“I try to make [writing] not a lonely career.”
Alfonso Escobar believes that theater should be synonymous with community. The YPT alumnus and aspiring playwright has long used his craft to build relationships, prompt conversation and share the stories of those whose voices are rarely heard.
Alfonso’s journey as a storyteller began at a young age, growing up surrounded by family in Córdoba, Mexico. “My grandpa...would share stories [about] ghosts and things of that sort,” he says. “Now that I think about it, he influenced me a lot.”
Alfonso kept that influence—and his own inquisitive nature—with him when he came to DC at age 16 and enrolled at Bell Multicultural High School. “[Columbia Heights] was a new environment for me. I remember at that time there were a lot of gangs in that area,” and Alfonso often felt compelled to write about them.
In 11th grade, he got his chance. YPT’s In-School Playwriting Program came to his English class, and for the first time Alfonso was allowed to write about whatever he wanted. “For me it was a great chance to express myself and to tell what was in my mind. Especially when you had the teachers from YPT who...were helping you, asking you questions.”
Alfonso wrote a play about a rapper who was abandoned by his mother, grows up in a poor neighborhood and eventually gets into drugs. Seeing professional actors perform his words for his classmates gave him a profound sense of empowerment and community. “I saw my classmates, they were laughing and talking about it...it [felt] great.”
From there, Alfonso was hooked. He joined the Young Playwrights’ Workshop the following year, and after graduating from Bell became a student ambassador for YPT, speaking on the organization’s behalf at performances and other events. During his year in the Workshop, the ensemble collaborated on a play called Overpriced Memorial, which addressed the issue of gentrification in Columbia Heights—an issue Alfonso had been following since he moved to the neighborhood. “It was such a great experience because we worked together,” he says. “Everyone was experiencing gentrification in a different way, so that helped make different characters.”
Overpriced Memorial was produced in a special performance called The Heights of Change in 2010. In front of a packed house at GALA Hispanic Theatre, the young playwrights explored gentrification from the perspectives of business owners, families and police officers, then followed up the performance with a powerful talkback. “It made people think,” Alfonso remembers. “The idea was not to find a solution but just to talk about it.” The performance was covered by the Washington Post, which heralded the complexity of the students’ creations.
Nowadays, Alfonso continues to seek nuance, collaboration and connection in his art. A graduate of the University of the District of Columbia, he works at Macon Bistro & Larder and spends his free time writing plays and reading philosophy. His main focus right now is on a play called I Want to Start a New Journey, which is based on the life of Sylvia Charity, a Mexican woman Alfonso met who suffers from schizophrenia. Alfonso meets with Sylvia often, weaving her life story together with his own experiences to create a joint narrative. “I want to show people that we’re all the same,” he says. “We go through the same stuff: we all bring relationships, we all bring love...we’re very similar to each other.”
As an organization, we at YPT often talk about how the arts build empathy. Alfonso Escobar lives that truth. We are beyond proud to call him an alumnus, and we can’t wait to see I Want to Start a New Journey onstage!