It’s a YPT Renaissance

Dear Friends of YPT,

In the darkest moments of our history, the arts have sustained and fortified us. Throughout the global pandemic, the arts–music, TV shows, books, and games–brought us moments of joy and comfort, helped us grieve and process trauma, and connected us with one another.

At YPT, we know that arts education can unlock the emotional and social skills that young people need to navigate uncertainty and change, build resilience, and imagine themselves into the future.

“YPT’s programming is the only real creative outlet my students have right now.”

– YPT Partner Teacher

Through our storytelling programs and theatrical productions, we are equipping students with tools that will help them to not only survive this critical moment of reemergence and re-imagining, but to thrive.

“Young Playwrights’ Theater has been not only a fond memory for me, but instrumental in my love of theater, my development as a writer, and in shaping my views on what I believe I’m capable of as an artist.”

– Fayshawn, YPT Alumna

Will you support our YPT Renaissance?

There is so much we are looking forward to this year.

We will continue in-person delivery of our core programs–the In-School Playwriting Program and our After-School and Summer Playwriting Programs–for 500 elementary, middle, high school, and college-aged students across the DC region.

Our Students Advocating for the Eradication of Racism (SAFER) participants at Sitar Arts Center will spend a full year learning the tools of arts activism and creating change in their communities.

We are further exploring the potential of digital storytelling through our first-ever Silence is Violence podcast and virtual workshops with our Young Playwrights’ in Progress.

Through the Young Playwrights’ Workshop, we are training educators in arts integration techniques that they will employ throughout their professional teaching careers, expanding our impact well into the future.

And our consulting initiative, AROW (Abolishing Racism and Oppression in the Workplace), will continue to train peer organizations in dismantling white supremacy and creating new institutional models that prioritize and uplift marginalized people.

Can we count on your donation to support our YPT Renaissance?

Thank you for believing in the power of the arts and the brilliance of our region’s young people.

In gratitude,

Brigitte Winter
Executive Director

Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs awards YPT with $15,000 grant

YPT is one of 19 awardees for the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs’ FY23 grant cycle. The award will be used to support students who are part of the LGBTQIA community within YPT’s Students Advocating for the Eradication of Racism (SAFER) program.

SAFER is a social advocacy and arts education program for 10th and 11th-grade students committed to promoting racial justice in their communities through collective creativity. Over the course of a school year, students learn and practice the skills required to organize and galvanize their communities and showcase those skills through a theatrical performance event.

“It’s hard to be who I am,” said a former SAFER student during a May 13, 2022 performance. Identifying herself as a Latinx, bisexual drama queen she said, “But every single day I’m learning more and more about myself.”

This is the second year the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs has supported SAFER. Students have already started preparing for the next SAFER performance scheduled for May 5, 2023.

YPT’s $15,000 award is a part of a larger grant-awarding initiative by the Mayor’s Office of Community Agencies.

The Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs was created through the Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs Act of 2005 and has been addressing the important concerns of the District’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning residents through empowering young LGBTQ+ community leaders, removing barriers for LGBTQ+ business owners, building a cohesive LGBTQ+ community across all eight wards, and providing resources for at-risk LGBTQ+ populations.

Photo: A SAFER student smiles during a performance May 13, 2022 at the Sitar Arts Center.

YPT raises $3,500 during Community Callback Fundraiser

At our first in-person event since 2020, YPT hosted 50 guests at Denizen’s Brewing Company in Silver Spring. The night was filled with great conversations, laughter, a raffle, and most importantly amazing support from our community. Through multiple donations and raffle entries, YPT raised $3,500. Special thanks to KPMG LLC, YPT Board Chair Paul Feeko, and Former YPT Board Member Anne Eigeman for their generous contributions to the raffle.

Check out photos from throughout the night below:

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YPT Education Director speaks with “Something to Say”

YPT Education Director Jared Shamberger and The Theatre Lab Schol for Dramatic Arts Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director Deb Gottesman spent some time talking with Mazi Mutafa on Something to Say on WPFW 89.3FM.

