Meet Nora Foster and Kaitlyn Murphy!

GWO Playwright Photo Shoot-47
Kaitlyn Murphy (L) and Nora Foster (R) pose for a photo shoot.

Nora Foster and Kaitlyn Murphy are two strong, ambitious young women. The DC-area teens, who studied playwriting in YPT’s In-School Playwriting Program then saw their plays come to life in the New Play Festival, dream of making a difference in the world through their words and talents.

Kaitlyn, a freshman at Cardozo Education Campus, is an avid spoken word poet; Nora, a junior at Yorktown High School, enjoys nature photography. Their plays, Ayo’s Audience and Stuck in a Fairy Tale, will be featured in Girls Write Out!, YPT first performance of 2015-2016! Monday, October 19, at 7pm at The Forum in Sidney Harman Hall. FREE!

Click here for more information and tickets!

YPT sat down with Nora and Kaitlyn to learn more about their experience in the program, their hopes for Girls Write Out! and the value of sharing girls’ voices. Read on for the interview and photographs of these fabulous young playwrights!

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YPT: What did you think when the In-School Playwriting Program first came into your classroom?
KM: I was really excited to see what I could write, and [see it] being acted out.

YPT: How did you react when you found out your play was going to be performed?
There were a lot of students in my class, so when I realized that my play was going to be produced I thought, ‘Oh wow, this is cool!’
NF: I was really surprised, I was really happy…when YPT picked mine, I was just ecstatic. Having people not only compliment your work, but criticize it so you can grow and learn more from professionals [was really great].

GWO Playwright Photo Shoot-25YPT: Tell us about your play!
KM: My play is called Ayo’s Audience. [It’s] about a girl trying to follow her dream to become a spoken word artist. It’s very much like my story, so it was pretty easy to write it. [Ayo] lives with her father, and…is struggling to make him understand that she has a passion for this art. In the end, her father and her overcome obstacles, and their relationship becomes stronger.
NF: My play is Stuck in a Fairy Tale, and this girl basically gets thrown into different fairy tales. Like Snow White, Rapunzel…it’s a twist on these classics.

YPT: Where did that come from in your mind?
NF: I have no idea! We were doing some exercise with YPT, and…all of a sudden it just popped into my head! I was just like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll write about this!’ Turned out pretty good…

GWO Playwright Photo Shoot-4YPT: What is your play’s moral/what do you want audience members to walk away with?
KM: My wish [is] for everybody to relate to the characters…my moral is, ‘Keep striving for your dream, no matter what. You have to push through the obstacles and keep steady.’
NF: I just hope that when people walk away from seeing my play, that they remember it…you have to do what’s right for you, and no matter what people say you have to know what’s good for you and follow through. Stand up for yourself.
KM: I want more people to involve themselves in the arts more…that’d be a really cool thing, to see other girls involve themselves in things that [are] a release for them.

YPT: What happens when a girl realizes the power of her voice?
KM: I’m still trying to find the power of my voice! (Laughs) The power of your voice comes when you start affecting people by what you say, and you realize that your voice has a meaning, and that it can make an impact on certain situations or people.
NF: Once you find your voice, it makes a really big impact on others. As long as you use it for good, and you tell people…whatever you’re passionate about, it can make a big impact.

YPT: Do you have any advice for young playwrights in YPT’s program right now?
KM: Don’t worry about nobody else. Have your stuff set, do what you need to do—no matter what, your play is amazing, because you wrote it. The process of writing a play is the best thing ever: you just wrote a play! That’s great! I bet you haven’t done that before! …Appreciate it for what it is.
NF: Don’t doubt yourself…just write what you think is good, don’t compare yourself, because everyone is different in their own way, everyone is unique. Just believe in yourself and keep doing what you think is creative.

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Thank you to Nora and Kaitlyn for speaking with YPT! See their creativity on display at Girls Write Out!, Monday, October 19 at 7pm at the Forum in Sidney Harman Hall! FREE! Part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival.

Click here to reserve your tickets to Girls Write Out!

