The Best Experience I Ever Had in School

Check out this beautiful letter to YPT from Saviya Brown. Saviya, a junior at Bell Multicultural High School, wrote the play Taken 4 Granted, which will premiere in the New Play Festival, on April 13, at 7:30pm, at GALA Hispanic Theatre (3333 14th Street NW).

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Dear YPT Reading Committee and YPT staff:

I would love to thank the YPT Reading Committee and staff for their support and encouragement as I wrote my play. I would especially like to give my thanks to Patrick Torres for giving me the advice that I can do it. Without him I think I would not have done or finished the play. Working with YPT was the best experience I ever had in school. I say that because they gave me a chance to actually open up and experience better ways of writing. YPT is better than English classes, from my point of view, because you have people to sit side by side with you and help you without being rushed. They also give you extended time if you need to work on something. This is something that I will really remember as the best thing from all my years of high school.

I would also like to share that I am now writing a book. I wrote one last summer but it disappeared somehow, so I am currently writing one called Twisted. I have also invited people to help me write it [by contributing ideas] from their life experience, so hopefully it will come out well. The people who are featured are Tomas Rodriguez and Harold Dawson, and I would love to thank them also.

I would really love to thank YPT again. Thanks for being supportive and honest about our plays in all of your ways.

Sincerely,

Saviya Brown
YPT Young Playwright

My Answer to the Question: whYPT?

My relationship with YPT began eight years ago, when I was in high school. It was a very weird time in my life. I wasn’t investing in my education, I was just trying to get by. I put way more work into the play I wrote for YPT than I did into Chemistry and Math.

I’ve spoken before about how powerful it was for me when YPT produced my play. I watched as professional actors, people who are trained to use words, actually said my words. It was a huge boost of confidence. I often think back to that moment when I’m in the classroom. I get to say to my students, “I was where you are. If I can do it, so can you.”

I went to college in Santa Cruz, California. When I left DC I didn’t think I was coming back. I was going to paradise and I was going to become happy and mellow. Instead, I developed this yearning to return here. I really wanted to change things. I saw such injustice: it’s poetic in a sick way, the poverty that exists in our nation’s capital. YPT became that thing that I was going to contribute – I could come back home and make a difference in the lives of students.

When I think back to my first interview with David and Patrick, who had just started as Producing Artistic Director and Program Manager, it’s pretty embarrassing. I was very naïve and I may have actually said that I wanted to “change the world.” I was so earnest, but I think it worked for me because at that time David and Patrick were just starting their journey with YPT. Being over-eager simply made me a good fit for the new leadership.

I’ve worked closely with David and Patrick since that first interview, and this year I took on the title of Program Manager – Patrick’s role when I met him. Patrick has been a mentor to me, and YPT has been a place where I’ve honed my skills as an arts educator. I’m so grateful for this.

I’m sure you can guess that being Program Manager is not always a breeze. I love to brag about how creative our students are, and what amazing writers they are, which is very true. What I don’t always love to talk about are the struggles that we as teaching artists confront in the classroom. I’ve worked with groups of students that were challenging for any number of reasons: students who were struggling to learn English, students who were coping with serious problems in their personal lives, and sometimes simply a group with tough social dynamics. These experiences are always rewarding in the end. These are the students that force you to fight for what you want – something we tell them makes a good character.

I said to my students just the other day, “You may not care about this, but that’s tough. You’re going to do it. Because I care too much about you to let you give up.” I’ve found that when you invest in students in that way they never disappoint you.

Nicole
Program Manager

YPTimeMachine…

As we count down to YPT’s big fifteenth birthday celebration next week (Come share birthday cake with us at the Express Tour Showcase, November 3-6!), we would like to take you on a journey into the past – all the way back to 1995, the very first year of Young Playwrights’ Theater.

In 1995 Karen Zacarias returned home to Washington, DC with an MFA in Playwriting from Boston University and a desire to use her art to make a difference in her community. She began volunteering her time providing free playwriting workshops to students at Bell Multicultural High School and Fillmore Arts Center. By 1997, Karen’s workshops were so successful that she incorporated Young Playwrights’ Theater as a nonprofit organization, employing a full-time staff and teaching playwriting and theater arts at schools and community centers throughout DC. Fifteen years later, in 2010, YPT is a nationally recognized theater education company, serving 1,000 students annually throughout the Washington, DC region.

1995 was quite a year. The cost of a gallon of gas was $1.09, the Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress, Brave Heart won the Academy Award for Best Picture, O.J. Simpson was found innocent, POGs were voted most popular toy, Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill was Album of the Year, Jerry Garcia died, and the Atlanta Braves won the World Series. Over the next week, YPT will take you back in time to 1995, celebrating the good, the bad, the inspiring and the just-plain-hilarious of the early ‘90s.