Shamberger and Gottesman spoke about the Arts Institute for Creative Advancement, a program offering paid job training with opportunities for employment in technical theater for young adults starting January 2023. The 12-month program will run Monday through Friday evenings.

You can listen to the full segment here:

Young Playwrights’ Theater will be aiding students in the Arts Institute for Creative Advancement in writing their own 10 to 15-minute plays. Professional actors will then perform pieces of those plays in a celebratory reading. From those plays, four to five students will be selected to revise and polish their scripts to prepare for a full-stage reading.

Learn more about the Arts Institute for Creative Advancement and apply before Oct. 31, 2022, here.

YPT Executive Director Awarded 2022 EXCEL Award

The Center for Nonprofit Advancement has named YPT Executive Director Brigitte Winter as the winner of the 2022 Excellence in Chief Executive Leadership Award.

“Winning this award is very meaningful for me personally,” said Winter. “But it is also a public statement that how we do the work is as important as the work itself.”

The EXCEL Award is given to honor exceptional nonprofit chief executives. The competition recognizes achievement in the areas of innovation, motivation, community building, ethical integrity, and strategic leadership.

Winter said it is a dream to be able to share YPT’s story on a national platform. She is excited to reach more people and raise awareness of YPT’s mission, antiracism and anti-oppression work, values-driven operations, and unique collaborative leadership model.

“I have worked in nonprofit leadership for eighteen years, and in that time I have learned that you can’t effectively pursue a mission of social justice if you are not also deliberately structuring your operations to reflect that mission,” Winter said.

The EXCEL Award includes access to a $10,000 professional development account for Winter and $2,000 to support organizational professional development programs. Plans have already been put in place to use these funds for shared-learning experiences, ranging from management training to continued anti-oppressive education.

Being recognized in this way is an honor for Winter, but in no way means she will be slowing down her work. YPT has adopted the theme of “reconnecting” this year as in-person programs return for the first time since 2020. Winter said the professional development funds will aid the staff in this reconnection.

“More than half of us have been working together for fewer than six months, and many of us met in person for the first time this past summer,” said Winter. “The YPT staff is very focused on reconnecting with each other and with our community.”

Winter participated in a short interview with the Center for Nonprofit Advancement about her leadership experience, her advice to other nonprofit leaders, and what the EXCEL Award means to YPT:

Brigitte Winter has more than fifteen years of experience in nonprofit leadership, arts administration, financial management, fundraising, and strategic communications in the DC region. She is also a writer, a metalsmith, a photographer, and the Co-President of the Board of Directors for the Baltimore Abortion Fund, a non-profit organization that uses an intersectional reproductive justice lens to dismantle white supremacy and remove systemic barriers people face when accessing abortion care. The capacity of storytelling to connect, disrupt, inspire, and incite is central to Brigitte’s art and her activism.

Tell us about your leadership style and how this contributes to your organization’s success.

The capacity of storytelling to connect, inspire, and incite is central to my leadership, my art-making, and my activism. It also central to YPT’s mission to inspire young people to realize the power of their voices. Both within my organization and with external stakeholders, I use storytelling to build trust, forge connections, and generate excitement and support for YPT’s brilliant young playwrights.

As YPT’s Executive Director, I am responsible for operationalizing our mission by setting YPT’s overall strategic direction and making sure we have the resources to get there. I also know that as a white, queer, cisgender woman, it is my responsibility to understand what it means to hold all of my various identities and experiences while also holding significant positional power within my organization. My leadership style involves continual, deliberate work to use the power of my position to reduce the harm of racism and oppression in YPT’s structures, policies, and practices. I hold myself accountable to making decisions that align with YPT’s organizational values—Acknowledging Oppression and Reducing Its Harm, Anti-oppressive Communication, Responsive Flexibility, Respecting Autonomy, Commitment to Craft, Creative Collaboration, and Commitment to Health and Safety. That means much of my work involves recruiting and retaining amazing people, prioritizing their wellbeing in organizational decision-making, and resourcing their ideas as we collaboratively pursue YPT’s mission.

