Past Promising Playwrights
Promising Playwright, May 2018
“I had never seen anything like that before: seeing your words come to life. So that was very cool.“
For 9th-grade H-B Woodlawn student Josie Walyus, the 2018 New Play Festival was the next step to a life-long dream. Josie’s play, Three Cheers to Grace, was recently produced on High School Night of the 2018 New Play Festival to enthusiastic acclaim! Three Cheers to Grace follows car accident survivor Eliza and comatose best friend Grace. Eliza struggles to come to terms with the critical condition of her best friend, while Grace, although in a coma, struggles to have her voice heard as her friends grow and change around her.
“Three Cheers to Grace kind of came from different experiences I’ve had,” explains Josie. “I like the idea of having a character not be limited to the story being told, but stepping outside of it.” For Josie, that character was Grace. Through Josie’s writing, the audience is able to see the story unfold from Grace’s perspective, even if the character is in a physical coma. And the tension builds as friends Grace and Eliza try to connect with one another but just can’t.
Josie has always considered herself a writer, but is just now beginning to see herself as a playwright: “I used to write when I was really little, and as I went through elementary school, I kinda liked writing,” says Josie. “But I could never stick to something. So with writing plays, I feel like it’s a little easier to stick to and explore different ways that people can talk.”
While Three Cheers to Grace isn’t the first thing Josie has written, she says it is the first time she ever finished a play. The original play itself was a much longer version than what was produced on stage, but YPT loved it so much, that next season, it will produce the full version in a theatrical run.
Josie says that the YPT experience was "mind-blowing" and that it further encourages her to pursue playwriting professionally as she gets older.
“I learned a ton. Especially seeing it on stage. The first time we saw it on stage in class, it was like a huge experience. I had never seen anything like that before: seeing your words come to life. So that was very cool.“
To other young people interested in writing, Josie says, “Keep writing. I totally never thought I would be doing something like this, but I just kept on writing and kept on writing and taking classes and this is where I’m at.”
Promising Playwright, April 2018
"...just be yourself, and that’s how you’re gonna accomplish anything that you want to do.”
At Mundo Verde Public Charter School, YPT’s After-School Playwriting Program finds cool ways to connect performance and writing. Mundo Verde 4th grader Lila Benavente is a proud playwright/performer in YPT Teaching Artist Mr. Jonathan’s workshop. Right now, she has teamed up with two other playwrights to write a play about two sisters and a bad behaving friend who comes between them. Because Lila and her cohorts are also performing the play, part of the inspiration for the characters came from their own personalities as people.
“Well, we were mostly just thinking, like, what we could do with how we are and how we could look, or what we enjoy doing,” explains Lila. “The two girls I’m writing with are like sisters. And I enjoy playing the bad person ... not because I like being bad, but because it makes me feel more like an actor when I’m acting like something that I’m not.”
Lila is no stranger to writing. She’s written plays before and also writes songs and poetry in her spare time. In fact, one of her favorite things to do is sing.
“I like to sing,” says Lila. “That is one of my favorite things ever, and I play soccer.”
In fact, Lila wants to pursue acting and singing when she grows up, and she values what she has learned as both a writer and as a performer in YPT’s After-School Playwriting Program. When asked to give one word that best describes YPT’s workshop with Mr. Jonathan, Lila said: “Extraordinary.”
“Mr. Jonathan is very creative, and he always knows exactly what we’re gonna do. He’s very good at acting, and he’s very talented,” Lila explains. “And he makes sure that we are having fun while he makes sure that we are also paying attention at the same time. So, it’s not the same as other classes, but it also kinda is the same.”
As a budding writer and performer herself, Lila advised that those interested in the dramatic arts use who they are to find inspiration.
“Just think about the person that you are, to start with,” advises Lila. “And then you just think ‘oh, what kind of thing would I want to be,’ like an alter ego or something that you wouldn’t want to be at all. And you could try seeing which one you’d feel more comfortable with or would like to try doing. Based off of that, you think of names, story, place. Like all that is just based off of yourself.”
All in all, Lila has a positive outlook on her future as a performer and a writer and believes anyone can do anything if they put their mind to it!
“For anyone that is going to be reading this, I just would like to say to just be yourself, and that’s how you’re gonna accomplish anything that you want to do.”
Promising Playwright, March 2018
The students at the Lab School of Washington are doing amazing things with words! Sixth-grader Leah Chaffir is expanding her literary prowess as both a playwright and a novelist. The play that she is currently developing with the help of YPT Program Associate and Teaching Artist Ms. Claudia is an adaptation of the novel she is writing in her English class.
The play, titled A 15 Year Old Story, is about a girl who identifies as gender fluid, is bullied by her classmates because of her identity and tries to escape the bullying. For Leah, the goal was to raise awareness about the experiences of LGBTQ+ youth and to encourage people who would see her play to realize that their experiences are more common and universal than people think. “I just wanted to talk about something serious that is going on all over the world,” says Leah, “And I wanted to talk about a character that is gender fluid and bisexual.”