To kick things off, we are pleased to present some juicy gems from the personal history of YPT’s staff. You saw it here first, folks – the fifteen-year-old professional biographies of YPT’s current company members…

David Snider, Producing Artistic Director and CEO
In 1995, David is a professional actor in New York, having just finished a season Off-Broadway with the Jean Cocteau Repertory, including The Cherry Orchard, Hamlet, The Country Wife and the US premier of Napoli Milionaria. Recently chosen by legendary producer Rosemarie Tischler to be in the inaugural class of the Shakespeare Lab at the Joseph Papp Public Theater, David is spending the summer training with Christopher Walken, F. Murray Abraham, Bill Irwin and Irene Worth, among others. He’s praised in an article written by a new writer on theatre for the New York Times, Peter Marks. He hopes to attend the NYU Graduate Acting Program next year. He often temps to pay the bills, spending his days photocopying and faxing – and dreaming of the days when he’ll do something more meaningful with his life. Whenever possible, he tries to look busy – while getting paid to read Shakespeare at his desk.  He’s quickly realizing that he really wants to be in charge.

Patrick Torres, Associate Artistic Director
In 1995, Patrick is busy managing all of his futile crushes and dreaming of getting out of Odessa, Texas. He is proud of his decision to boycott prom and is looking forward to college where people see theater as a valid art form and the ratio of females to males is 5 to 1. To this day he remains a dreamer.

 

 

Brigitte Pribnow Moore, Development Director
In 1995, Brigitte lives in Connecticut with her mom, two brothers, a dog, two cats, two gerbils, a rabbit, and a hermit crab named Dennis Nedry. An over-eager seventh grader, Brigitte recently voluntarily turned in an unassigned book report on Les Miserables (the unabridged version). She dreams of participating in the eighth grade field trip to Washington, DC, where she hopes to visit the love of her life, Fox Mulder, in the basement of the FBI building.

Nicole Jost, Program Manager
In 1995, Nicole is a student at Janney Elementary School in Washington, DC. She enjoys spending recess sharing secrets with her best friend, a.k.a. “dishing up stuff.” She is a feminist and a semi-vegetarian, and her favorite food is anything made out of chocolate. Her greatest wish is to be 17, when she knows she will have a cute boyfriend and have figured out her whole life.

Raina Fox, Community Engagement Associate
In 1995, Raina enjoys climbing trees, being out in the Portland rain, making crafts, camping, and putting on plays with her friends and siblings. She is currently working on her first screenplay, based on the board game “Candyland” and featuring several original songs never to be released. An avid reader and artist, Raina is honing her creative skills to become a children’s book author/illustrator when she gets older. Her favorite book is A Wrinkle in Time, which she reads under her desk during math class, knowing that ultimately this knowledge will prove far more useful than multiplication tables. She is correct.

Liza Harbison, Communications and Graphic Design Assistant
In 1995, Liza is hard at work learning cursive after a successful education in coloring inside the lines. She enjoys rollerblading, playing Oregon Trail and making forts out of blankets and chairs. Liza hopes to one day own 50 dogs and work with orangutans. Not much will change.

 

 

 

Alison Beyrle, Development Assistant
In 1995, Alison has just begun third grade at Janney Elementary School.  She is involved in activities such as soccer and Brownies, and recent accomplishments include selling enough Girl Scout cookies to earn a t-shirt and writing a story with chapters in her class writing workshop.  In her free time Alison enjoys reading, especially Babysitters Club books, writing, soccer, drawing, watching Legends of the Hidden Temple on Nickelodeon, and baking with her E-Z Bake Oven.  Next up, Alison will be moving to the Czech Republic thanks to her parents, who work for the Foreign Service.  She writes them an angry letter protesting this move, but will probably end up appreciating it years later.

Laurie Ascoli, Program Assistant
In 1995, Laurie lives in Rhode Island with her parents, big brother and new kitten, Casey.  She dreams of being an author one day and has already received two awards for her novella “The Journal of a Stuffed Pig” as well as for the “Just Say No” play she wrote for her DARE class and performed at an assembly.  In her spare time, she enjoys reading the Babysitters’ Club series, watching TGIF, playing Donkey Kong Country on Super Nintendo, and pretending to be Harriet the Spy.  She is delighted to announce that she will be making her stage debut in the fall as Melinda in Inherit the Wind, performed by the Middletown High School drama club and directed by her dad.

Feeling brave? We dare you to send us your photos and memories from 1995 (Email to bmoore@yptdc.org!). The best submissions will be displayed in the lobby on the opening night of the Express Tour Showcase, on November 6.

Brigitte
Development Director

Back to School with YPT!

It’s such an exciting time of year. Last week YPT successfully trained our entire team of teaching artists to execute the In-School Playwriting Program. It was a somewhat daunting task. We’ve been dreaming all summer about how to make YPT better, how to create a richer experience for students, and how to make everything run more smoothly. All of a sudden it was the end of August (how did THAT happen?) – time to pull my head out of the clouds and get down to business.

