YPT at The Takoma Park Street Festival

YPT staff, board, and volunteers had a lot of fun visiting with our Takoma Park neighbors! Our booth stayed busy throughout the day, with tons of families participating in our Hermit Crab decoration activity!

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Want to decorate your very own YPT Hermit Crab? Download the activity sheet below. Then post your shell on Facebook or Instagram and tag @yptdc so we can see it!

Download

Reflecting on my SiV journey

It’s been a couple of months since embarking on my Silence is Violence (SiV) journey.

Reflecting back, I think about how special it was to have had the opportunity to really dive in and explore the massive cacophonous timeline that was and still is the COVID-19 pandemic. A time when folks were continuing to deal with their own personal journeys, while also processing life, death, political upheaval, a civil rights revolution, etc. For 3+ years, individuals, our families, our communities, our country, and the world faced something together and no matter how isolated and lonely we sometimes felt, there was at least one other person who was sharing similar thoughts and moments.

Silence is Violence: New Normal was a perfect reflection of that time. Monologues, poems, and scenes expressed a wide array of experiences such that, I’m pretty sure, all of us involved felt personally touched by at least one artist’s contribution. Hopefully, the audience felt that way as well. I hope they were able to see themselves and their stories reflected back at them. And in the moments that did not hit as close to home, that they felt empowered to hold space, honor, process, and appreciate the diversity of life in our community.

I hope the audience, like me, appreciated the time to reflect. To think on things that maybe some of us hadn’t been given the opportunity to think on, in the name of “moving on” or “getting back to normal” because capitalism needed us.

I’m thankful for the time we took in rehearsal and performance to pause and consider. To listen and to be heard amongst this talented group of artists in a safe space, where masks and tests were mandatory and provided, was a gift.

YPT has been a supportive home for me for most of my career, and it was a thrill to be creating work under their mission again. Work that was thoughtful, fun, and community building.

Proud of student growth and creativity

By YPT Program Manager Madison Chapman

A school food fight turned murder mystery, college move-in day jitters, a spy mission, book characters coming to life, and a pizza dough machine walked into The Kennedy Center last month as original plays written by students in the YPT and DCPS Young Playwrights’ Workshop Program. It may be hard to picture, but it was magnificent!

Before joining YPT’s team in June 2022, I was a DCPS classroom teacher. I loved developing my relationship with the students over the course of the school year and watching their confidence and skills grow. Therefore, the Young Playwrights’ Workshop program was the perfect fit for me as I transitioned into my role at YPT.

I had the pleasure of working with five DCPS schools this year to devise and write original plays for the DCPS Performing Arts Festival. From October to May, I worked with students to brainstorm, devise, write, and rehearse their words.

One of the many things I love about teaching is that no class is ever the same. While the end goal of the Workshop program was the same for each school, they each took their own unique path to get there. Students at School Without Walls, the high school I partnered with, started by choosing a theme and writing monologues about their own life. From there, they partnered up to write scenes, shared them with the class, and ultimately, brainstormed ways that all of their scenes could work together in one cohesive story. On the other hand, students at Plummer Elementary School started by choosing their setting and genre and then brainstormed the conflict of the story. Through their work together, students learned the importance of balancing listening and sharing when collaborating with their classmates. It was sometimes challenging to get 20 students to agree and move the writing process forward, but through flexibility and compromise, they made it work.

Throughout the process, I was continuously impressed with the way students advocated for their ideas and the overall vision of the plays. For example, students at Brookland Middle School voiced how having directors and stage managers was imperative to the success of the play. Students began taking on other artistic team roles outside of playwright and found their own way of supporting the class play.

None of this incredible student work would have been possible without the leadership of these students’ outstanding classroom teachers. The teachers from School Without Walls, MacFarland Middle School, Brookland Middle School, Horace Mann Elementary School, and Plummer Elementary School were the best collaborators and guides throughout this process. They managed our program and project on top of their own district and school curriculum requirements, PARCC testing, student resistance, and planning and executing a field trip to The Kennedy Center for the festival. I am so grateful to have had them as our partners.

