YPT’s 20th Anniversary Season: A Look Back

20Fest logo FINAL

That’s a wrap!

YPT’s 20th anniversary performance season is in the books, and it was one for…well, the books.

In the last seven months, YPT has held six unique performances, featuring a grand total of 41 student-written plays. Over 100 professional theater artists participated in YPT’s productions this year, including actors and directors from ten different DC-area theater companies. Nearly 1,000 people attended our free productions, and were inspired to donate upwards of $2,000: enough to fund one more classroom in our 20 Classroom Challenge!

In honor of a record-breaking year of student-written theater, we wanted to remember some of the highlights from a season we’ll never forget!


20Fest Flier FINAL FINALYPT’s 20th Anniversary Festival
Friday, December 12, 2014
7pm
Theater J

YPT’s 20th anniversary season began with a celebration of our rich history: the 20th Anniversary Festival! Featuring twenty of the best plays written in YPT’s first twenty years, 20Fest brought together ten local companies to remount the student pieces in their own signature styles.

From Rorschach Theatre’s reimagining of Ally in Blunderland to Faction of Fools’ commedia dell’arte take on Magnet Dude, 20Fest honored twenty years of young playwrights with transcendent interpretations and performances of their work. Thank you to all who took part in 20Fest – it was such a joy to see the DC theater community rally around young voices!

For photos from 20Fest, click here.
For video of the performance, click here.
To buy Write to Dream, the book containing all the 20Fest plays, click here!

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Silence is Violence flier FINALSilence Is Violence: A #BlackLivesMatter Event
Tuesday, January 29, 2015
7pm
Capitol Hill Arts Workshop

At the dawn of 2015, the #BlackLivesMatter movement had grown into a nationwide outcry against racial injustice and police brutality. Seeing that DC’s young people had little chance to share their own reflections on the movement, YPT did something we’ve never done before: we held a pop-up event.

Conceived and organized in under two weeks, Silence Is Violence: A #BlackLivesMatter Event was an open mic-style forum for artistic and community expression. Before a packed house at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, eleven adult and four youth artists performed works of poetry and prose, including a group reading of response pieces written by sixth graders at Eliot-Hine Middle School.

The event culminated in a space for community artistic response, including a group mural and an #IHaveADream ribbon activity led by activist Omolara Williams McCallister. It was incredible to see so many people empowered to speak their minds!

For photos from Silence Is Violence, click here!
To read the student pieces from the event, visit our blog, Silence Is Violence DC.

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Photo by ShelbyWorks

NWN nofilter flier v2New Writers Now! #nofilter
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
7pm
Anacostia Playhouse

Just two weeks after Silence Is Violence came New Writers Now! #nofilter, YPT’s first professional staged reading of 2015.

In honor of Black History Month, #nofilter featured four powerful plays written by black female students in our In-School Playwriting Program. Presented by YPT in partnership with Wild Women Theatre, the performance captivated the capacity crowd with tales of murder and mystery, love and kinship, teen homelessness and much more.

Through this celebration of young black voices, we were honored to continue the conversation around the #BlackLivesMatter movement. After the show, audience members were invited to contribute their own experiences to the community mural begun at Silence Is Violence.

For photos from #nofilter, click here!
For complete video of the performance, click here.

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2015 NPF Postcard FRONT FINALThe 2015 New Play Festival
April 20-22, 2015
7pm
GALA Hispanic Theatre

After #nofilter came our biggest performance event of the season: the 2015 New Play Festival!

This year’s Festival spanned three nights, featuring fifteen brand-new works written by YPT students. The plays brought to life tales of samurai warriors and dreadlock-nappers; brothers and sisters and fathers and sons; poets, playwrights and, of course, vengeful bacon strips.

The 2015 New Play Festival drew over 400 people to GALA Hispanic Theatre and raised over $1,800, making it among the most successful New Play Festivals in YPT history!

For photos from the 2015 New Play Festival, click here!
Videos from the Festival are not yet online, but you can watch the promotional “showdown” videos here!

To buy the 2015 New Play Festival book, featuring all 32 Featured and Finalist plays, click here!

NPF 2015 Group B-215


Stage Fright flier FINALThe Student Advisory Council Presents: Stage Fright
Wednesday, May 6, 2015
7pm
Busboys and Poets

The close of the New Play Festival marked the end of YPT’s professional performance season, but our students were not done sharing their work!

