April Pizza Adventures Part II: Flippin’ Pizza

After a recent exploration of “New Haven-style” pizza at Pete’s Apizza, for YPT’s next pizza party we decided to travel further down the east coast for some authentic, New York style pizza. On April 12, Flippin’ Pizza in Dupont Circle generously hosted a “Community Builders” night for YPT, donating 50% of proceeds from YPT supporters.  So on Thursday night, I celebrated “it’s-almost-Friday” by recruiting some friends and heading over to Flippin’ Pizza – a cozy, subterranean pizza joint in the heart of Dupont Circle, bustling with families, young professionals catching up over a post-work slice and people stopping in to pick up a giant 18” pizza for dinner. As for the pizza?  People often complain that compared to New York, our city is lacking in the pizza department, but at Flippin’ Pizza I found a delicious little bit of New York, right in the middle of Washington, DC.

Highlights:

  • The crust!  Thin and chewy … so delicious!
  • Huge slices, for a very reasonable price (yet somehow, I still managed to eat two)
  • While I stuck with plain cheese (sometimes, you just crave the classics), Flippin’ offers both “white” and “red” specialty pizzas. One friend sampled the tomato, basil and garlic white pizza, marveling: “you can really taste the basil!”
  • Whether you’re working in Foggy Bottom, living in Woodley Park or walking over from the YPT HQ in Columbia Heights, you can’t beat the location.
  • The super-friendly staff, and homey, “local pizza joint” atmosphere.
  • And of course, how amazing Flippin’ Pizza is for hosting fundraising nights for local organizations, and pledging half of the proceeds from these events.

A big thanks to Flippin’ Pizza for hosting a very successful second YPT pizza fundraiser to benefit our New Play Festival.  In addition to Dupont Circle, they also have locations in Northern Virginia and even at Nationals Park, so I will definitely be enjoying more of their giant slices in the future.

Next up: get ready for a YPT Pizza Party marathon!

On Tuesday, April 17, 14th Street’s HomeMade Pizza Company is generously donating a portion of proceeds to YPT from every large pizza, large salad, order of breadsticks and gift card sold for the entire day (1pm – 10pm). Their menu highlights delicious, homemade-style pizza from fresh ingredients. They also have a variety of salads and desserts, in case you’re tired of pizza (if that’s even possible), and gluten-free options. Remember it’s all day – and pick-up only, at 1522 14th St, NW.  See you there!

Then on Wednesday, April 18, we’re kicking off the New Play Festival with a celebratory happy hour at RedRocks Pizzeria, just a few blocks from the Columbia Heights metro. RedRocks is generously donating 30% of happy hour proceeds to YPT, and we’re hoping to celebrate with many friends (21 and older for this one, please) as we get ready for the big event next week.  RSVP for the happy hour here!

And don’t forget – the YPT Pizza Photo contest is still on! Check out our Facebook albums from our past two pizza parties for inspiration, and share your own photos for a chance to win a prize at the New Play Festival (more pizza? a gym membership? the possibilities are endless!)

See you on Tuesday, and until then, stay hungry!

Alison
Development and Producing Associate

(and official YPT pizza critic)

Spotlight on Sam Burris: YPT Featured Playwright

Sam Burris was a student in YPT’s In School Playwriting Program at Swanson Middle School last semester.  His play, The Stranger, deals with a young war veteran battling his demons after returning to the United States. Sam gives this tale a unique twist through his personification of Fear as the protagonist’s opponent.  Below, Sam talks about his experience of conceiving and writing The Stranger, which will be produced in YPT’s New Play Festival on April 24. 

Reflection on the New Play Festival Process
by Sam Burris

Like most of the kids in my all year drama class, I groaned when I heard that we were going to be writing a play every Wednesday for the next twelve weeks. But secretly, I was really looking forward to it. At first trying to write my play was really frustrating. I had a distinct idea in my head, and I just didn’t know how to put it into words. But once I got the words flowing, it was really easy and enjoyable to write this play. There were so many great plays in my class, so I was really surprised when I found out I had been selected to even be considered, let alone have my play produced.

After my play was selected, I was thrilled to learn that [YPT Program Associate] Laurie Ascoli would be my dramaturge, especially because she had been the teaching artist for my class. She was very helpful in the original process of writing my play, as well as when I had to make my final edits. Although we didn’t spend as much time together working on it, as I think some of the other playwrights may have, I never would’ve been able to write my play without her help. She guided me to make changes that helped me to better understand my own characters and find the words to describe the newfound aspects of the characters to the audience.

Throughout the whole process, I was afraid my play wasn’t “good enough”. Especially at the first read when I heard everyone elses’ plays. They were so spectacular, I was afraid to have mine read. But after I heard it read, I knew that it would do just fine. I loved hearing my words come to life through the actors. It was amazing.

I’m honored to be featured in the New Play Festival, and I’m astounded by the emotional capacity that the other playwrights express in their plays. I’m sure it’ll be great!