I credit leading from these values with many of YPT’s most significant recent successes, including our ability to safely weather the first three years of the global pandemic with a full team, an effective transition to hybrid operations, a great deal of responsive innovation around our programs and productions thanks to our collaborative leadership model and the brilliance of Artistic Director Farah Lawal Harris and Education Director Jared Shamberger, and three surplus budgets.

The COVID-19 pandemic began the year that YPT turned 25. As we enter our 2023 fiscal year, I have made the strategic decision to re-invest YPT’s recent surpluses into increasing salaries, growing our team, and ensuring that our operations are the right size to push YPT into its next 25 years.

What advice would you offer for other nonprofit leaders?

Rest and joy are radical. If everyone in your organization is continually going above and beyond to make your mission happen, stop applauding that. And don’t model that behavior yourself. It’s not a sustainable business practice. Slow down, do less, and right-size your organization by investing in people and infrastructure before you invest in program growth.

Committing to justice and real social change is not a short-term project, so you need to take care of yourself and avoid burn-out. Find joy in the work, and find joy outside the work. Prioritize your humanity the way you prioritize the humanity of others. Take that vacation and turn on your auto-responder. Invest in your personal growth—in people and personal projects that energize you—as much as your professional growth.

And remember that antiracism is a moral imperative, not a business goal. At the core of this work has to be a deep moral grounding in the importance of justice, of empathy, of fairness, of doing what is right even when stakeholders are confused and don’t applaud your efforts. Even when you lose money. Even when people who don’t want to do this work leave your staff and your board, and others question whether you are doing enough, fast enough. You need to hold that moral truth internally even when you are not getting external feedback that pushes you forward. Successful antiracism work will ultimately result in a better, stronger organization, but you need to be willing to slow down and worry less about your bottom line in the meantime.

What does this award mean for you and your organization?

I have worked at YPT for almost seventeen years, and I have been the Executive Director for a decade. Being considered for this award is very meaningful for me personally, as a recognition of the years I have invested in stewarding YPT’s mission, and my own leadership, into the best versions of themselves.

This award is also important recognition for YPT’s antiracism and anti-oppression work, our values-driven operations, and our unique collaborative leadership model. Considering me—and YPT—for this award is a public statement that how we do the work is as important as the work itself.

YPT is at an organizational inflection point as we’ve organically evolved and changed so much of what we do in response to the ongoing global pandemic. We are entering our 2023 fiscal year with our first planned million dollar budget and several new staff positions, and we are making space for strategic planning that responds to the new normal, pushes our most effective initiatives toward greater sustainability, increases salaries and benefits for staff, plans for the funding and infrastructure necessary to make all of these shifts, and reconnects YPT with our community after two years of pivoting and change.

What an incredible moment to highlight this organization, and to receive new professional development resources that will support YPT’s full team in continuing to respond and evolve into the best versions of ourselves.

Photo: YPT Executive Director Brigitte Winter

Actor’s voice found with YPT programs

Some would say who we are today is a collection of our lived experiences. We don’t always know how far just one of those experiences from youth will reach forward, but sometimes someone’s influence on us can completely change the course of our stories.

“There is a story only you can tell and now is the time to tell it,” says Aron Spellane, a DC actor and former YPT student.

Spellane credits a lot of his artistic journey to the day YPT came to his classroom. Something YPT did for him was to find ways to give himself a louder and clearer voice, something he needed at the time.

“It was at a time of my life when I really kind of needed someone to help me find my own agency in that way. And I think that that’s the greatest aspect of YPT’s mission,” Spellane said. “Empowering young people and giving young people the tools they need to find their own voice and give them a platform where they can use their voice.”

Spellane was instructed by Adrienne Nelson, former YPT In-school and After-School Programs teacher, and still fondly remembers the vitality she brought to the classroom. She was working as a professional actor by night and spent her days teaching with YPT, a care and passion for giving back to the community that Spellane had rarely seen from another teacher at the time.

“I remember being, like, floored by that. It was so extraordinary,” Spellane said. “I would just make sure she knew how wonderful that was from my perspective.”

After graduating from Jackson-Reed High School, renamed after Spellane’s time there, he received a Bachelor’s Degree in theater from a small school in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. He has now returned as an actor to DC, where he feels his art originally took life.