The Student Advisory Council, a group of YPT alumni who advise our staff and create new work together, followed up last year’s Dear Mr. Stein with a new original play, Stage Fright. Through a series of vignettes and monologues—some funny, some poignant—Stage Fright addressed our everyday fears and not-so-everyday phobias.

The play culminated in a Choose Your Own Adventure piece that brought the audience into the performance, and raised over $200 for YPT in the process!

For photos from Stage Fright, click here!
For the full video of the show, click here!

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YPW Presents 2015 flier FINALThe Young Playwrights’ Workshop Presents: The Art of Understanding
Monday, June 15
7pm
Source

YPT’s 2014-15 performance season concluded with The Art of Understanding, an original play written and performed by the teen artists of our award-winning Young Playwrights’ Workshop!

Weaving together dramatic vignettes and personal poems, The Art of Understanding addressed the subject of mental health through a variety of genres and perspectives. From love stories to tales of escape, the play explored the experience of people with eating disorders, multiple personality disorder, depression and much more.

Presented by CulturalDC as part of the 2015 Source Festival, The Art of Understanding wowed the crowd and sparked a valuable dialogue about mental illness, representation and the creative process. The night ended with a dessert reception celebrating an incredible season and paying homage to those Young Playwrights’ Workshop members moving on to college and more!

For photos from The Art of Understanding, click here!
For an interview with three graduating Workshop seniors, click here!

YPW 2015 Performance-213


Thank you for supporting YPT’s 20th anniversary performance season! We’ll see you in the fall!

Reflections on Silence Is Violence: A #BlackLivesMatter Event

On January 27, 2015, YPT organized an open mic-style pop-up event to respond to the #BlackLivesMatter movement in America. Held at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, Silence Is Violence: A #BlackLivesMatter Event featured YPT students and professional artists reading work inspired by the movement. The event culminated in space for community reflection and response.Farah headshot

YPT Program Associate and Teaching Artist Farah Lawal Harris co-produced and emceed Silence Is Violence, in addition to reading her own original poem at the event. Read on for Farah’s thoughts on the event, the movement and the importance of highlighting student voices!

 


My name is Farah Lawal Harris. I am a Washington, DC-based actress, poet and playwright; a founding member of Wild Women Theatre Company; the Program Associate at Young Playwrights’ Theater and a YPT Teaching Artist. Working at YPT has always allowed me to explore the intersections of my identity, but never so much as when we decided to do Silence Is Violence: A #BlackLivesMatter Event.

Silence Is Violence homepage image FINAL

Since Mike Brown’s death on August 9th of last year, I have been on edge. As a black woman in America, I am always aware of my surroundings. But the onslaught of news stories that followed the events in Ferguson, about people who look like me and those I love dying at the hands of police, became too much for me. I felt so vulnerable and so small. As an artist, I had no idea how to turn these feelings into something that could be shared with others. As an educator, I was unsure of how to engage my students in this important discussion. All I knew was that I had to do something to keep this conversation alive – both for myself and for the young people I serve.

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Photo credit: ShelbyWorks

Silence Is Violence was born out of the desire to allow YPT’s students to express their own thoughts on an issue that affects them directly. Too often, young people are excluded from conversations about their generation. To help bridge this gap, some of our YPT Teaching Artists facilitated artistic activities about #BlackLivesMatter in the classroom.

Our students came up with poems, monologues and essays that were both beautiful and heartbreaking. We then performed many of those pieces at Silence Is Violence: some were performed by the students who wrote them, while others were read by professional actors who chose to volunteer their time. A few local spoken word and performance artists also performed pieces about #BlackLivesMatter and audience members were invited to participate in their own artistic response after the performances. The event ended up being a powerful collage of voices.

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YPT student Nakia participates in the #IHaveADream response exercise after the event.

Since Silence Is Violence, I have received emails and messages from audience members and involved artists about the event’s impact. So many people noted how powerful our students’ perspectives were on the matter and how they felt catharsis through hearing those words. Silence is violence, and expression is freedom. I am grateful that YPT created a safe space for our students and community members to feel free and to hear that they matter.