Vanessa Strickland: It Matters

Afternoons with Dad

One of my fondest collection of memories of the presence of art in my life was when I was in preschool.  By this age, I was already drawing with crayons on endless reams of paper, playing with stuffed animals and dolls as if they were real, and listening to all kinds of music, from opera to glam rock.  A huge influence for me artistically as I was growing up was my father.  He would show me classic movies, check out huge picture books with amazing illustrations, and have me watch and listen to ballets and operas.  This introduction to opera and ballet by my father is where my favorite memories stem from.

I learned, through my dad, about all the different stories that were told in operas.  When we had long afternoons together at home after preschool, my father and I would plop down on the floor by the stereo and he would explain to me the story as it played out over our living room speakers.  Through these afternoon activities, I learned about the love story between Prince Ziegfried and Odette in “Swan Lake”; I remember being in calmed by the soft sounds of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute;” and bouncing around the room when hearing the fervent strings of Stravinsky’s “The Firebird.”  I would get so excited about these stories that I would carry them around with me, telling my friends at school about them and subsequently sitting them down in front of the TV whenever I could to have them watch these great tales.

These stories became so ingrained into me that my father and I would take on roles of the characters in these pieces and start acting out the scenes from the operas right in the middle of the living room.  He would play Grandpapa Drosselmeier and I would play Marie from “The Nutcracker,” or he would play Figaro and I would be Rosina in “The Barber of Seville.”  I’m sure at this point that this may have been the start of my fondness for live performance.

Twenty-three years later and I am a professional actor in the DC area.  I think back to these afternoons with my dad as having a huge impact on how I live my life in terms of how I think and feel, and also how I view the world.  His introducing me to classical music really gave me the confidence at other stages of my life to tell my own stories.  The exposure to art alone, and the motivation of wanting to teach a child about art and encourage them to explore it for themselves emboldens them to create their own art.

What’s your story? 🙂

Click here to learn more.

A young Vanessa dances.

Vanessa Strickland
YPT Actor

Click on the video below to watch Vanessa explain why she believes arts education matters for DC students.

Laurie Ascoli: It Matters

When I was in kindergarten, my teacher told my mom that she feared I wasn’t able to distinguish fantasy from reality.  I don’t think I was ever at that point, but I do know that my imagination was completely out of control and didn’t know what to do with itself at school.  At home I could spend hours thinking up soap opera dramas for my Disney action figures to perform, but at school there were few outlets for my hyperactive imagination and so I had to create them for myself.  When we were asked to write ten sentences demonstrating the uses of vocabulary words, I strung them together to create a complete story.  When instructed to write an essay on why we shouldn’t do drugs, I wrote a play.  When other kids played soccer at recess, I sat in the grass and imagined that we were all toys belonging to a giant who controlled our every move.

In third grade, my school started offering an after-school activity program, and drama was one of the options.  I’d always loved acting in class plays, so I signed up.  The end product of the program was going to be a staged version of Rumplestiltskin, and the director decided to cast the lead female role by having us guess numbers between one and twenty.  I guessed the correct number (thirteen) and excitedly began prepping for the role.  When my big moment on stage came and I stood there histrionically wailing after Rumplestiltskin threatened to take my baby, listening to the audience’s laughter, I realized that my imagination now had a place to go.

As I continued performing throughout middle and high school, I felt a palpable sense of relief at having a safe place to go where my creativity was not only accepted, but encouraged and nurtured.  I went to a standard public high school, but we were one of the few fortunate schools to actually have theater classes available as part of our regular schedule as well as an after-school program.  Theater became a place to escape the cliques of girls in my class who only wanted to talk about nail polish and introduced me to other kids who loved and needed art just as much as I did.  While in elementary school theater expanded my already active imagination, in high school it taught me about commitment, responsibility and passion.  (You don’t give up hours to rehearsal every evening and weekend when you’re 16 unless you really, really love what you’re doing.)  More importantly, though, it taught me about myself.  While exploring different characters in a myriad of plays with a team of other students, I began to discover who I was and where I fit into the world.

Of the core group of theater students in my high school, nearly all of us have gone on to have careers in the arts.  We are theater artists, TV producers, filmmakers, stand up comics and musicians.  I can’t imagine that any of us would have found our passions as easily or held onto them as firmly had we not been exposed to the arts at such a crucial and formative age.