“It was really important for me to come back and be in this city that had really nurtured me and had given me my theatrical home,” Spellane said. “DC is my theatrical birthplace in that way.”

While he hasn’t written any more plays in the years since being a student with YPT, Spellane still considers his time with YPT as a foundation for his artistic path and career. The influence of seeing professional actors on stage and being reassured that his voice was worth being heard is the artistic spark that eventually became his fire. He is currently in the Honors Acting Conservatory at The Theater Lab and has worked as a teaching artist in several places around DC.

“That nourishes me, and even when that little critic voice inside of my head says, ‘Oh, you can’t do this. You’re on the wrong path,’ I’m like, ‘No.’” Spellane said. “People believe in me and they have believed in me and they will continue to believe in me. I do have something to say.”

In sharing his experience, Spellane emphasized his appreciation for Adrienne Nelson as a teacher and for YPT as a launchpad for his future endeavors. He says if he were to go back and tell his younger self anything it would be that the world is big and waiting for him to blow it away.

Young Playwrights’ Theater is always proud and grateful to hear and tell the stories of former students, teachers, and volunteers. If you have a story to tell, please contact our Communications Manager Cody Bahn at cbahn@yptdc.org.

Photo: Aron Spellane, DC actor and former YPT student.

Getting to know the staff at YPT

As students return to classrooms and begin to make new friends, the staff at YPT has also met some new faces and we are all looking forward to the new school year!

Recently, YPT has brought on several new people to help further our mission and reach new students. Some of our previous staff members have moved on to do great things for other organizations or to further their education so they can help people in different ways. We have also expanded our team by adding several new positions.

In the theme of beginning new adventures, we’d like for you to have the opportunity to get to know just a little bit more about each of us and the work we do at YPT.

Brigitte
Jared
Farah
Tristan
Kawanza
Brenna
Madison
Keta
Rachel
Lauren
Cody
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Fayshawn Morgan shares her YPT experience

Fayshawn Morgan recently started a birthday fundraiser on Facebook supporting YPT and shared these words about her experience as a student from 1998 to 2004 and the impact it had on her life.

My history with YPT goes back to my 7th grade school year at Hardy Middle School. Every week we took an art class at the Filmore Arts School, and by that point I had been writing fiction and poetry since I was in 1st grade. So, naturally when I saw Playwrighting I opted to take that class because writing did not need me to face my extreme stage fright the way singing in the choir would. Plus, writing has always been my first love.

“Karen Zacarias was the first adult in my life to encourage and push me to step out of my comfort zone.”

— Fayshawn Morgan

Karen Zacarias was the first adult in my life to encourage and push me to step out of my comfort zone. I told her that writing a one-act play was too hard, and she told me that it wasn’t hard at all and that she would show all of us how to do it. Afterward, I wrote my first play at the age of 12, Just One Of Them Days. Much to my surprise and delight Ms. Zacarias entered our plays into the contest YPT does for its students and I won the grand prize. To this day, it is still something I am so proud of, and I still have the copy of that play.

One of the first plays I saw was a play she wrote called The Sins of Sor Juana. I was mesmerized by her talent. I’m not surprised at the trajectory her career has taken. When I went to high school, I couldn’t believe that my school which had an entire Humanities academy didn’t have Young Playwrights’ Theater coming to teach workshops. I talked to our dean and to Ms. Zacarias about teaching at Woodrow Wilson High School. While it was a little altruistic, it was mainly selfish — I couldn’t let go of an organization I loved so much. Between participating in summer programs, to later becoming a student teacher for a short stint, Young Playwrights’ Theater has been not only a fond memory for me, but instrumental in my love of theater, my development as a writer, and in shaping my views on what I believe I’m capable of as an artist.

Throughout the years, Ms. Zacarias has been a mentor and inspiration to me. I am so happy that 20 years later the organization she lovingly created still lives on. I’ve donated in years past, but this year I wanted to do something more so that more students like myself can have access to the programs that meant so much to me growing up.

You can donate to Fayshawn’s birthday fundraiser here.