The YPT Express Tour: Stories from the Road

This November and December, YPT’s professional performance company toured more than sixty elementary schools, nursing homes, community centers, theaters, and hospitals with YPT’s annual Express Tour, presenting three vibrant new plays written by young playwrights and community members. Over 6,000 community members had the opportunity to explore issues of homelessness in The Good Neighbor, see how a community of magical birds can teach us something new about our own humanity in The Bird of One Thousand Colors and relish the power of friendship in Love, Math and Martians Don’t Mix.

Now that the Express Tour bus has returned home to YPT, Tour company members share thoughts and stories from the road.

Erin Baxter, Stage Manager
The YPT Express Tour. It’s hard to say what I will miss most after this incredible experience!  As the stage manager, I had the opportunity to watch our actors perform in over sixty venues, and each one was unique in its own way.

My favorite part about live theater and this tour is the element of surprise. You’re never quite sure what will happen in theater and it leaves the door open for a variety of opportunities and wonderful moments. We had plenty of surprises on this tour. From the bus not starting, to working in extremely small venues, actors getting sick, or students / residents asking challenging questions, there was always something new. The wonderful part is that we always managed to make the show happen. We might leave half our set out of a performance, replace a sick actor with a person “on book” (with the script in their hand), or improvise wonderful stories during our workshops with the residents. No matter what the challenge, we were always able to make real and moving theater and to stay true to the work we were presenting. Seeing how theater touches people, and, better yet, involves audiences in discussions about real issues, is one of the most rewarding experiences I could ever have in my job.

Wendy Nogales, Actor
We had six shows over two days at one school because it was a huge school and there were a ton of students who were going to get the opportunity to see the show. The class periods were just too short to perform all three, so we ended up performing an extended talkback for The Good Neighbor. It was cool having a real dialogue with the students about homelessness.  Usually we don’t have time to talk for more then a couple of minutes, and we can’t get to that many questions or comments. The extended talkback offered the opportunity to really hear lots of different points of view. We always ran out of time with tons of students still wanting to share. It was a special two days.

My favorite non-performance Express Tour moment happened on the last day, at the last venue. The back-story is that last year we had come across a few therapy dogs while doing shows at nursing homes. So this year someone PROMISED that we would see at least one cute dog. And for seven weeks and six days we saw not one. On a weekly basis, the promise would be questioned and reaffirmed. On the last day of the Tour, it was again promised that we would see a puppy. Well, we walked into our final venue, and in the first room after the lobby was the MOST ADORABLE puppy you have ever seen – a seven-week-old ball of white fur that fit into the palm of your hand. It was pretty surreal.

Alex Vernon, Actor
My favorite thing about the 2010 Express Tour was how well everyone got along and worked together. A 7am call is never a fun experience, but everyone was friendly and helpful, even that early in the morning. There was a great deal of camaraderie, which translated into being able to instantly jump into any classroom or nursing home and feel comfortable enough to start making connections with the audience.

Also, IHOP has this stuffed French toast that I always wanted to get while on tour, but I never did after a bad experience with stuffed French toast in Tennessee. Dawn, a fellow company actor, tried to convince me that it was good and that I should give it another shot, but I was pretty skeptical. I mean, what if it has that gross cream cheese filling instead of that good sweet cream cheese filling? I often just settled for the Viva La French Toast, which they don’t put on the menu in as prominent a place as they used to, but is still available. I reckon some people measure their lives in regrets. But I hope we’re capable of change.

Daniel Mori, Assistant Stage Manger, Actor, Puppeteer
I just met a random student at Starbucks who recognized me from the YPT Express Tour, and we had a lovely conversation about the show and the response of the other kids at her school.  She really appreciated that our plays had meaning and a message, and especially that we focused on bullying and outer appearances vs. inner beauty. She shared how her family moved to the U.S. a year ago, and her first year in school she was bullied and alienated just because she was different. I was able to pull up the YPT website (Yay, smart phone!) and tell her about YPT student Mariana Pavon Sanchez, and how she had written a play with YPT about her experience coming to the U.S., and how she then had the opportunity this past October to accept the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award with YPT at the White House. By the end of our conversation, this girl had already pulled out a notebook and pen so she could start writing her own play for us to perform! **Insert warm, fuzzy feelings here.**

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YPT’s next tour, a two-week travelling performance of Woodlawn, a new play about DC’s historic Woodlawn Cemetery, kicks off this February. We can’t wait to get back on the road!

Be sure to check out the February 7th premiere of Woodlawn during the upcoming New Writers Now! at GALA Hispanic Theatre.

whYPT?: It’s the Spark

It’s the spark, the moment of recognition. That moment where “I can’t” turns into something different—a “why not?” moment. It’s that moment when characters leap off of the page and start living their own lives and surprising the young playwright along the way. The moment when young writers discover their voices. That’s why I teach for YPT.

I tell my students, “There are no wrong answers.” And that’s when I see it—the confusion on their faces. Uh-oh. She’s asking us to use our imaginations. That’s for kids. For pre-school. We’re grown-ups. High school students. And we don’t have time for that. We need deadlines, we need page counts, we need strict guidelines for success. Tell us what is wrong. Tell us what is right. Just tell us what to do.

But, what I love about playwriting, what I love about working with YPT is that we challenge our students to pave their own courses, we teach them to nurture and trust their imaginations. We teach them to use candy bars as characters, the moon as a setting, to share the secret they’ve been holding in—to discover and create according to their own experiences and realities. For YPT students, there are no wrong answers.

It was in this spirit that I started teaching at Wakefield High School in Ms. Stotland’s ESOL classroom. A classroom where students spoke Spanish, Swahili, Arabic and more. A classroom where I was trying to teach playwriting. Some of the vocabulary we were learning they had never even heard in their own languages, and here I was trying to teach it to them in English.

It was there that I met Mariana Pavon Sanchez, an excellent student who knew all of the answers. But, she was afraid to speak in English to me unless her tenses were correct and her word choice was impeccable. Mariana’s first language was Spanish.

She wrote a play about her own life experience—trying to convince her father to let her fly alone to Nicaragua to visit her sick mother over Christmas break. She was chosen by YPT to have her play produced and performed by professionals. I spent a lot of time with Mariana dramaturging her play—helping her choose the exact words to communicate her story, adding some Spanish flair and learning about her family and experience along the way. Finally, after six months of working with her, Mariana became more comfortable speaking English to me.

It was almost a year ago when Mariana wrote her first play. In October, Mariana was chosen from many students to represent YPT when the company won the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award. Mariana even read a part of her play at the White House.

Mariana’s experience is a perfect example of the freedom and voice playwriting can give to students. Her story came alive on stage—the story of immigrants to this country and the family they’ve left behind. YPT did that. YPT does this for all of its students. At the end of every In-School Playwriting Program residency, student work is celebrated by being performed by professional actors. YPT genuinely values and delights in hearing the voices of its students, in raising their voices to a crescendo, when once, there was only a whisper.

Meg
YPT Teaching Artist