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.

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Laurie performs at the American College Theatre Festival.

Laurie Ascoli
YPT Program Assistant

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

YPT Summer Plays Are Heating Up!

This summer, YPT has once again joined the Horizons Program at the Maret School. The Horizons program helps students prepare for the next school year by challenging the students academically, and inspiring a love of learning. YPT works specifically with students about to enter the 6th grade, which is a big transition – the leap to middle school! I remember the summer before I started middle school. I was very anxious about the new school building and all of the older students. I would have benefitted from a program like Horizons, so it is a pleasure to spend the summer with these amazing students. The playwrights have been  focused on character development and conflict in drama. They have just spent a considerable amount of time working on creating their protagonist and antagonist, and I have to admit the plays are looking very promising! We have one character who is a movie star, but his agent is withholding all of his money in order to build a bigger house; another character is falling victim to the other women on her basketball team because they don’t want her to be the captain anymore; and there is a Mother fighting to stop her daughter from getting a tattoo because she is afraid it will ruin her child’s dream of being a teacher. I look forward to seeing where all of these journeys end up! If the energy and passion of these students is reflected in their characters, then these plays are going to be incredible!

Patrick
Associate Artistic Director