Fortunately, (and I think this is a proven scientific fact) YPT has the best teaching artists in the entire world. They made training so easy, it was actually kind of confusing. I thought I might hear run of the mill questions like, “When are the first drafts due again?” Instead, we spent our time discussing strategies for serving students with special needs and testing the fun factor of YPT’s educational games. Seasoned teaching artists were generous enough to share their knowledge with those who will be teaching with YPT for the first time.

One such YPT veteran, Danielle Drakes, has experience teaching our After-School Playwriting Program and has also served as an actor for the In-School Playwriting Program. She spoke in particular about her experience with high school workshop six – The Language Workshop. The Language Workshop focuses on how a playwright uses word choice and grammar to affect an actor’s delivery. In one exercise, students are given a basic character (like “an old woman from the country trying to get some lazy kids off of her lawn”) and asked to write a couple lines that demonstrate how they imagine that person would speak. The actor’s role is to perform these lines exactly as the students write them.

Danielle said that it was her experience as an actor in The Language Workshop that made her want to teach the In-School program. She spoke about how powerful it was for students to find out that using language isn’t always about “right” and “wrong.” When you’re capturing a character’s voice, it’s OK to spell creatively and use unconventional grammar. Danielle told us about a student at Ferebee-Hope Elementary School who used the word “gunneh” in a play. She was able to have a sophisticated conversation with all her students: what’s the difference between “gunneh,” “gonna” and “going to”? Each choice communicates something specific about a character, and none of those choices are wrong!

YPT’s teaching artists are so intelligent, so creative, and so committed to students that it will blow your mind. We’re sending six of them to seven schools this fall. With help from Laurie Ascoli (our Program Assistant), Patrick Torres (our Associate Artistic Director), and me, YPT will reach twenty-one classes and serve about 450 students.

Did I mention that’s only the fall?

Welcome back everyone! Game on.

Nicole
Program Manager

YPT Explores Homelessness in DC

This year Young Playwrights’ Theater is working in partnership with Fannie Mae and their Help the Homeless program to create an original play about the issue of homelessness in the Washington metro area. In the coming weeks, we will be implementing workshops at transitional housing facilities and several public schools to discover the many perspectives, feelings and beliefs surrounding this issue that will find their way into our play. Last night, we conducted our very first workshop at Community of Hope, and we were absolutely blown away by the residents there. We had a group of seven women and their children. The first workshop requires participants to play a role in a made-up drama concerning citizens at a town hall meeting who are deciding whether or not to allow a transitional housing facility to move into their neighborhood. Each person is given a character to play in the fictional community, many of whom disagree with the initiative. Since this was our first workshop, we were unsure if our partners would be willing to voice opposition to a transitional housing facility, but the participants played their roles with vigor and honesty. We had quite a debate for our guided drama, and in the end, the community voted to have the “Good Neighbor Transitional Housing Facility” built in their neighborhood. After the play concluded, we reflected on it and asked the participants to speak openly about the varying opinions of the characters they just enacted. They spoke candidly about the way homeless people are stereotyped and the injustice of writing off the problem as drug abuse, mental illness or apathy. Needless to say we were honored to work with these remarkable women and look forward to the rest of our workshops related to this project.

Please start making plans right now to come see this play at our Express Tour Showcase November 3 through November 6. If the experience of last night is any indication of the depth and sincerity we will meet over the next month of conducting these workshops, then you do not want to miss this showcase!

Patrick
Associate Artistic Director

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

Nicole Reflects on Summer at YPT

Summer is kind of a weird time for YPT. School’s out, but we’re still here. There’s stuff going on – the Woodlawn project, a great program with Horizons at Maret, our collaboration with Fannie Mae’s Help the Homeless Program – but it’s not nearly as busy as it will be again in September. During the summer, there’s a lot of time to think. Patrick Torres (our Associate Artistic Director) and I are spending a lot of time thinking together about the YPT curricula. Every summer we create a mountain of work for ourselves by refusing to rest until this program is perfect, and refusing to settle for good enough.

Fortunately we have help. We have a lot of vehicles for getting feedback. While school is in session, teaching artists send me workshop reports every week. They let me know what went well and what went wrong. Then we have an official post mortem where we talk through everything, workshop by workshop. We also pass out surveys to the students to find out what they think of YPT’s program. (New and improved student survey: in the works!) Teachers evaluate us too. My job as Program Manager is to synthesize all of this information so we can refine what we do, based on what everyone wants.

It’s exciting. The luxury of time means the luxury to dream. We question everything we think we know. We see the big picture and identify priorities. One of the coolest things we’ve come up with as a goal is that students will have more fun this year. Because writing is fun! Expressing yourself is fun! Being creative is fun! And fun is important. I believe we should be fostering a love of learning in our students. In 20 years, it’s less important that they remember the difference between a monologue and a dialogue, and more important that they remember how awesome it was when they heard their play read by professional actors.

So if any of our future students are reading, you should know that we’re going to plan the heck out of this curriculum. I won’t rest until you are having fun.

Nicole
Program Manager