History in the Making: Reflections from New Writers Now!

On Monday, February 7, 2011, an unprecedented number of community members from all over the DC metro area filled every available seat in GALA Hispanic Theatre to enjoy New Writers Now! – From Civil War to Civil Rights.

YPT presented original plays that explore the ways our history shapes us today, including I am a Slave by Maret School student Jack Brotman, Mercy, Mercy Me by Bell Multicultural High School student Ellen Hubbard, and Woodlawn, created collaboratively with residents and organizations throughout DC’s Ward 7.

After the performance, the audience was invited to reflect in writing on the plays they had just experienced. The results were insightful, honest, and poignant. Take a look at some of the responses, and feel free to comment below with your own thoughts!

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 The plays made me think about the big, often nasty and almost always glazed over and left unsaid conflicts in DC today.

  • How do newcomers to DC, who want to be part of a community, or part of creating a new “story”, interact with the existing community?
  • How do we get beyond gentrification/provocation, and the inherent conflicts of race and class that people are too ready to glaze over?
  • How do we talk to one another about development and progress without resorting to caricatures or engendering greater distrust and conflict?

Theater’s a good way to air these—thanks for your work.
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My own personal belief is that history should be preserved, but in order for history to last, it must be taught. In Woodlawn, I saw the generational gap where the personal history of the Elders had not been shared with the young people. Apathy can set in, and it corrodes the history. So the responsibility falls on the previous generation to teach the next generation the history and importance of a particular area.
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My father was buried not far from where I lived as a child, but we very rarely went to the site. This was partially due to the fact that we lost him so young, and it was just too painful to live with on a regular basis. I had gone to college and my mother had moved away before I decided to try and go back. I wandered through the rows of tombstones for twenty minutes before finding his. When the people in the play talked about the necessity for a place dedicated to them, a place where they live on, I was thrown back to the near-panic state I reached during the time that I couldn’t find his stone, the fear that, in never visiting the site and revisiting his memory, I might have lost him forever.
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A young audience member responds to the play Woodlawn with a drawing.

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I think about space, place, and meaning as inscribed in the built, or un-built environment. This play was incredible in helping me realize even more the importance of learning the history of those before me who have inscribed meaning in place. And that each person has a voice, and it should be heard.

So thank you, for telling these stories.

A loyal fan and neighbor,
Liz, age 22
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Thank you to everyone who came out to GALA Hispanic Theatre to celebrate our playwrights on Monday. It meant so much to see you all there.

We hope to see you all at the New Play Festival in April. Click here to learn more.

Raina
Community Engagement Associate

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.