Click here for more photos from the event!
Click here for more photos from the event!

For more information on Silence Is Violence and resources to continue the conversation around #BlackLivesMatter, visit our website.

Wows, Wonders and Lessons From The 524 Project

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The 524 Project’s DC students take a bow after their Final Performance.

About a year ago, YPT teamed up with Detroit-based arts educator InsideOut Literary Arts Project (iO) and DC documentary film company Meridian ImageHill Pictures (MHP) to create The 524 Project, a cross-country collaboration that connected a class at Ballou Senior High School in Washington, DC with one at Western International High School in Detroit.

Named after the 524 miles separating DC and Detroit, The 524 Project brought the two schools together for a hybrid curriculum of poetry, playwriting and media arts. Students met weekly during the spring semester of 2014 to create works of art investigating and challenging dominant narratives of the cities each call home.

Using writing prompts such as “I Am [City Name]”, “My Art Is So Loud”, and City-to-City Love Letters, The 524 Presentation 7Project encouraged these young people to rethink stereotypes of both DC and Detroit, and to speak out on behalf of their neighborhoods, their cities and themselves.

Then, they shared their voices with each other! Equipped with iPads, basic video editing software and free Google Hangouts, 524 Project students recited poems and asked each other questions via recorded videos and live online exchanges. The Project culminated in a simultaneous, live-streamed multimedia Final Presentation of student work, that introduced the larger communities of DC and Detroit to the powerful insights of the young people in both cities.

 

Now that The 524 Project is all but over, we asked some of the staff members responsible for the program to reflect back on the journey. Here are some of the Wows (highlights), Wonders (questions) and Lessons that came out of this amazing, challenging, inspiring process!

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ImageLaurie Ascoli, Program Manager, Young Playwrights’ Theater

Wows: The trip to Detroit last October was totally amazing. I’d already been to and fallen in love with the city itself, so being back there was really exciting. But even better was getting to hang out with YPT and iO artists for four days and explore ideas, brainstorm, write poetry, make journals for each other, create performance pieces, study art. We’re all artists, but I feel like that often gets buried under the day-to-day logistics of running an organization. It was really amazing to just sit together and explore, deeply, the creative impulses that drive us to do what we do. It felt like a retreat back into the center of our mission.

Wonders: Technology is a relatively simple and truly incredible way to connect people from all over the world, people who never would have interacted otherwise. But what do you do when not everyone has easy access to this technology? Despite its growing presence, access to the Internet is still something that is largely only available to developed, financially secure communities, so a huge percentage of the population that we could be communicating with and learning from is shut out from these opportunities. How can we change that?

Lessons: With a project this ambitious, I think it can be easy to lose track of how, specifically and directly, the students are benefiting from it. We always aim to keep students at the center of everything we do, but between negotiating with two other organizations and two schools, dealing with unreliable technology, and tracking our progress for a major funder, the students themselves can easily get lost in the shuffle. It’s important to continually come back to them and remember that they are the soul of the project, and the reason for all the other logistical madness.

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ImageLance Kramer, Executive Director, Meridian Hill Pictures

Wows: One of the major challenges when working on a media project with any new community can be openness to embracing something new. Typically it’s not just learning new technology or a new tool, but also adopting a new way to think about storytelling. In the case of The 524 Project, we introduced iPads, video capture, and exchange software, as well as social media platforms that were new to most team members at the onset of the project. We were completely humbled and wow-ed by people’s enthusiasm for working with unfamiliar creative tools. Team members embraced the discomfort, handled setbacks admirably, and emerged with a new set of skills and appreciation for the technology. In a sense, the project staff were students as well – I would say they earned an A+.

Wonders: I wonder what could have been done to more directly provide our actual students with strategies for employing the 524 Project tools in their own artwork after the class concluded. As staff, we were still learning the technology as the project was in progress and figuring out how to master it ourselves. So it was definitely more challenging to pass the torch to our students. By having more time before the launch of the project for dedicated staff trainings, we could have alleviated some of these stresses. But I also think that the newness of the whole concept meant that there would be a good deal of figuring out along the way, no matter how much prep time was carved out. As the dust settles following the final performance, I do wonder how the students will become ambassadors of the lessons learned from The 524 Project. What will they pass on to their friends and family? And what are the breadcrumbs we’ve all left for the future?

