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Reflections on the Lincoln Heights Arts Camp

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Lincoln Heights Arts Camp campers and teaching artists after their final showcase!

In July 2016, YPT held our first-ever multidisciplinary arts camp: the Lincoln Heights Arts Camp! Led by YPT staff and local artists, campers explored the faces and places of Northeast DC through photography, playwriting, audio design and visual art. The camp culminated in a final showcase, where campers read excerpts from their plays and showed off photos and art pieces that encapsulated their lives in Northeast!

After camp ended, camper Brittany Butler and photography week teaching artist Kenji Jasper wrote blog posts about their experience in camp. Read on for their thoughts and memories of the Lincoln Heights Arts Camp!


 Lincoln Heights Arts Camp Blog – Brittany Butler

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Brittany Butler (R) performs during the Lincoln Heights Arts Camp’s final showcase.

My name is Brittany Butler, I’m 17 years old and I was a camper at YPT’s Lincoln Heights Art Camp. I was placed here as a job assignment for the Summer Youth Employment Program so I didn’t really know too much about the camp. IMG_0691My first day there was not what I expected and I honestly had no interest in staying for the whole camp. There was a lot of young kids there and I was basically the only one there that was my age so I was pretty bored. The following week is when things began to get better! There were no more young kids and more teens around my age began to come. The activities we did the first week were very fun as well. We started off learning a bit about Photography with Mr. Jasper.  I liked working with him because he made us engage with each other by having us work in groups. Doing this helped us get to know each other a little better. We also took a few little trips while working on photography. We went to Benning Road Metro Station, Marvin Gaye Park and to the famous landmark, The Shrimp Boat to shoot some fun shots of each other. The first week’s activities were so fun that I was really looking forward to next week which was playwriting.

Week Two we worked with Ms. Harris and Ms. Laurie to write a short play for our final showcase. The idea of playwriting did not seem like something I’d enjoy at first but of course Ms. Harris made the week very enjoyable! We chose a photo out of the ones we shot during Week One to base our play off. Mine ended up being about a girl who had no friends at school but had a connection with trees. She also had super powers that her mom didn’t like which led to an unexpected turn of events in the play! I ended up really enjoying the playwriting week and didn’t want to move on to the next week because I had so many ideas I wanted to add to my play.

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Sound design with Kevin!

Week Three was music! We worked with Mr. Kevin who was a music engineer who worked with many people whose music I actually listen to. This week turned out being my favorite week out of the entire camp!! We created really cool sound effects and music that we added to our plays. It was really cool seeing how he could make a song sound like it was coming out of earphones or make footsteps sound far away to close up by just using one computer program. At the end of Week Three I was really excited to perform my play because of these sounds we created because it made everything more interesting!

The fourth and final week was visual arts. During this week we worked with Ms. Asha and made collages about our passions. I chose to do mine about Cheer because that’s one of my passions. I gathered a bunch of my favorite action shots of my cheer team and I, printed them out and created a beautiful collage that I am very proud of. So proud of that I took it home and hung it on my wall!! Next we made keychains out of wood. I wasn’t sure what to do so I ended up just writing my zodiac sign and birthday on it with puffy paint. When it was finished it actually looked really good. We also decorated old records. I kept this project simple and just painted my favorite saying on it, “Always Strive and Prosper”! I plan on hanging this in my locker when I go back to school as motivation to get through my SENIOR YEAR!

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Final showcase photos. “Always Strive and Prosper” on the left in green!

At the end the Lincoln Heights Art Camp ended up being a complete success and I am glad I got to spend my summer being involved with this camp. Not only was it fun but it taught me a lot as well and also brought out the creative side of me which I really enjoyed. The final showcase was very bittersweet because I was finally able to show everything I did throughout the camp but I also meant that the camp was over. I made some new friends that I look forward to building better friendships with and met some awesome teachers and mentors like, Ms. Harris and Ms. Duncan, which I plan on keeping in touch with for things in the future. 

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Thanks to Brittany Butler for this blog post!


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Kenji Jasper speaks at the Lincoln Heights Arts Camp’s final showcase.

Teacher’s Log: Photography Week – Kenji Jasper

I came to YPT as a veteran of teaching creative workshops for inner-city youth.  I had started just barely out of high school as a co-instructor for The Institute for the Preservation and Study of African American Writing, which eventually led to my work with organizations like the Brooklyn Center for the Environment, The Bedford-Stuyvesant ‘I Have A Dream’ program, CentroNia and most recently Guerilla Arts and The College Success Foundation.  I knew how to work with teens, but I had only taught photography once before.  And as I would only have three days of class time, I decided that I would focus less on techniques and equipment and more on sparking competition between groups and allowing the students to have a good time in the rising summer heat.

