards of the district this school year.  Five teaching artists are preparing to help bring to life the stories of an entirely new group of students.  And while YPT has undergone changes upon changes since the first class I taught, and so have I, returning to Swanson reminded me that the creativity of our students and the quality of their work, as well as our reasons for teaching them, remains the same.

Laurie
Program Associate

What Students Say About YPT…

For your viewing pleasure, we compiled all the language from our 2010-11 qualitative student assessments to capture a snapshot of what our students say about YPT. Click on the photo below to view a full-size version of the image.

What are the first words that come to mind when you think of YPT?

Nicole
Program Manager

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

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


What We Value: The Young Playwrights’ Workshop

I started working with the after-school Young Playwrights’ Workshop last spring. Our students inspired me. (It was not surprising – our students inspire me constantly.) Here was a group of people that were so supportive of one another, so courageous with their art form, so happy to share their thoughts and dreams. Basically, they were a functioning ensemble. It worked.

I wanted to understand how it worked. I’m sure everyone has, at some point in their lives, tried to work together with nine or ten other people and failed. So what was the Workshop doing differently? What was their secret?

I asked them, and here’s what they said:

“We may not all have the same opinions on certain subjects, but the key ingredient that holds us together is respect.”

“We agree on not making fun of people.”

“I love hearing a different approach to the same topic! It’s so wonderful to see something in someone else’s point of view.”

I continued to mull over these responses during the summer. The students were right on about their success. But could it be replicated? I was scared and excited to take over leading the Workshop in the fall. What if this dynamic had been a fluke? What if we couldn’t make it work without the seniors who had gone on to college? What if, what if, what if.

What was needed was a way to inspire the new Workshop the same way last year’s students inspired me. We needed to name what was important, and to agree on what we were working towards. As excited as everyone was about the product (the performance in June), it was just as important to have a rewarding process. How did the Workshop want to get where it was going?

Again, all I had to do was ask. I borrowed from Michael Rohd’s excellent book Theatre for Community, Conflict and Dialogue, leading the new and returning students in a values clarification exercise. I read various statements and asked the students to move to a different spot in the room, depending on whether they agreed, disagreed, or were unsure. I found out where there was consensus and where there was discord. For example, I read: “I am here to make friends.” There were different opinions in the group. Some students disagreed, saying that they preferred to focus on achieving the goal of performance. Others spoke to their experience in the workforce, saying that you don’t have to be best friends with someone to get a job done. On the other hand, some students expressed that friendships can help with collaboration – when you know someone well you can communicate easily. The point of the exercise is not to debate each statement, just to understand the different points of view that are present in the room. (In that way the exercise fit in with the reflections of last year’s ensemble.)

I also asked students to write towards this question of values individually. I ended up with a wealth of raw material to draw from, and only needed to give it shape. The ensemble unanimously approved these values on October 19. These are the values that the Workshop will strive to live out this year:

  • Respect: We are a team. We treat every member of the team with respect, and we embrace each other’s differences. It is never okay to make fun of someone’s idea.
  • Collaboration: We work together by making a thread. We each add a little piece of fiber and in the end we get this rope. We are all linked together by this passion that brings us understanding and abundant knowledge about each other and our world.
  • Freedom of Expression: We want this program to be a place where a person can freely express their opinions. All ideas are important. All ideas are considered.
  • Evolution: We are here to grow as writers and actors.
  • Commitment: We depend on each other as a team. We each take pride in our own work and the work of the whole group. We always try our best.
  • Impact: We want people to be inspired by our work. We will create theater that is relevant to our community, and will make people think.
  • Fun: This is not school, and it shouldn’t feel like school. We are here to have fun!

The values are posted on the walls of the studio for everyone to see. I asked the students to sign contracts, agreeing to uphold these values, and to hold each other to them as well. And that includes me! I hope that if I become boring, someone will just raise their hand and point to “Fun.” That’ll teach me.

If you want to join the Workshop, click here. We’d love to have you.

Nicole
Program Manager