Sam Burris
YPT Young Playwright 

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

YPT’s Top 10 of 2011

As we wrapped up another exciting year and wondered how it was already 2012, I read a lot of year-end lists. Albums, documentaries, political blunders, celebrity breakups… December was filled with lists meant to sum up the best (and worst) of the year. Well, how did YPT fare this past year? You decide! Here are YPT’s top 10 moments of 2011:

10. In 2011, YPT was thrilled to expand our programming and performances into Montgomery County, Maryland. In the spring, we received funding from the DIVAs Fund of the Montgomery County Community Foundation to bring our Express Tour into underserved Montgomery County middle schools, reaching over 1,000 at-risk youth with free performances and interactive workshops. We also expanded our After-School Playwriting Program into several community organizations, and served over 150 students at Long Branch Recreation Center in Montgomery County with our Summer Playwriting Program.

9. In the fall of 2011, YPT was selected to participate in the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities’ highly competitive UPSTART capacity building program for 2012. This competitive grant, which YPT also received in in 2007, is awarded to organizations that have demonstrated strong organizational and fiscal practices and could most benefit from intensive financial and technical assistance to develop new strategic initiatives and support core administrative systems and leadership development.

8. In the summer of 2011, YPT Producing Artistic Director and CEO David Snider was awarded the Hands On Greater DC Cares Essence of Leadership Award, which recognizes business leaders who are simultaneously working toward economic prosperity and transformative social change.

7. YPT lauched the Student Advisory Council to create an opportunity for continued dialogue with some of our most involved alumni, who offer invaluable inspiration and input about our programming and performances.

6. In recognition of the work of staff, artists, alumni and board members to further YPT’s mission, YPT launched our Company this past winter.

5. In November of 2011, YPT went international! YPT students spent a day at the Canadian Embassy creating cross-cultural theater with the students of Es Artes of Suchitoto, El Salvador! One student said of the experience, “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.”

4. The award-winning Young Playwrights’ Workshop was the only student ensemble to perform at the Capital Fringe Festival. With their original play, Out of the Shadow, the Workshop students took a stand for their peers across the country, presenting multiple perspectives and sharing important stories on the topic of bullying.

3. This past fall was YPT’s longest Express Tour, visiting 56 venues and giving thousands of students and community members their first theater experience.

2. The New Play Festival was bigger than ever with 15 plays over 3 nights. Featured plays were written by students at Bancroft Elementary School, Bell Multicultural High School, Lafayette Elementary School, Maya Angelou Public Charter School, Plummer Elementary School, Swanson Middle School, Watkins Elementary School and Wilson High School.

And the best part of 2011 for YPT? Drumroll please…

1. 2011 saw more plays written by YPT students than ever before! Our work in the classroom led to the creation of 700 new student-written plays. We are so excited to continue sharing them with you all this season!

Liza

Communications and Graphic Design Associate

Introducing The Twelve Days of YPT!

Ready to be inspired?  Starting today, in honor of the holiday season, YPT will be counting down The Twelve Days of YPT.  But instead of pipers piping  and partridges in pear trees, for the next twelve days, YPT will be profiling one student per day that we’ve had the honor of working with this year.  These are students of all ages and all backgrounds from all over DC.  All have been engaged with YPT’s work in a variety of ways, and all have shared their stories with us about how YPT has impacted their lives. 

And these students are just a small sampling of the 1,200 students we inspire each year with our innovative playwriting and theater arts workshops.

2011 has been an amazing year. We worked with hundreds of creative, enthusiastic and dedicated students and celebrated numerous successes, including a national award from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, a bigger-than-ever-before New Play Festival, and special recognition for our resident student ensemble from Josh Groban’s Find Your Light Foundation, WJLA ABC-7 News, WAMU 88.5 and the DC Capital Fringe Festival. 

So, for the next twelve days, we invite you to celebrate with us as we look back on our students and their accomplishments this past year. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for a different face of YPT every day.

And if one of our “Twelve Days of YPT” student stories personally inspires you, we encourage you to make a contribution of any size on that day as an investment in that student. Your personalized thank you from YPT will include a photo of that student and a description of how your gift has made an impact on his or her education.

For the “First Day of YPT” we are profiling Amber Faith Walton. Amber has worked with YPT both through the In-School Playwriting Program at Bell Multicultural High School, and as part of our award-winning after-school ensemble, the Young Playwrights’ Workshop.  Her play, Changing Tides: Judge Me Gently, a moving piece about a conversation between a young gay woman and conservative man, was produced in the 2011 New Play Festival (watch Amber speak about her experience in the New Play Festival  here). Amber also contributed to the Workshop’s original play, Out of the Shadow, which took on the issue of bullying from a student perspective. Amber is a creative, articulate and enthusiastic student who brings an incredible amount of passion and creativity to her work at YPT. She recently wrote an insightful piece for our blog about working with international students from Suchitoto, sharing:

“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 … we are all humans, we love theater, and we perform. Being a student and watching a barrier disintegrate was amazing.” To read her full blog post, click here

If Amber’s story inspires you, we encourage you to donate now in her name.  Invest in Amber, and invest in the future of YPT.

And don’t forget, from now until the New Year, your gift will literally double in size and impact, thanks to a generous matching grant from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

 As always, thank you so much for your support and generosity this past year.  We would not be where we are today with you!

Amber performs in Out of the Shadow

Alison
Development and Producing Associate