A New Play Festival Adventure to the Galapagos

On April 22 and 23, YPT will present twelve new student-written plays in the 2013 New Play Festival. Join us on Monday, April 22, for seven fun, family-friendly plays, including A Walk in the Woods by fifth grader Ben Perez. Below, hear from Ben about his inspiration for writing an environmentalist play set in Ecuador, and how the editing process is going so far!

Ben Perez

When my teacher said that YPT was coming, I was so excited. I really wanted to write a play. We learned a lot about playwriting from [YPT teaching artist] Mr. Enrico. When I started writing my play, I was wondering what it should be about. Mr. Enrico said to think about things that have happened to you or things that you have created. I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to have a play about environmentalism? So I wrote about a nature guide who had an exciting conflict. Mr. Enrico gave us ideas about how to improve our plays and how to show what we wanted to say by writing.

When I started writing I wanted there to be a guy who would save the tortoises in the Galápagos Islands, so that was my main character. Then I thought there had to be someone who wanted to harm the animals, so he was my antagonist. I developed my play around the conflict between these two characters. Then came the day when Mr. Enrico said he was going to collect the stories. I was nervous about my play because I didn’t know if he would like it.

One day some actors from YPT came to our class. They presented a tiny part of each play. I liked the plays and at the end of the day Mr. Enrico announced the four New Play Festival finalists from our school. When he said my name I was so happy and really excited! An interesting thing is that he also said my twin sister’s name, so we were both finalists from our school!

A couple of weeks later, my mom got a phone call from YPT with some great news. My sister and I both moved up to the final round! A few days later we got another call that my sister’s play would be read at the kickoff party and my play would be produced in the spring! It was a very exciting day.

After the celebration with all the finalists, I started working with my dramaturge, Mr. Enrico. So far my play has improved a lot. It is really helpful to work with him because he notices things and gives me ideas. For example, he helped me develop my characters and also he said I could use some Spanish in my play since it happens in Ecuador. He asks me a lot of questions to help me think about what should happen in my play. It is really fun working with Mr. Enrico!

Learn more about the 2013 New Play Festival plays and playwrights on our website!

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