Working with Young Playwrights’ Theater and the Young Playwrights in Progress (YPIP) program has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my artistic career. My goal when starting YPIP was to transform my one-act play, Mama Bushwick is Dead, into a full-length.
I was so excited to be chosen as a resident artist, but also nervous to be working in such a professional capacity. I felt like a full collaborator and voice in the room rather than just a student. This was incredible, but made me nervous to have so much agency. Luckily, Keta and Farah were nothing short of wonderful. They were welcoming, supportive, kind, and had so much brilliant insight and advice about my play in specific and playwriting in general. I wish I could write every positive adjective about my experience with them.
Throughout the course of a year, my piece changed from 50 pages to 90 pages, and went through three workshop readings, the last of which was open to the public, and three talkbacks with the actors from the reading and other theater professionals. Now, it is the 2023 winner of the Bela Kiralyfalvi National Student Playwriting Competition and is being produced at Wichita State University in October 2023. Evidently, the process with YPIP allowed me to transform my piece into a script ready for production and aided me in finding incredible specificity and depth to the characters, setting, and plot.
Throughout the process, Keta and Farah were amazing about checking in and making sure that the program was serving my needs and goals as a writer. We adjusted the number of readings, how often we met, and the structure of the meetings to best serve the piece. They were also so understanding of my other commitments, such as school and work, and took care to ensure the experience was positive rather than stressful. I always felt able and comfortable to address concerns and ideas with them and felt as if I was in a non-judgemental space that was perfect for developing work.
Working with Joan, my dramaturg, was an equally rewarding experience. Joan gave me amazing resources to explore and specific things to research. She had lots of knowledge about the major elements and themes of my play, so was a perfect fit for the project. She also provided a refreshing perspective on the piece as someone who joined the team midway through the residency, which gave Farah, Keta, and me new and exciting ways to look at the piece.
My play would not be where it is today, nor would I be as developed as an artist, without the mentorship of Farah, Keta, Joan, and Young Playwrights’ Theater.
Applications for Young Playwrights in Progress 2023-24 are now open!
Since joining YPT last year, I’ve been focused on deepening our connection with our local Takoma Park community, especially after the significant disconnection caused by the pandemic.
Takoma Park is an amazing and diverse city, filled with interesting and eclectic stores, delicious restaurants, and wonderful, culturally and politically engaged people. When planning began for our spring fundraiser, I was determined to do a neighborhood event that was welcoming and fun for Takoma Park residents and would introduce them to the profound work and impact of YPT.
A drive-In movie seemed like a great idea to do something unique that allowed for social distancing and provided opportunities for fundraising and connection. So, on Friday, May 12, YPT hosted its first Reels and Wheels Drive-In Movie Fundraiser at the Takoma Park Silver Spring Co-Op.
More than 100 people of all ages came out to watch Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, a modern classic starring Whitney Houston, Brandy, Whoopi Goldberg, and Bernadette Peters. This film was the first time the Cinderella story was adapted for a racially diverse cast, and Brandy affectionately became known as the unofficial “First Black Disney Princess.”
Perfect weather contributed to a glorious night filled with smiles, yummy food by Muoi Tieu and Jas & Fam Caribbean Flavor food trucks, and the chance to take pictures with Cinderella herself! Folks brought out their camp chairs and ate their fill of popcorn while watching a great movie under the stars.
Overall, the event raised more than $18,000 to support YPT’s mission of uplifting youth voices! Even more importantly, however, was that it brought YPT into the Takoma Park community, connecting us with residents, and giving us a chance to truly introduce ourselves to our neighbors after three long years of isolation.
I hope to have many more similar events in the future and am incredibly thankful to everyone who came out, donated, and helped make it happen. You made the impossible possible!
YPT Development Director
YPT Artistic Director Farah Lawal Harris talks about her new connection to local playwright Tom Minter and her intention to include playwrights of all ages in script development and opportunity access at YPT.
Playwright Tom Minter’s selected conversations about theater and his artistry. Watch the conversation with Farah Lawal Harris, Tom Minter, Angelisa Gilyard, and more.
In my tenure as Artistic Director of YPT, I’ve prided myself in being innovative, responsive, and supportive of the journeys of young playwrights. Before the pandemic, YPT’s production team’s main focus was producing the Silence Is Violence performance series and supporting new play development through Young Playwrights in Progress. But a question nagged at me:
How do we expand our work to include younger and older playwrights?