Lessons: It sounds simple enough, but having an exceptional understanding of your limitations was a major lesson learned during the project. In our ambition and excitement to just do it, I think we may have lost some sight of what was actually possible within the time and technological constraints we were given. In future projects, we may consider how to be slightly less ambitious with the technology in favor of deepening our ability to train partner project staff to build their own mastery and ownership of the process. The idea of structuring a collaboration as more of a professional-development type relationship may not have quite as many bells and whistles, but it could lead to a more sustainable structure that imparts more lasting knowledge.

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ImageShawntai Brown, Writer-in-Residence, InsideOut Literary Arts Project

Wows: The big wow moment for me was seeing the Detroit students go from being critics of their hometown with opinions shaped by the media, to having a newfound sense of city pride. Through their research and writing, students became vocally more confident in their city, neighborhood, school, and even D.C.  Also, by running a multidisciplinary program (writing, filming, acting, researching), each student found ways to be involved – even those who had struggled with classroom participation prior to 524.

Wonders: I wonder if we could have made better use of the technology by encouraging more one-on-one youth interaction since video conferencing as a group was sometimes troublesome. I would have loved to see one or two D.C. and one or two Detroit students craft a group poem or play scene together, or simply interview each other. I also wonder if having longer classroom periods (1.5-2 hour sessions multiple times a week), or having had the in-class programming start earlier would have allowed students more hands-on experience with the technology (the cameras and editing software were mostly used by the staff).

Lessons: Students are easily frustrated if there are breaks in the flow of the lesson. Technology was a challenge we were determined to conquer, and sometimes the battle between humans and iPad interrupted the flow of class. Lesson: always have an engaging plan B and tech-savvy staff on hand for mishaps. It’s also fair to be honest with students about what challenges are occurring. Many of our students knew how to bypass blocked web pages needed for instruction, connect the projector, adjust speaker volume, etc. Learners are great resources! Also, many students showed great leadership toward the end of the project. In hindsight, identifying, developing, and utilizing class leaders early on would have benefitted the class when one-on-one attention from the staff was stretched.

For more lessons learned from The 524 Project, click here!

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The 524 Project was made possible by the generous support of the Metlife/TCG A-Ha Program, whose Think It, Do It grants enable theaters and other arts organizations to experiment with new forms of collaboration and creative problem-solving. Without the A-Ha Program, there would be no 524!

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For more from The 524 Project, please visit our Tumblr blog, where we have recorded every step of the process, as well as some of the best moments from our classes in DC and Detroit. One of the main goals of The 524 Project was to establish a model for other organizations around the world to follow – so please, Steal Our Ideas!

The March of Makeshift

On July 23, 2011, the students of YPT’s Young Playwrights’ Workshop stopped by the Capital Fringe Festival to perform Out of the Shadow, their original play tackling the issue of bullying. You can read more about the Workshop here, and check out stories about the Fringe performance on WAMU 88.5 and ABC7/WJLA-TV.

In the powerful poem below, YPT student Josie Torres describes her experience collaborating with her fellow Workshop students over the past year to create Out of the Shadow.

The March of Makeshift

A place to those
who look for an existence
outside the normal.
These turquoise hearts
compliment the very sunset
that gave birth to us.
There was no sacrifice.
There was no agony.
There was no fallen hope.
In this atmosphere
of a lucid moon
only imagination can grow.
These wooden creaks
are the very sounds
of past wandering spirits.
An abundance of
philosophical and
embarrassing moments
is a method of how we stand strong
together on this stage.
The shadow
will not bare us down!
The passions of the sea
which is a representation
of our trustworthy bond,
grows into a tidal wave and
hits the shores of ignorance.
The souls that lingered on
these streets will not suffer
bitterness of others.
We dance uncaged.
We chose to be untamed
in dignity.
We do not know the
meaning of limits.
We thrive in beauty
and we murdered the beast!
I am marked
by a rose.
I have been signed
by a thread.
I have the emblem
of a long forgotten crest
of creativity,
of flare,
of intellect,
of eccentricity
and of love.
The cavern of skulls,
the brick wall,
and the barbed wires
will crumble down
and the sunlight
will show our path.

Josie Torres
YPT Young Playwright