Although Leah hasn’t written that much in her own time before starting her novel and play, she says that being in YPT’s In-School Playwriting Program has encouraged her to write more while at home or out of school. But she is particularly excited about YPT’s New Play Festival, the annual performance festival that professionally produces a number of student-written plays that have been cultivated in YPT’s In-School Playwriting Program in schools all across the DC area. “Before this [class with Ms. Claudia], I never heard of YPT and the New Play Festival,” says Leah, “so I’m really excited about the chance to get my play published!”
When she’s not writing brilliant novels and plays, Leah plays soccer and basketball for the Lab School of Washington Dragons. She also hopes to become a veterinarian one day because she loves animals and wants to help them. She’s gotten a lot of life practice so far by taking care of her labradoodle, Atticus.
Overall, Leah looks at her participation in the In-School Playwriting Program as an opportunity: “YPT is a great way to share your writing and is an honor. I just want people to know about the things that are going on in the world through my writing, not just in one place, but everywhere.”
Promising Playwright, February 2018
For Leo Warner, writing is a wonderful way to explore his imagination. In Ms. Fatima’s class at Truesdell Education Campus, this sixth grader decided to write a play that pushes the boundaries of fantasy and sci-fi! In his play, Leo introduces us to Xenuyes (Zee-NU-yez) who is part of an alien species called the Blue People. His people stole something from another alien species called the Green People. To make things right, Xenuyes travels to the planet of Blueberries to ask the Green People to forgive his people, but a deviant character named Miltek tries to stop him from completing his mission at all costs.
Leo admits that he’s still fleshing out all of the juicy details, but if it wasn’t for the encouragement of YPT teaching artist Ms. Fatima, he wouldn’t have gotten started in the first place. “I had missed a couple of classes and when I came back, I didn’t know how I could catch up and get started,” says Leo. “But Ms. Fatima told me to think of anything I wanted, so I came up with this idea.”
But Leo is not new to writing. This may be his first play, but he’s written poetry and even performed his poetry on stage as a poet/soccer player with DC nonprofit DC SCORES, which he also loves. “On some days it’s [soccer] practice, and on other days it’s writing. We plan for the poetry slam which happens each year.” He also plays soccer for Truesdell and hopes to either play soccer professionally or become a writer when he gets older.
Overall, Leo enjoys writing with YPT and thinks every kid should do it! “It’s pretty fun. If you get your work done on time, you get to see how it turns out,” Leo explains. “And you get to see if you are good at writing and if you like writing at all. You might not know that you like writing and then you end up figuring out that you like it a lot.”
Promising Playwright, December 2017
“I think [YPT] is a really good program, and I learned a lot about how to break down a play and how to research historical people that had lived in Washington DC.”
For 11th Grader Brianna Shaffer, the subject of her upcoming play is more than a person, rather, she is a representation of perseverance and achievement in Washington, DC.
The students at the SEED School of Washington, DC are merging their History and English studies through DCPS’ Tales from the Crypt project. Students research a person who lived in Washington, DC and write a play about their life. Brianna is creating a play about native Washingtonian, Sarah Nutter!
“[The project] is interesting because she really lived,” says Brianna. “It taught me not just about her, but the history of Black women in DC. [Sarah] lived in my neighborhood, so I’m learning about Dunbar, too.”
Brianna explained that Sarah Nutter lived around the turn of the century and attended Howard University, where she also helped found the first historically Black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. After graduation, she became a teacher at Dunbar High School and also taught in Baltimore, but soon got married and stopped teaching. She had no children with her husband, Thomas Nutter.
While Brianna plans to use these facts and real events to craft the plot of her play, she explained that she’ll use her imagination to make inferences about the most intimate parts of Sarah Nutter’s life. “We do have to fill in the gaps,” says Brianna. “Like, when she got married, she had to stop working, so I thought, what if her husband had something to do with it? Maybe he wanted her to stay at home and become a housewife. So my play will be about her reflecting on her life and her achievements compared to her life as a married woman and how that life change affected her.”
This will be Brianna’s first play, but she’s written poems before and has a love for reading and watching plays. The SEED School has many opportunities to see student productions on stage. In her spare time, Brianna takes it easy by hanging out with friends and family and writing. Since her freshman year at SEED, she has participated in BUILD, an entrepreneurship program that teaches young people how to start their own businesses. Brianna’s business sells headphone organizers for those times when our headphone cords get tangled, or we need to pack our headphones away without damaging them.
Brianna loves the idea of entrepreneurship, but also hopes to study medicine at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. “I wanted to be a businesswoman, but now, I am a businesswoman, and I want to expand that in the future while studying medicine.”
So far, Brianna really enjoys the Tales from the Crypt project with YPT. “I think it’s a really good program, and I learned a lot about how to break down a play and how to research historical people that had lived in Washington DC.”
We can’t wait to see the final product of Brianna’s play, which will be performed early this Spring at SEED.