Then an answer came to me by way of local playwright and teaching artist Tom Minter. Tom emailed me a portion of his autobiographical script, By Me You’ll Never Know; Tom describes his play as one that “speaks to dynamic issues of class, caste, fear of ‘otherness’…and…the weight of legacy in the ‘undiscussed’ of black culture.” I was moved by the script and spent the subsequent months brainstorming ways for YPT to connect with Tom’s work. When he shared with me that an excerpt of his play would be presented during The Gathering, an event hosted by The Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics at Georgetown University, I saw an opportunity. I offered to facilitate the pre and post-performance discussions and Tom happily accepted.
Working with Tom in this way helped crystallize my goal of connecting with local playwrights of all ages and levels of experience. Theater is a collaborative art; it benefits all theatre artists to find ways to connect and support one another. I’m excited to expand YPT’s connection with DMV playwrights in the coming seasons through creative collaboration. I’m thankful to Tom for watering the seed of this idea and I can’t wait to watch it grow.
Our doors are open again! As of March 2022, two full years after shifting our work to a virtual space to protect the health and safety of the young people we serve and their communities, we are back at work at our administrative headquarters in Takoma DC, and we are delivering in-person arts education and storytelling programs across the Washington, DC region. There is nothing more inspiring than being back in in-person spaces with young people. They continue to model resilience for us; they are positive, energetic, dreaming of the future, and engaging deeply in issues impacting their communities. Each week, these young artists show up with hope, creativity, and joy. This spring, YPT is already delivering:
Five in-person playwriting and storytelling programs across Washington, DC, Maryland, and Northern Virginia, including arts integration coaching for teachers at Watkins Elementary School and Creative Minds International Public Charter School
Three Abolishing Racism and Oppression in the Workplace (AROW) engagements over more than 100 hours of consulting around creating and embodying anti-oppressive organizational values
Twenty workshops of Students Advocating for the Eradication of Racism (SAFER) at Sitar Arts Center in which high school students are tackling issues of social justice, including harassment, bullying, and racism
Four hours of programming every week at Washington School for Girls and SEED Public Charter School where elementary, middle, and high school students are bringing their stories to life through both playwriting and visual art
A college-level program at Prince George’s Community College supporting students in their spring semester acting course in developing and performing their own original monologues
Eight hours of mentorship, workshop readings, and feedback sessions for Young Playwrights in Progress playwright Elizabeth Shannon as she develops her play Mama Bushwick is Dead with feedback from YPT’s artistic staff and local career theater artists
Now, as we prepare for a full summer of programming and the exciting work to come in the next school year, we are focused on connection. Connection with young people, connection with teachers, schools, and partners, and connection with you.
Today, we are setting a goal to raise $10,000 by June 30 to make this work possible. Will you support YPT today as we dream our way toward a future of connection, creativity, and joy for the young people in our community? We hope we can count on your donation, and we hope you will follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @yptdc to join us for our upcoming in-person and virtual showcases and readings. We can’t wait to connect with you soon!
Playwright Elizabeth Shannon began developing her original play, Mama Bushwick Is Dead, with YPT’s program, Young Playwrights in Progress (YPIP), in the fall of 2021. After her first YPIP workshop reading in her new play development process, Elizabeth shares some thoughts about her experiences so far!
Young Playwrights in Progress (YPIP) is an opportunity for young and/or early-career DC-area playwrights to engage in a script-development and workshop reading process of original, not-yet-produced, one-act, or full-length plays with Young Playwrights’ Theater. Applications are accepted on a year-round, rolling basis.
YPT Team Member Teshonne Powell reflects on returning to the office and in-person programming at YPT
“In-person” and “virtual” have been two terms that have been compared, juxtaposed, and set at odds while we navigated our work and our lives during the pandemic. In 2020, as YPT adapted swiftly to support the safety of our team and our students while continuing our work, I was guilty of imagining these two things as opposite of each other. I saw “virtual” as uncertain, confusing, and a bit scary. But as we transition back into our physical office space in Takoma DC and back into classrooms with students and young playwrights, I’m starting to see these two modes of working as integrated, two methods of fulfilling the same mission.
