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!