On the day of the Festival, students walked into The Kennedy Center with a mix of emotions and feelings: awe at The Kennedy Center itself, nerves, excitement, you name it. Each group took the stage and performed their extremely unique plays with their own flare. My cheeks hurt from smiling as I heard their words come to life and saw how proud they were of their work. They were playwrights!

Following the Festival, I visited each school one more time to reflect on their experience in the program and the Festival. They had so much to say! I am eager and excited to teach this program again next year!

Congratulations to the Young Playwrights’Workshop students! I am so proud of you!

SAFER has been an inspiration

By YPT Resident Teaching Artist Kawanza Billy

In June 2022, I became a Resident Teaching Artist at Young Playwrights Theater. I applied for two reasons: being aligned with YPT, seeing every young person as brilliant, and the SAFER program.

Through Students Advocating for the Eradication of Racism (SAFER), students use the medium of theater to address pressing issues in their community, anti-racism, and other social justice issues. YPT partnered with Sitar Arts Center this year, meeting weekly over several months and ultimately sourcing content from playwrights throughout the YPT network to produce a staged reading in May 2023.

Reflecting on my experience leading SAFER at Young Playwrights Theater, I am filled with pride and joy. Young people were able to learn some fundamental components of diversity, inclusion, and equity. We learned how theaters nationwide are prioritizing social justice in their works and about playwrights highlighting their lived experiences, as well as how playhouses and companies are making accommodations and forming antiracist policies and practices.

Witnessing the passion and creativity of the high school students in SAFER taught me that every young person has a story to tell. One particular moment that stands out in my memory was when a sophomore at Duke Ellington wrote a response to a piece created by an adult playwright at PGCC. This piece added depth to our stage reading by pulling attention to the youth experience of navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic and the uprisings after the murder of George Floyd across the country as a young Black youth with family pressure to exceed.

Through SAFER, I saw in real time that social justice and artistic expression could intersect in powerful ways. Between the beginning of the program, when we shared our life maps and learned key terms, to the stage reading, when professional actors read students’ work, the power of activism was apparent.

Witnessing the voices of marginalized youth amplified through SAFER was incredibly inspiring because there aren’t many spaces that allow them to simply create. The experience of leading SAFER reaffirmed my belief in the power of centering youth experience because all systemic issues impact them and they are the least likely to be looked to for feedback or solutions. I can’t wait until the next season.

Silence is Violence and YPT helped me find my voice

By YPT Communications Manager Cody Bahn

As someone who has had very little interaction with the theater world until recently, I never imagined that something I wrote would be included in a performance.

Silence is Violence: New Normal was a “small step/giant leap” moment for me. I branched out and tried a lot of new things with this production. I started off testing submission forms and marketing strategies, and the next thing I knew, I was including my name in the “Playwrights” section of the program.

Silence is Violence: New Normal is a collection of work from YPT students, playwrights, and other artists from all over the United States describing individual experiences of their lives during the pandemic in 2023 and what life may be like in 2026. The first open call for pieces was open to all ages and a large portion of the YPT staff submitted pieces to be included.

It isn’t always easy for me to express my feelings in writing. Even now, it has taken me a long time to write this post, but using the Silence is Violence prompts prepared by YPT Education Director Jared Shamberger had me filling out the blanks and enjoying my time. Checking off questions about my life after the start of the pandemic and how I appreciate certain things a little more now. I wasn’t expecting what I wrote to be included, hadn’t even thought about it after I finished my piece.

On another night, I was waiting at a restaurant for my partner to leave a concert (I skipped out early) and the thought of how different my life became after the start of the pandemic was on my mind. As I was taking notes for my therapist and organizing those scattered thoughts into something cohesive, I ended up realizing how well what I wrote fit into what YPT was looking for in submissions for Silence is Violence. So, I basically submitted what I had written with a few tweaks to make it flow better. Not exactly something I would normally do, or even think to do on a standard day.

