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Who’s Next? Dominique Butler and YPT’s Young Artist Fellowship

Dominique Butler cutout “I’m not just writing for myself, I’m writing for everybody.”
– Dominique Butler

The young playwrights that YPT serves are all immensely gifted: smart and creative; funny and dramatic; profoundly invested in the world they create on the page. All go on to do great things, and many who complete our In-School Playwriting Program choose to stay involved with YPT, through our Young Playwrights’ Workshop, Student Advisory Council or other opportunities.

Every so often, however, a playwright comes along who demonstrates a long-term commitment to the craft, whose artistic project exceeds the bounds of one performance and who has shown an interest  in an ongoing mentorship with YPT staff. For those young playwrights, YPT is proud to announce the Young Artist Fellowship: a year-long mentorship designed to engage one teen writer in a play development process from start to finish. Presently in its first year, the Fellowship seeks to cultivate the Young Artist Fellow as an artist as well as a future member of the workforce, teaching accountability and commitment through one-on-one mentorship with a YPT staff member.

YPT’s inaugural Young Artist Fellow, Dominique Butler, emerged from our In-School Program at Cardozo High School with an extraordinary piece of writing. Entitled Like Father, Like Son, Dominique’s play follows a young black man trying not to repeat the mistakes that landed his father in jail. The play’s emotional honesty struck a chord with our New Play Festival readers, and Like Father, Like Son wound up closing our 2015 Festival to resounding applause.

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Dominique watches his words unfold onstage.

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Reginald Richard as Dominique in LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON

But Dominique wasn’t done yet. The poet and storyteller, who started writing at age 13 to cope with the death of his grandfather, had more to say—and he wouldn’t stop until he said it. “It happens here all the time…if you’re out there just chilling, you’re a target,” he says. “These people got names.”

The people Dominique means have names like Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner: young black men killed by police or other authority figures, victims of a pattern of institutionalized racism and violence that has galvanized our nation. As the #BlackLivesMatter movement rose to prominence, Dominique found himself compelled to join in their call—especially when his own friend, Davon, was shot and killed by DC police. From his grief emerged Who’s Next?, a play which imagines that Davon, Trayvon and Freddie are friends who use music to speak out against police brutality—and whose clarion call leads to a dramatic confrontation with a police officer. “It’s a message,” Dominique says. “It’s not just a play.”

Dominique’s message began to take shape at Curious Theatre Company’s Curious New Voices National Collective in Denver, which he attended over the summer. “Dominique is amazing,” writes Curious New Voices Program Director Dee Covington. “Quiet, diligent, taking it all in. …[The other playwrights] had no idea his piece, at once personal and political, was there to shake up the world.” As Like Father, Like Son had at the 2015 New Play Festival, Who’s Next? closed the Curious New Voices final performance to a standing ovation and watery eyes. “Some people were crying,” Dominique admits.

 

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Dominique and the other playwrights in the post-show talkback.

Actors performing WHO'S NEXT

Professional actors perform WHO’S NEXT? at Curious New Voices.

 

Back in DC, Dominique strove to continue working on Who’s Next?. We at YPT had been considering launching a Young Artist Fellowship for some time, and realized that Dominique’s project provided us with the perfect opportunity to pilot the program. So, in October, 2015, we signed a contract with our first-ever Young Artist Fellow, and began meeting with him regularly to finish Who’s Next? and deepen its message. After a reading at Cardozo High School, Who’s Next?  inspired our next production, Silence Is Violence: Who’s Next?, a professional staged reading and multidisciplinary artistic response to the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Join us on Monday, February 29, at 7pm at the Anacostia Playhouse for this powerful continuation of YPT’s Silence Is Violence series. Free and open to the public!

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Though Dominique’s time as YPT’s Young Artist Fellow will conclude in June, we are excited to continue the program next year and beyond with another talented young artist. Who will take up the mantle and shape his or her own project? What will the next Young Artist Fellowship hold? How will this one impact Dominique—and, through him, the world—in the next few years? We don’t know yet, but we can’t wait to find out!

YPT’s 20th Anniversary Season: A Look Back

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.