Past Promising Playwrights
Promising Playwright, September 2018
"While working with YPT...I was made to feel like someone who deserved to have this voice and someone who had something to say."
For young playwright Daniel Goldman, the journey to crafting his play began when he was a freshman at H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program, where YPT Teaching Artist Kathleen Akerley led YPT's In-School Playwriting Program in his drama class last year. In January 2018 Daniel’s play, Tunnel Vision, was nominated for YPT's 2018 New Play Festival, and in June 2018, was chosen to be premiered at a staged reading in the 17th Annual Page-to-Stage New Play Festival at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. While he has written poetry and stories before, this was Daniel's first time writing a play.
"I was a bit unsure about it at first," says Daniel. "But the person working with me during the workshop, Kathleen, was very supportive. She helped us build upon our own expectations for the play helped us find the playwright that we already had within ourselves."
Daniel's play, Tunnel Vision, tackles the very serious and often unaddressed issue of domestic sex trafficking through the story of an LGBTQ+ youth. The play centers on Sebastian, who, after being shunned by his family, is coerced into a life of sex trafficking and abuse. Through this powerful story, Daniel's aim was to spread awareness of sex trafficking happening right here in the United States. "I did research on how [sex trafficking] was happing in America. It at first shocked me because my narrative of America, having lived [abroad] in developing countries, was that it was this perfect place. When I finally came to the US, I learned that the same [sexual abuses] happened here as in other parts of the world. It happens here; it happens everywhere."
Daniel says that the process of developing his play, from working with Kathleen to working directly with YPT Artistic Director Farah Lawal Harris, was empowering. "I was afraid, going in, that I would be viewed as a child stepping into the shoes of someone far bigger than myself," explains Daniel. "While working with YPT, I wasn't made to feel like that at all. I was made to feel like someone who deserved to have this voice and someone who had something to say."
Daniel intends to continue working on Tunnel Vision. He received encouraging and helpful feedback from the actors and audience members at the Page-to-Stage Festival to add to his own interest in expanding specific characters and storylines. Beyond playwriting, Daniel wants to pursue arts activism as a career when he gets older. "I want to do anything where I'm using my voice for something important," says Daniel. "I would love to do art; I would love to be able to do activism through art on a larger scale and see where things take me."
His advice for young writers: "Sit down. Start writing, no matter how absolutely crazy it sounds. You can tone it down later. Just take all your ideas, put them down on paper and work with them."
We are incredibly proud of Daniel and all his hard work and dedication. We'll be following Dan as he continues to develop Tunnel Vision and as he makes the world a better place through his art!
Promising Playwrights, July 2018
The Powell Elementary School students in Ms. Lilian's playwriting workshop, as part of YPT's partnership with DCPS' All the World's a Stage Summer Enrichment Program, were pumped and ready to go. In one of the final classes with YPT, the 3rd, 4th and 5th-grade playwrights had just finished their collaborative plays and read them to each other while Ms. Lilian guided them on performance and public speaking. Stories ranged from scary clowns to ghosts to real life conflicts. Taliya, Kimberly, Gabby, Katherine and Antonio came together and wrote a play about friendship. Titled Friends, their play zooms in on two inseparable best friends Giselle and Crystal. But when Giselle meets the cool, famous celebrity Ceasar and becomes close friends with him, she must confront Crystal's jealousy and figure out how to hold on to both of her friends.
The process of writing the play together was very easy for the group. "We're all friends, so we wanted to write about friends, and we also wanted to include drama in our story," Taliya explains. As friends, this group has a lot of things in common such as an interest in becoming professional actors, and a love for sports like soccer and basketball. All of them have written before, whether it was poetry or journal writing.
Overall, Taliya, Kimberly, Gabby, Katherine and Antonio are very proud of their play, and can't wait to perform it on the Keegan Theatre stage!
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.”