When I first returned to the office for the full workday, a couple of weeks ago, I laughed upon sitting at my desk for the first time since 2020 because I had a large poster calendar hung up that still had March 2020 posted. I saw all of the notes I made that month, notes written with no idea or expectation of what was to come. I tossed the calendar away with a feeling that I was making a fresh start. Seeing my coworkers’ faces in person was a different feeling as well. I’m still getting used to being able to hop over to someone’s desk to chat briefly about something. I enjoy the feeling of collaboration that comes with being able to do that. Our partially remote work schedule has also been helpful in easing me back into the office environment while maintaining the flexibility that working away from the office allows.
And, just like that, I was also back on the road, visiting YPT programs at Prince George’s Community College and Washington School for Girls, while scheduling future visits to our workshops at Chelsea School, and SAFER at Sitar Arts Center. YPT transitioned its arts education programs to in-person instruction to support the needs of our partner schools and organizations that are managing the physical and emotional safety of our students. I remembered quickly that school visits were one of my favorite things about being a Communications Manager at YPT. I get to see the “magic” first-hand. Watching students come up with story ideas for the first time, develop their characters from scratch, encourage their fellow students toward the creation of fun, original, thoughtful stories. After all this time, it was amazing to see the perseverance of our youth with my own eyes.
What I’m experiencing as a staff member at YPT is not a return to normal. With our hybrid work model, we’re trying to integrate what we’ve learned about ourselves when we worked remotely and create a work environment that reflects our values of responsive flexibility and autonomy. There will be moments that call for safe and careful in-person experiences, and there will be moments when virtual interactions suit our needs the best. What we’ve strengthened over the last two years is the confidence to get creative and innovate in order to continue our work. We’re trying new things with the same, familiar YPT spirit.
Photo: Teshonne peeking out from YPT’s office entrance.
Next month, Jessica Wisser will be departing YPT after five years of serving as our Development Director. Over the last few years, Jessica has played a significant role in our growth as an organization and has been an amazing, supportive team member at YPT. We wish her the best as she continues her journey in serving the DC community. Here, Jessica talks about what it’s meant to her to work at YPT, and why you should consider learning more about our current work opportunities. Thank you, Jessica!
To the YPT Community,
Over the last five years, I have had the opportunity to be a part of the amazing YPT team that works every day to share the brilliance of young people with the world. And what a five years it has been! We have celebrated thousands of young playwrights in our programs and shared their stories with thousands of community members through our productions. We have seen 40 community-based organizations participate in Abolishing Racism and Oppression in the Workplace (AROW) and take steps toward building a more just community across the Washington, DC region. And YPT itself has deepened, responded to rapidly shifting needs, and embraced an anti-oppressive commitment to young people, community, and each other.
Today, as I share the bittersweet news that I am leaving YPT at the end of April to take another step on my own career path, I am excited to invite you to consider joining this incredible team. As Development Director, it has been my honor to work alongside my fellow staff members to grow YPT’s networks and secure the funds we need to deliver our high-quality arts education programs and powerful productions of youth-written work. If you believe in the power of storytelling, enjoy connecting community members with the possibility and impact of our work, and would be interested in joining an organization that believes that delivering antiracist, anti-oppressive arts education and theater-making is necessary, not revolutionary, then take a look below.
It has been my pleasure to meet so many of you and share your favorite YPT stories. And I look forward to continuing that practice with you in May as a fellow audience member, event attendee, and supporter!
Through the years, YPT has worked with youth through year-long arts education programs, curating spaces and opportunities for young people to share their stories and express themselves. As we continue to integrate antiracism and social justice into the fabric of our work, YPT Education Director Jared Shamberger designed a program for young people that would utilize performing arts as a tool for social change. Jared envisioned Students Advocating for the Eradication of Racism (SAFER), an arts education program that could support passionate young people who wanted to creatively express their thoughts and ideas on social issues that matter to them while learning how to serve their communities.
SAFER began last fall in partnership with our long-time partner Sitar Arts Center in Washington, DC! Over the last few months, eight students gathered every other Friday after school to talk about mental health and public safety in the DC area in terms of race, gender, sexuality, and gentrification. As a program centering on social advocacy, it was important to involve both local artists and DC community leaders in helping our students achieve their goals.
