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Reflections on the Lincoln Heights Arts Camp

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Lincoln Heights Arts Camp campers and teaching artists after their final showcase!

In July 2016, YPT held our first-ever multidisciplinary arts camp: the Lincoln Heights Arts Camp! Led by YPT staff and local artists, campers explored the faces and places of Northeast DC through photography, playwriting, audio design and visual art. The camp culminated in a final showcase, where campers read excerpts from their plays and showed off photos and art pieces that encapsulated their lives in Northeast!

After camp ended, camper Brittany Butler and photography week teaching artist Kenji Jasper wrote blog posts about their experience in camp. Read on for their thoughts and memories of the Lincoln Heights Arts Camp!


 Lincoln Heights Arts Camp Blog – Brittany Butler

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Brittany Butler (R) performs during the Lincoln Heights Arts Camp’s final showcase.

My name is Brittany Butler, I’m 17 years old and I was a camper at YPT’s Lincoln Heights Art Camp. I was placed here as a job assignment for the Summer Youth Employment Program so I didn’t really know too much about the camp. IMG_0691My first day there was not what I expected and I honestly had no interest in staying for the whole camp. There was a lot of young kids there and I was basically the only one there that was my age so I was pretty bored. The following week is when things began to get better! There were no more young kids and more teens around my age began to come. The activities we did the first week were very fun as well. We started off learning a bit about Photography with Mr. Jasper.  I liked working with him because he made us engage with each other by having us work in groups. Doing this helped us get to know each other a little better. We also took a few little trips while working on photography. We went to Benning Road Metro Station, Marvin Gaye Park and to the famous landmark, The Shrimp Boat to shoot some fun shots of each other. The first week’s activities were so fun that I was really looking forward to next week which was playwriting.

Week Two we worked with Ms. Harris and Ms. Laurie to write a short play for our final showcase. The idea of playwriting did not seem like something I’d enjoy at first but of course Ms. Harris made the week very enjoyable! We chose a photo out of the ones we shot during Week One to base our play off. Mine ended up being about a girl who had no friends at school but had a connection with trees. She also had super powers that her mom didn’t like which led to an unexpected turn of events in the play! I ended up really enjoying the playwriting week and didn’t want to move on to the next week because I had so many ideas I wanted to add to my play.

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Sound design with Kevin!

Week Three was music! We worked with Mr. Kevin who was a music engineer who worked with many people whose music I actually listen to. This week turned out being my favorite week out of the entire camp!! We created really cool sound effects and music that we added to our plays. It was really cool seeing how he could make a song sound like it was coming out of earphones or make footsteps sound far away to close up by just using one computer program. At the end of Week Three I was really excited to perform my play because of these sounds we created because it made everything more interesting!

The fourth and final week was visual arts. During this week we worked with Ms. Asha and made collages about our passions. I chose to do mine about Cheer because that’s one of my passions. I gathered a bunch of my favorite action shots of my cheer team and I, printed them out and created a beautiful collage that I am very proud of. So proud of that I took it home and hung it on my wall!! Next we made keychains out of wood. I wasn’t sure what to do so I ended up just writing my zodiac sign and birthday on it with puffy paint. When it was finished it actually looked really good. We also decorated old records. I kept this project simple and just painted my favorite saying on it, “Always Strive and Prosper”! I plan on hanging this in my locker when I go back to school as motivation to get through my SENIOR YEAR!

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Final showcase photos. “Always Strive and Prosper” on the left in green!

At the end the Lincoln Heights Art Camp ended up being a complete success and I am glad I got to spend my summer being involved with this camp. Not only was it fun but it taught me a lot as well and also brought out the creative side of me which I really enjoyed. The final showcase was very bittersweet because I was finally able to show everything I did throughout the camp but I also meant that the camp was over. I made some new friends that I look forward to building better friendships with and met some awesome teachers and mentors like, Ms. Harris and Ms. Duncan, which I plan on keeping in touch with for things in the future. 

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Thanks to Brittany Butler for this blog post!


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Kenji Jasper speaks at the Lincoln Heights Arts Camp’s final showcase.

Teacher’s Log: Photography Week – Kenji Jasper

I came to YPT as a veteran of teaching creative workshops for inner-city youth.  I had started just barely out of high school as a co-instructor for The Institute for the Preservation and Study of African American Writing, which eventually led to my work with organizations like the Brooklyn Center for the Environment, The Bedford-Stuyvesant ‘I Have A Dream’ program, CentroNia and most recently Guerilla Arts and The College Success Foundation.  I knew how to work with teens, but I had only taught photography once before.  And as I would only have three days of class time, I decided that I would focus less on techniques and equipment and more on sparking competition between groups and allowing the students to have a good time in the rising summer heat.

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Having grown up partially in Benning Heights, I knew the area where Daybreak Ministries was holding the camp.  So I developed a curriculum based around students working in small groups outside of the classroom for the second half of each day, following an in-class first hour where they worked individually [ fortunately in air conditioning].  I knew that the more I kept them moving, the easier it would be to engage them in photography.  Using cellphones and two YPT iPads, students found the picture taking to be easy and enjoyable.  Those that didn’t like taking pictures served as models and muses for the others.

Once they began to see their work on the overhead projector at the start of each day the spirit of pride and competition encouraged them to take better pictures in hopes of cornering a little more spotlight for themselves among their peers.  They scaled high fences and repelled down hills to pose by a creek.  They framed shots on playgrounds and grassy hills behind orange brick buildings surrounding the camp headquarters.  And they now have the photos to prove it.