Since my graduation, theater classes at my high school have been cut back, but they still exist.  There is a new generation of students finding their voice through the arts and getting ready to declare themselves theater, music and humanities majors. It’s hard for me to imagine what my life would be like if I hadn’t been introduced to theater when I was.  Would I have followed an entirely different career path?  Would my crazy imagination just have died out at some point?  I’m glad I never had to find out the answers to these questions, and hope that one day arts education will become so standard that no other students will, either.

Click here to learn more.

Laurie performs at the American College Theatre Festival.

Laurie Ascoli
YPT Program Assistant

Holly Taylor Petty: It Matters

Jen’s Story
*Student’s name changed to protect privacy

School can be a difficult place for students who don’t learn in the same way as the majority of their peers. I saw the pain first-hand when Jen, one of my sophomore dance students walked into my classroom. She was not physically handicapped, but I could see that she was so afraid to participate that she could hardly move at all. She would stand there paralyzed. Jen struggled in many of her regular education classes. I knew that school was a miserable experience for her, and I had a hard time knowing how to help her feel comfortable enough to participate. I began to see Jen open up a little bit when I assigned her and a couple of other classmates to work with a severe special needs student. She was so caring and gentle. Through helping someone else discover the art of dance, Jen realized that she had something to offer the world. When I talked to her at the end of the year she was so excited about her plans for registering for more dance classes her junior year. I heard later from her resource specialist that dance had made all the difference for Jen’s confidence. I saw first-hand how the arts helped Jen recognize that she had worth and that is more rewarding than all of the perfect test scores I graded combined.

Click here to learn how you can help keep the arts in DC schools.

Holly Taylor Petty with Her Daughter

Holly Taylor Petty
YPT Community Member

Holly Taylor Petty focused her arts education on dance and violin. She earned a BA in Dance Education and is a certified Suzuki violin instructor. Holly taught dance I, dance II and dance company at Payson High School in Utah until last year, when she moved to Washington DC. She became a mommy 9 months ago and is loving staying at home with her daughter, while teaching private violin lessons part-time, as well as taking dance lessons. She is currently involved with a nonprofit organization called Artist Interrupted, which helps female artists balance the performing arts with everyday family demands.

Liza Harbison: It Matters

I grew up on the arts. I drew, sang, danced ballet (as much as one can at five years old), made a miniature world out of clay, played piano, and even attended theater camp. In my tween years, however, popularity was the most important art form of all. Everything my parents liked—and I grew up on—was uncool. I had to rebel. And by that, I mean I had to shun theater and devote my life to 98 Degrees. These were the years of trying in vain to fit in by only liking what my peers liked. (Obviously if I was destined to be one of the cool mainstream kids, I would have chosen NSYNC or Backstreet Boys, but part of me still wanted to go against the grain.)

At fifteen, I started questioning my conformist ways, and the arts helped me decide who I wanted to be independently of others. It was the students who were passionate about the arts who seemed to have a knack for this self-discovery stuff. They were not caught up in the social hierarchy and had no interest in anyone telling them they should be.

Soon, I discovered photography and understood why those artsy kids felt so comfortable with themselves: art changes how you see the world. I still compose photos in my field of vision all the time. Through my lens, I can take the most beautiful parts of the world and hold onto them. I can photograph something horrible or unjust and bring attention to it. Photography also created a confidence in this newly defined sense of self. I knew that I had this passion and that was all that mattered. What else might I have an undiscovered affinity for? There was no longer time to waste on what other people were telling me to want.

I started volunteering at a local theater, became the crazy liberal girl on campus, and generally continued to develop an unusual set of interests throughout my high school years. Of course it was important that I unearthed a passion for photography and graphic design because otherwise I would still be jumping from internship to internship trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. But it was what the arts did for me personally, not professionally, that mattered most.

Click here to learn more.

A Young Liza with Her Face Painted

Liza Harbison
YPT Communications and Graphic Design Assistant

Ian Real: It Matters

My name is Ian Real. In my life I have traveled a lot from place to place, and the last place I lived was down south in Buenos Aires, Argentina. That is where I grew a passion for acting. Now, I moved from Argentina to here in DC  in early January, and I thought that one thing I  probably wouldn’t get to do is act . See, I am very nervous and it often takes me a long time in order to feel one with a particular group of people, and especially act in front of them. But I feel that the major thing that YPT’s Young Playwrights’ Workshop has done for me is to give me a place where I can be myself, not be afraid of failure, and act.

