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 Welcomes Raina Fox as Our New Community Engagement Associate!

Sometimes artists get a bad name: they are disorganized and unreliable. They let their ideas get ahead of their ability to perform. They live in a world of their own.

I am so thrilled to be part of a team of artists who share none of those traits.

As I end my very first week as Community Engagement Associate at the Young Playwrights’ Theater, I am overcome by the energy, intelligence, organization, creativity, and passion of the folks who make it possible for our young playwrights to contribute to and be a part of our creative world.

On Tuesday evening, YPT held its first ever kick-off event, at which actors performed teaser scenes from three student plays. Students, families, board members, supporters, and staff gathered to celebrate and watch as these plays begin to form. We watched as a boy from the moon struggled to understand earth, a young man and his turtle friend confronted their own personal hell (high school), and a couple’s relationship started to deteriorate because of a text message.  The plays were funny, insightful, clever, and entertaining. However, the best part was watching the young playwrights as they saw their characters come to life through the words they had written. Though they seemed a bit embarrassed, they absolutely radiated pride and excitement. I was so happy to approach the essence of YPT by experiencing these plays alongside their young writers and so many members of the wonderful YPT community.

I also experienced the first stage of a Fannie Mae-commissioned play on homelessness in the form of workshops at N Street Village and Martha’s Table. The women of N Street and children of Martha’s table were amazingly eloquent, perceptive, and enthusiastic when speaking about the issue of homelessness. They were not only willing to share their perspectives, but thrilled to be part of the play to come. I too am excited to see where these community perspectives lead the creative process and to have my perspective of homelessness tested along the way.

This week was the perfect introduction to my time at YPT—I was able to see the brainstorming and writing processes, experience the first stage in producing a play, and begin to connect with YPT and the broader community. As I start to develop ways to further engage our community, I know this is rooted in a strong, supportive, passionate group of folks, who, yes, happen to be artists.

Raina
Community Engagement Associate

David Speaks on the Role of the Arts in Students’ Lives – Why We Do What We Do

This year I and YPT were honored to receive the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation’s Exponent Award for visionary leadership. On Monday, June 7th, at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, we received the award during a fun and compelling ceremony that highlighted the importance of the work of nonprofits in our community. I am so grateful to the Meyer Foundation, for the award, but also for the simple opportunity to share a few thoughts about why we do what we do. I’ve had several requests since that evening to post or share my remarks in some way, so here they are. I hope you’ll in some way connect with how we at YPT feel about the arts in students’ lives.

Monday, June 7, 2010
“Thank you so much. I’m so grateful to Julie, Rick, Carmen, Amy, the board of directors and everyone at the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, to have their amazing support in my life and the life of Young Playwrights’ Theater. As those of us running organizations know all too well, the proof is in the people. And the Meyer Foundation is filled with true partners, true advocates and true friends to us in the nonprofit sector. I’ve dedicated my life to helping students express themselves and engage the world around them. Because I believe as much as we need to eat, sleep and clothe ourselves to be human, we need to express ourselves. We need to be able to share with our neighbors and the rest of the world what’s bothering us, how others can help us and what we fear or dream of for our future. And that beyond basic reading, writing and arithmetic, students need to be able to think for themselves. They need to be able to imagine, envision, and explain. They need to understand – not just know, but to understand what they’re learning and why. They need to be able to stand up, put their ideas forward and defend them. And they need to be able to inspire and be inspired.

I know that as I reflect on important moments in my life when I truly learned something, most of them didn’t happen sitting silently at a desk. Most of them were experiences, conversations, dialogues with other people that taught me something I didn’t know and stirred something inside me I didn’t know I had. And in this age of Facebook, Twitter and texting there’s an even greater understanding that comes from being in a room face to face, explaining with our whole selves what we mean, and learning about the world from direct experience and dialogue with our fellow human beings.

So as we’re ensuring that critical needs are met in these challenging times, and that students can do well on the latest standardized tests, I think we need to consider not only what will get us through the night, through the next month or next couple of years, but also what we want to be, what we want to look like and what we want to represent when we get through it.  What kind of society do we want to have? How will students compete in the global arena of ideas if they have none to share? And how can we envision our future if we’re not able to dream?

At Young Playwrights’ Theater we give students the tools they need to engage the world.  And in turn they share their dreams, their fears, their hopes and their visions for the future.  Every student writes a play. Every student hears their play performed by professional actors in the classroom. We share the students’ work with their community through readings, festivals and tours and we pay the students for the opportunity to produce their plays. The students introduce their work and speak about why they wrote what they wrote; they drive rehearsals and recognize their own power in the process. Truancy rates drop when we’re in the classroom. Homework completion soars with our assignments.  We see with our assessments that students’ critical and creative thinking improve dramatically during the program. And teachers, students and parents tell us how much the program has meant to them. Because for many of our students, it’s the first time someone has asked them what they think. It’s their first time to really engage in class.  It’s their first time to tell their stories.  And it’s their first time to realize their own true potential – a revelation of who they are, and who they could be.

Tonight, this honor helps me and all of us at YPT know that what we do matters – that having a vision, and thinking outside the box, makes a difference; that we have partners who believe in our mission; and that service toward a greater good is possible, even today. And that’s a huge gift. I want to thank my fellow recipients, who bring hope, love and strength to so many; thank you to my amazing staff at Young Playwrights’ Theater, Patrick Torres, Brigitte Moore, Elizabeth Andrews, who inspire me every day with their dedication, their passion and their generosity; to our wonderful board of directors and our amazing chair Brian Kennedy; thank you to the greatest Founder a successor could wish for, Karen Zacarias, and of course to our students, for their dedication, their inspiration and their awe-inspiring work; and to my family –  my parents, my sister, my beautiful wife Alex, my son Henry and my two-week old daughter Della for their love and grace in my life. I am grateful to do this work and I am so very grateful to be here tonight.  Thank you very, very much.”

Click here to see more info on the award and the video compilation of the evening, produced by the Meyer Foundation.

Hope to see you soon!

David
Producing Artistic Director and CEO

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

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.