The best part of the experience for me was watching the students rise to each creative challenge.  Presented with a glass full of candy, each student had to take one photograph for each M&M they ate, resulting in a diverse array of photographs that captured not only the dwindling candy but the other students as they fired their best shots at the exercise.  They did the same with a game of chess and a team battle in playing cards.  With each outing, they learned that neither the job of photographer or model was an easy one.  But with effort and focus, everything is possible.

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M&Ms have never looked so beautiful!

My reward came with the sadness and regret students expressed on the last day, as they all seemed to wish that we had more time.  Working with YPT provided me with one of my best teaching experiences to date.  I hope that we get to work together again.

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Thank you to Kenji Jasper for a terrific week! The students – and we – love you!

Insights from YPT’s Summer Intern

Throughout my primary schooling, I was fortunate enough to have always been a student of the theater. In senior year of high school, I participated in Young Playwrights’ Theater’s In-School Playwriting Program. At the time, I was thrilled to have a creative release built into a school curriculum which was getting old. I was asked to use my voice and be heard in a way that boosted my confidence and excitement for college. Now that I have graduated high school, I cannot help but be concerned with my new role as a student of life; “the real world,” as they call it. The inspiration I’d harnessed with YPT quickly turned from creative momentum to pressure. The question in the forefront of my brain changed from, “What can I do?” to “What will I do?!” As a YPT student I’d learned that playwriting could be a therapeutic tool for expression and communication, but how could my love for theater translate back to the community?

I came to YPT, and they allowed me in yet again, but this time, as an intern. My summer spent with YPT has taught me how theater breeches the confines of the stage and expands to the office, and how the office can extend to the community.

Possibly the greatest reward of working with YPT is that I have gained a more thorough understanding of why theater works with education. Through reading YPT’s curricula and implementing them with youth at summer camps, I have been able to make the connection between the art I love and its educational function. I recall that as a YPT student, I was asked to take responsibility for my voice, to find inspiration and put it to work for me. That training has been put to use in so many ways, even in writing this blog post. Its value, however, is now much better understood since I have also experienced teaching this skill.

YPT gave me the opportunity to work alongside professional teaching artists to implement the curriculum we’d been working on at a summer camp workshop for five to seven year olds. At first the course was all fun and games. The simple drama-oriented games we played were catalysts for releasing energy, and also focusing it. In playing games such as “Kitty Wants a Corner” or “Doctor’s Office,” the class was forced to listen to each other and communicate as directly as possible, given the game’s rules.  Imaginations went wild during these games, and it was our job to give the students tools to put that imagination to work. When we got to creating characters and their enemies, the private lives of students began to peek through the short monologues they were writing. It was incredible to watch these young minds recreate the young lives they were living through the incarnations of a horse who hated people, or a princess who could kiss butterflies, or a pencil who hated the eraser.

In our short hour-long workshops we would explore our physical expression and bodily limits through games, and then we would breech those limits with pen on paper. I helped students sound out the spelling of words and figure out how to speak the thoughts of their characters. The effect of this hands-on learning was strikingly vivid with students so young. The idea of taking on another’s role or voice was radical to them, but as they picked up on it, I could see them really feeling for these characters and articulating more depth into the character’s own psyche.

When we moved on to writing dialogues, it became clear that this class was about more than artistic expression. We were guiding these kids through conflict resolution, and teaching the value of diction and clarity when communicating. We were witnessing the power of imagination, and then offering the tools to give that power a purpose. I would read out a line from a student’s script and the response was either an explosion of new ideas, or an awe-inspired stare. We were giving these students their own words, breathing life into them, and revealing the great influence of language and their power over it.

Back in the office, I would plug away at taking inventory and organizing YPT’s resources, and work with the YPT crew to create their own ongoing, living work of art. In the classroom, my job was to offer the gift of education that would keep on giving— in the students’ social and academic lives. In the office, YPT staff were doing the same. The job of the playwright is to envision all the aspects and needs of a performance. The job of YPT is to envision all the needs of every player—be they the teaching artist, the professional actors, the students, or the community—and then to provide it in order to facilitate the ongoing creation of art and sociality.

The variety of work I have been able to do over this short summer is a testament to the type of organization this is, and the type of people who work here, and further, to the nature of the theater arts. My creative energies have been put to use doing housekeeping of props, keeping in touch with YPT contributors and alumni, working the curriculum hands-on with kids, as well as behind the scenes doing research, and just bearing witness to all the things that go into this world. The staff never fail to have students in mind as they plan events and productions, reach out to community, develop teaching artists, brainstorm opportunities to continue work with former students, reinvigorate curricula, keep up with celebrities (such as Josh Groban) who support arts education, give time to individual students who just want somebody to read their work, or even invest in educating the summer intern!

These people are lovers of art and education, and theater seems to have the perfect make-up for such a combination. Through the medium of performance, YPT gives students the opportunity to turn real life into art and art into real life, thus revealing the artists to themselves. The staff themselves work like artists, drawing inspiration from the youth and using the local community as a resource to turn ideas into action. I was lucky enough to be one such resource this summer, and now I can see, simply enough, potential, in every interaction and every person.

Sarah Giffin
YPT Summer Intern and Playwright Alumna