The first time I went to the Workshop, I was greeted. And when they asked us to pair up in groups that day, I had very little trouble finding people who wanted me in their group. It was as if they had taken me in already. When I acted that first day, I was applauded, as was everyone else.

The Workshop relaxed me and gave me confidence, as well as strengthened me as an actor through constructive criticism and acting concepts. See, acting to me isn’t just something I do for fun, or to make people happy, it’s a release. It’s a way to get out of the troubles I may face and become someone else, and that’s what Young Playwrights’ Theater gave me. They gave me a place to relax, and act my troubles, my stress and my anger away into something creative, productive and happy. They took me out of a trap door I thought I had fallen into where acting couldn’t happen, and put me in a brightly lit room where I was greeted, encouraged and happy acting.

Young Playwrights’ Theater is a place to go to if any student ever aspires to be an actor, yet from what I hear, we need help. With the government’s budget going down, funding for arts programs is one of the first things to go, and we need your help. With your money, we can make another student like me have a place they see as encouraging, relaxing and free from harmful criticism you can find elsewhere. With your money, we can make one kid less angry, less stressed and less sad about his life.

With your money, we can introduce a student into a world where they could be whatever they want to be, without scorn or harmful laughter. But we need your funding, your donations, to make this all happen.

Click here to learn more.

Watch Ian and other YPT supporters make the case for arts education.

Ian Real
YPT Student

Raina Fox: It Matters

A Young Raina and Her Sister Alina Play Piano

Ever since I can remember I have loved drawing, painting, sculpting things from play-dough. Any opportunity I had to take an object and make it into something else was for me. I loved digging into my imagination and translating that jumble of images into something tangible.

When I was eight years old, I took an art class at the Portland Museum of Art.  One day, we were asked to paint a real person. A model. I remember this class so vividly – the model sat on a stool with an umbrella, posing seriously as fifteen elementary school children painstakingly drew her.

I felt that I had a different kind of responsibility with this picture. It wasn’t just something I had dreamed up in my imagination, it was a human being that I was representing to the world. I remember drawing and redrawing the handle, not being able to figure out the physics of how it could fit into the center of the umbrella itself. You can see from my drawing that I never did figure that out, but I certainly tried my best.

Part way through the class, we hung all our pictures on the wall and stepped back to admire each other’s work. Then we gave each other constructive criticism to use as we finished our pictures. Someone pointed out that the background was boring, so I added a sun (clearly this would create the appropriate weather condition for umbrella-holding). Someone else noticed that I had forgotten the shadow under the model’s chair. Through other people’s eyes, I was able to see the things I couldn’t, and it made my picture better. In return, I offered my suggestions to help others improve their work.

I was really proud of that picture. The teacher must have thought it was okay too because she asked my mom later if the museum could keep it for their collection of children’s art. Instead of answering, my mom replied, “Why don’t you ask the artist?”

In that moment, I felt I had a HUGE decision to make, and no one could make it for me. Should I let the museum have my picture and risk never seeing it again? Or should I keep it so that my family and I could enjoy it later? I decided that my family would probably enjoy it more than strangers, so I decided to keep it. It has hung on the wall of my parent’s home ever since.

This memory is significant for two reasons. First, it represents the first time I was cognizant of the artistic process as something dynamic: a combination of close observation, trusting and supporting my peers and the confidence to realize I was able to tackle something new.

It was also the first time that I felt like a real artist. Having an adult, someone I respected, value my work, was a huge confidence boost. In addition, being respected enough as an artist to be given control over my work forced me to step into that more mature role.

I see this same growth in the playwrights that YPT works with.  In the classroom, students are given the opportunity to write from their imagination and experience, learn from their peers’ constructive criticism and offer their own perspectives. They learn to communicate not only through words on the page, but to work as a team. And when their words are reflected back to them through adult actors, they are forced to take responsibility for their work. They become playwrights.

Arts education helps students express themselves creatively, but it also teaches patience, teamwork, and responsibility.  These are the values I have carried into my adult life, and they are the ones I want future adults to hold. That is why arts education matters.

Click here to learn how you can help keep the arts alive in DC schools.

And be sure to join YPT tonight at GALA Hispanic Theatre for our final performance of the season!

Raina's Painting

Raina Fox
YPT Community Engagement Associate