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Having grown up partially in Benning Heights, I knew the area where Daybreak Ministries was holding the camp.  So I developed a curriculum based around students working in small groups outside of the classroom for the second half of each day, following an in-class first hour where they worked individually [ fortunately in air conditioning].  I knew that the more I kept them moving, the easier it would be to engage them in photography.  Using cellphones and two YPT iPads, students found the picture taking to be easy and enjoyable.  Those that didn’t like taking pictures served as models and muses for the others.

Once they began to see their work on the overhead projector at the start of each day the spirit of pride and competition encouraged them to take better pictures in hopes of cornering a little more spotlight for themselves among their peers.  They scaled high fences and repelled down hills to pose by a creek.  They framed shots on playgrounds and grassy hills behind orange brick buildings surrounding the camp headquarters.  And they now have the photos to prove it.

The best part of the experience for me was watching the students rise to each creative challenge.  Presented with a glass full of candy, each student had to take one photograph for each M&M they ate, resulting in a diverse array of photographs that captured not only the dwindling candy but the other students as they fired their best shots at the exercise.  They did the same with a game of chess and a team battle in playing cards.  With each outing, they learned that neither the job of photographer or model was an easy one.  But with effort and focus, everything is possible.

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M&Ms have never looked so beautiful!

My reward came with the sadness and regret students expressed on the last day, as they all seemed to wish that we had more time.  Working with YPT provided me with one of my best teaching experiences to date.  I hope that we get to work together again.

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Thank you to Kenji Jasper for a terrific week! The students – and we – love you!

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? 🙂

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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.

Madeline Hendricks: It Matters

When I was seven years old, I auditioned for my first musical at a local children’s theatre program. I was shocked to find that not only did I get into the musical, I got a solo too! The show was called “The People Garden” and it was about a classroom full of elementary school-aged students. I was playing the part of the little girl who always got left out at recess.

I will never forget the first rehearsal. It was just my director, Jill, and me. We were working on my song. Jill kept telling me to sing it over and over again, and every time I just got more and more frustrated. I wasn’t singing the notes right and I kept forgetting the words and I knew the tempo was all wrong. Jill kept insisting that the music didn’t matter; she just wanted me to act. I remember thinking, “What are you talking about? I’m singing. Isn’t that enough?” Suddenly I realized what made those fancy Broadway actors so special. They act and sing at the same time! At that moment, I promised myself I would forget about the music and just focus on the acting.

I remember looking at the clock and seeing that Jill and I only had five minutes left in our rehearsal together. I had one last chance to act and sing at the same time. I took a deep breath, looked at Jill, and sat down where I was supposed to start the song. Jill smiled and winked at me, encouraging me that I could do this. I felt like the world was hanging on my shoulders. Once the music started, I looked out towards the house and opened my mouth to sing. I thought about the character and how she honestly felt like nobody at school cared about her. I thought about the other kids and how cruel they were to her for no particular reason. I remember messing up a few words and notes, but I didn’t care. I was someone else at that moment. I was my character.

When the song ended, I took a deep breath and then looked up at Jill. Before I knew it, she was picking me up and spinning me around, screaming, “You did it! That was it!” I felt like I conquered the world.

This breakthrough moment I had with my director was not life-changing because it made me a better actor—after all, I was only seven. It was life-changing because it taught me a life lesson: if you believe in yourself and focus on the present moment, you will be successful. Since my seven-year-old breakthrough experience, I’ve found that most rules in theatre directly apply to life. For example, always support your fellow actors. Or, actually listen to what your stage partner is saying to you, otherwise you will anticipate rather than live in the moment. These theatrical rules apply to life because the arts and life are intimately connected. Without arts programs, kids would not learn how to build the confidence to express themselves creatively. Arts programs have the potential to change people’s lives at any age—why not start young?

When I volunteered with YPT this past year in Ms. Jone’s fourth grade classroom at Watkins Elementary School, I personally noticed the spark that I once had as a seven-year-old in the eyes of the young, budding playwrights. As a volunteer for YPT, I’ve been able to see how good arts programs shape and form children’s views on life. I think most of us are jealous of children because they have the liberty of always jumping into situations with open arms; they have not yet learned the need to protect themselves or not to trust someone. Arts programs are necessary for children because children are open and ready to explore their creative thoughts. And they have brilliant thoughts! I have loved every moment of volunteering with YPT, and I have no doubt that this program has changed the lives of many young students.

Click here to learn more.

In high school, Madeline got to meet Elton John after her play won the Fidelity FutureStage Playwriting contest.

Madeline Hendricks
YPT Volunteer

YPT Goes on a Field Trip

On Thursday, November 4th, we took two hundred twenty-eight students to see Ameriville, the new play by performance ensemble UNIVERSES, at Round House Theatre.

Yeah. TWO HUNDRED TWENTY-EIGHT STUDENTS. It took a lot of work to get all of them from school to the theater and back again, but it was totally worth it. Field trips are one of my favorite things to do at YPT. It’s always an eye-opening experience for students to see professional theater, but the best part is that it creates renewed investment in their own plays.