I don’t remember which version of the script I was reading when I realized both pieces I wrote were there. I do remember a flood of several different feelings all rushing in at once. Surprise, joy, excitement, apprehension, and anxiety all passed through in a split second.

A few times I thought about rescinding my submissions. Did I really want everyone to have that much of a peek into my life and thoughts? What would everyone think? My feelings about my current life and my gender were all laid out there on paper for everyone to see. Thoughts like that juggled around in my head for weeks until I got the chance to watch the cast rehearse one night.

The director and cast took my pieces of rambling thoughts guided by prompts and turned them into something I was happy other people would get to see. That feeling was strengthened after they ran through my first piece and Director Sandi Holloway turned to me to ask if they captured it correctly. A simple question that let me know they were taking extra steps to care for everyone’s pieces, not just mine.

The rest of the time between then and the performance is just a blur. I had pretty much let go of my feelings around it and moved on to other things. Even on performance day I was relaxed and had a great time prepping and taking photos. My pieces were done and nobody was pointing and laughing at me.

At the end of the day, It was an amazing experience. Anxiety aside, I loved watching the process of how something I wrote was molded and brought to life on a stage, a feeling I imagine a lot of young people go through during YPT workshops and staged readings. And I can’t wait to get the chance to do it again … probably with more YPT prompts to help.

Photos: Reels and Wheels

Great food, smiles, and laughs filled the night during YPT’s first Reels and Wheels drive-in movie fundraiser! With your help, YPT raised more than $18,000! Check out photos from throughout the night:

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Behind the scenes of the ‘New Normal’

The night starts jovial, and the air is light. Actors arrive one by one, wearing masks and filling the small table and kitchen area at the YPT office in Takoma, DC.

Silence is Violence: New Normal director Sandi Holloway arrives and after short greetings, everyone finds a place to sit inside the rehearsal space.

“Alright, let’s get started,” Holloway says and the air in the room almost instantly changes.

A sense of respect and seriousness for the actors’ process rushes into the room.

The cast begins trading lines, running a piece speaking to the gains, losses, dreams, and expectations people had before the pandemic and well into the future. Silence is Violence: New Normal MC Neko Ramos turns his ear toward the cast to listen and absorb the words and emotions. He gives the occasional nod as certain words pierce deeper than others.

They go over the piece multiple times, trying different arrangements here and there at Holloway’s direction before she looks around the room and says, “You all feel that? I think that’s the one.” They all agree and run through the scene one more time to lock in their feelings for the collective piece.

The cast is excused for a short time, leaving for the snacks and table set up in the YPT office near the air purifiers.

Holloway and Ramos begin tackling Ramos’ pieces for the performance, discussing the order he will speak and Ramos’ final written piece. He pulls out his phone and begins to read. Ramos’ passion gives off an almost palpable feeling – every word leaves you hanging on for more until he closes.

Holloway by now has closed her eyes to listen and once Ramos wraps, she looks at him and says, “That’s the middle.”

Silence is Violence: New Normal will be performed in-person and via simultaneous livestream at 7:30 pm April 17 at Prince George’s Community College: Center for Performing Arts.

YPT surpasses Fall fundraising goal

Thanks to you and the rest of YPT’s amazing network of sponsors, donors, and supporters we were able to raise more than $22,000, beating our Fall fundraising goal. With all of your support, we are able to continue providing programs, productions, and events for our students and community! Just hear what some of our staff have to say:

Adapting and creating with the Young Playwrights’ Workshop

As with any Renaissance, something new forms from what is left behind.

As YPT returned to fully in-person program delivery last spring YPT Education Director Jared Shamberger and Executive Director Brigitte Winter noticed a need for greater support for educators, who have struggled so much throughout the global pandemic, and for their students, who have experienced a lot of trauma and learning loss over the past few years. YPT’s program team had experience providing professional development workshops for educators around arts integration strategies and building inclusive classrooms, but it was clear that YPT’s core In-school Playwriting Program would need to adapt to include more deliberate and responsive support for partner educators if the program was going to be successful in the current learning environment.