The two hundred twenty-eight students are eleventh graders at Bell Multicultural High School. They’re right in the middle of our In-School Playwriting Program, in fact the second drafts of their plays were due just one week after the trip. Bell is one of our favorite schools – we’ve been there for fifteen years, since the beginning of YPT.

Ameriville promised to be a perfect fit for our Bell students. The play fuses jazz, Gospel and hip-hop with storytelling. At Bell, we’ve found that many of our students feel a strong connection to music. Over the years, when teaching artists have met with students who were struggling with their plays, we’ve often asked them to think about sound design. It’s almost foolproof – music provides a gateway into all kinds of artistic expression. Students identify a song that matters to them, and suddenly they realize that they do have something they want to say. So, yeah, a play with beat boxing in it? That was gonna go over well.

The morning of the trip was rainy and hectic. Teachers rushed to check students in and make sure they had permission to attend, and students ran onto the buses, trying to avoid getting wet. But when we finally got to the theater (on time!) everyone’s mood had brightened. A Round House staffer recognized the students from the stage: “We have Bell Multicultural High School here!” and the whole house erupted in loud cheering. Jennifer Restak, one of the eleventh grade English teachers, was overjoyed. “They DO have school spirit, they DO like school!”

The play was fantastic (you can read one review here), and I loved it, but I have to admit that I was also watching the students watch the play. They were definitely not a passive audience: they laughed loudly, clapped for the moments they especially liked, and occasionally responded with Ohhs and Ooohs. Kelly MacIsaac, Round House Education and Outreach Program Assistant, told me that our students were among the show’s best audiences, and that she could tell that the actors were feeding off their energy. “I’m so happy you’re here. These are the kids that need to see this show,” she said.

Back at school, I bumped into Patricio, one of the eleventh graders. I asked him how his play was going, to which he replied, “Okay. I have a lot to do. It’s just that the play gave me a lot of ideas.”

Big thanks to the whole eleventh grade English team at Bell, our wonderful volunteer chaperones, the incredible Round House staff, and of course, UNIVERSES for making this trip happen.

Nicole
Program Manager

Interview with Katherine Latterner

Theater Educates interviews a different arts educator each month, to get his or her take on our field. This month we talk to Katherine Latterner of Fillmore Arts Center.

What is your current position?

Katherine: I am currently Principal of the Fillmore Arts Center, a District of Columbia Public School.  Fillmore provides the arts education to 12 DCPS elementary schools and serves 2,600 students at two sites.  Artist teachers provide visual arts, music (including strings and band), dance and drama instruction.

How did you become an arts educator?

Katherine: I began studying piano and voice at an early age and began my college career as a music performance major.  I realized that I would not become a concert pianist and switched my major to English.  After college I worked at a non-profit but continued my involvement in music.  When my children were very young, I discovered they had minimal music instruction in school and I began volunteering as a music teacher.  I studied Orff and Kodaly and became a music teacher at Fillmore where I taught music (and creative writing for 14 years).  I obtained a masters in educational leadership and became the Director of Education for the Musical Theater Center, returning to Fillmore as the principal five years ago.

Did you have any mentors in the field? If so, how did they influence you?

Katherine: My family was always involved in music (mother and grandmothers).  My first real mentor was my piano and voice teacher, Lewis Grubb.  We lived in a small town in Delaware, but he had performed in Philadelphia and New York and exposed me to a wealth of literature and experiences (singing with adult groups in Wilmington and Philadelphia).

There is a lot of debate among educators, administrators and policymakers about arts integration vs. art for arts sake. What is your opinion of this debate? Do you favor one side over the other?

Katherine: I think it makes perfect sense to make connections between the arts and other disciplines.  Using the arts to teach numeracy, literacy, social and physical sciences allows children with varying learning styles to more easily access this information and to use both right and left brain modalities.  However, the push has been to have arts education focus in Arts Integration to the exclusion of the arts as important disciplines.  I am a strong proponent of having a high quality arts education for arts sake.

What advice do you give young people who want to make a career in the arts?

Katherine: Pursuing the arts as a career may not be the most financially rewarding choice (except for a very few people), but it is certainly a personally rewarding choice.  If you have a passion for the arts,  you should pursue it.  Examine the multiple ways you can work in the arts (performer, teacher, production, etc.) .

What advice do you give early-career arts educators?

Katherine: Do not neglect the impact of technology on the students of today.  Explore ways you can incorporate technology and please keep your activities interesting and “fun” for your young students.  You job is to foster a love of the arts in your students so they can not only be participants, but also arts audience members and supporters.

Every educator has a different definition of success. Can you tell us about a time when you felt successful as an arts educator?

Katherine: I have had students go on to great commercial success, but it is the everyday successes (the shy child who performs a dance or sings a solo on stage, the class cut-up who really shines as the “king” in the drama performance, the beautiful ceramic bowl made by a child who said he was “no good” in art) that make me feel most successful as an arts educator.