The Young Playwrights’ Workshop was born from this need. This pilot program is training a cohort of 5 DC Public Schools (DCPS) theater educators to integrate playwriting into their classrooms over the course of a year-long partnership. Provided in partnership with DC Public Schools, the program builds on YPT’s core In-school Playwriting curriculum, and all of the many arts integration interventions the company has developed over the past 27 years, and offers them up as a responsive toolkit for these educators.

In this model, the educators are the experts on their students’ needs and their teaching goals, and YPT program staff are the experts on the responsive arts intervention toolkit. Together, they find the right workshops and exercises for each classroom to engage the students more deeply in reading and writing and learning, while guiding them through writing and performing plays that they will present at the annual DCPS Performing Arts Festival in the spring.

To pull off this level of responsive long-term programming, YPT needed someone to manage the program who could bring their own skills, talents, and knowledge to supplement YPT’s 27 years of history and tools. That is where YPT Program Manager Madison Chapman comes in.

As a recent addition to the YPT team, Chapman added a unique perspective having taught with DCPS for three years. Now, Chapman works directly with YPT’s five workshop sites, classroom teachers, and students. Visiting each site multiple times a month, Chapman is actualizing one of the core reasons she joined YPT.

“As I was working in the classroom, I realized that I was extremely passionate about curriculum planning and supporting other theater educators,” Chapman said. “I wanted to find an opportunity where this could become the focus of the majority of my work.”

Chapman has been key in establishing the responsive nature of the Young Playwrights’ Workshop, which gives students in different classrooms the space to express their voices in their own ways.

“Creating space for students to create and use their voice is extremely important,” Chapman said. “It gives students the opportunity to trust their thoughts and process and the confidence to share their work with others.”

Because of the workshop’s open-ended nature and the fact it’s still in an experimental phase for YPT programming, Chapman believes it’s the perfect environment for students to explore and experiment with their creative processes.

As you support various organizations and charities this giving season, we hope you’ll choose to include YPT and our programs in your giving, and that you will help further the values and practices YPT engages in every day to chart a bright future for our students and our community.

Donate now

A retrospective look at YPT’s foundation

Former Director of the Fillmore Arts Center Pat Mitchell talks about her connection to our past and YPT’s growth.

As we reimagine and reshape what YPT will look like in the future, getting a past perspective can help give us a feel of where we’ve been and how far we’ve come already.

In her 27 years of service as the Director of the Fillmore Arts Center, Pat Mitchell fondly remembers hiring one specific person integral to YPT’s history to teach playwriting to the center’s students.

“It became a miracle for these kids,” said Mitchell. “She had a way with them where she could just tell what they were thinking by how they moved.”

That teacher was Karen Zacarías, founder of YPT. Zacarías started YPT knowing the impact arts education could have on young people.

Mitchell said Zacarías was one of the first teachers at the center to treat the students like adult professionals. Treating them with a professional attitude gave these students a different way to think about themselves and a confidence they hadn’t had before.

“They began writing these intense plays,” Mitchell said. “Their writing became about things they had never talked about with anyone before and were truly thought-provoking.”

Mitchell said Zacarías had a special way of connecting with students, a trait she still sees in YPT today. She said even through the pandemic, YPT made great strides in keeping up with ways to connect with students.

Mitchell said she admires the way YPT has worked through the years to sustain and build on its values and mission, all of which started with Zacarías.

“I admire what Young Playwrights’ Theater has done to sustain the objectives of the group,” Mitchell said. “I just really think since the inception to the present has been amazing. You can’t imagine a better organization with better values and a better mission for children.”

As you support various organizations and charities this giving season, we hope you’ll choose to include YPT in your giving, and that you will help further the values and practices YPT engages in every day to chart a bright future for our students and our community.

Donate Here