Samantha Davis, Founder and Executive Director of Black Swan Academy, was one of four guest speakers whose presentation guided SAFER students toward an understanding of how to turn ideas into action through a social justice lens. Black Swan Academy is a DC-based organization founded by Samantha in 2013 that facilitates workshops that foster civic leadership and engagement for Black students in DC after school. These workshops materialize into real policy work, volunteerism, and mutual aid within the DC community and beyond. Here, we posed some questions to Samantha about her mission, work in social justice, and her vision for collaboration with YPT.
“…I was one of the few young Black people in spaces where the majority of the conversation was about young Black people.”
What inspired you to found Black Swan Academy?
At the time of the Trayvon Martin verdict, I was a 25-year-old Black woman student at American University, studying public policy, and while learning about it, also witnessed the various ways that policy and systems continue to fail Black youth. And at the same time, I was in professional spaces where I was doing a lot of advocacy work and so consistently saw that I was one of the few young Black people in spaces where the majority of the conversation was about young Black people. I work mostly and at the intersection of policy and youth development and do all of that through a lens of gender justice and racial justice. And that’s what the academy was created for: the purpose of giving Black youth the tools and the opportunities to be change agents in their communities and to decriminalize Black youth—Black people for the sake of Black liberation.
“The students’ responses during my presentation at SAFER were also very much rooted in systemic change…”
What encouraged you to speak with the students in YPT’s SAFER program, and what did you learn about YPT’s work with youth from your time with SAFER students?
Any opportunity to engage young people, particularly young people of color, in the work that other young people are doing is an opportunity for us to build that power for us to shed light on yet another story on yet another experience and to get real input and critique over the type of solutions that we’re pushing forward.
My experience speaking with students in SAFER was one of inclusivity and centering the experiences of the most marginalized. Like Black Swan Academy, SAFER is very much grounded in who’s in this space and whose stories need to be told. Both Black Swan Academy students and SAFER students had drawn on their experiences of living east of the river or their experiences of being BIPOC young people or their experiences of being queer or coming from immigrant backgrounds. And so, that is something that we need more of—particularly in new spaces—and showing that young folk are proud about who they are and where they come from.
The students’ responses during my presentation at SAFER were also very much rooted in systemic change and not so much an individual or personal responsibility. Their commitment to identifying the issues at a systemic level resonated deeply with me and with the work that we do at Black Swan Academy.
“Overall, my hope for youth is safety.”
What do you look forward to seeing from students’ work in SAFER? What are your hopes for the youth today?
I’d love to see how they are going to develop their own campaigns on whatever level and move that forward, and I would love to be able to support the creation and the development of that. There’s room for convening and networking. We are also creating a number of coalition spaces for young folks across the city. So these students strike me as a group of young folks who might be interested in getting to know other folks who are just as committed to doing some of their social justice as they seem to be.
Overall, my hope for youth is safety. I want to help young folks to feel safe and want the same for their communities, and I want them to have access to all that they need for that to be true.
This season, we are grateful for the hard work and brilliance of the youth that we work with, the dedication of our staff, teaching artists and board, and the support of our community. Thank you for reading!
Dear Friends of YPT,
Nearly five years ago, YPT student Tomii told us, “If I could have one wish it would be that every student has the chance to work with YPT.” Little did we know that our response to the crisis of the past two years would teach us how to make Tomii’s wish a reality.
Today, we are serving our community through both in-person and virtual programming and productions that are relevant and broadly accessible. Our programs are providing essential creative outlets for young people who are processing the trauma of the last two years in real time. Our productions are highlighting the failures of traditional theater and embracing antiracist models for theater-making. Our new consulting initiative, AROW (Abolishing Racism and Oppression in the Workplace), is supporting organizations across our region in building safer, more just community spaces.
And yet, there is significant work to do. For the last two years, YPT has been a community-based organization physically separated from our community. We have grieved the loss of sharing space with students, with artists, and with you. As we continue to emerge from this necessary physical separation, we must reestablish and rebuild our DC community while also maintaining the new community we have built through virtual spaces across our city, region, nation, and even around the world.
At the same time, we are facing a year ahead that will require recovering from an emergency with limited remaining emergency funding opportunities, and a community of donors who are still reeling from the economic impact of the global pandemic. As a recipient of two Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loans last year, YPT was able to sustain our staff, build new virtual opportunities, and maintain the administrative space where we created our online school and digital productions. As we look to 2022, we need your help to continue this work.
YPT has long celebrated the power of telling one’s story, and we are sharing our own story with you in the hope that it will inspire you to dream big with us. In the coming year, we dream of fulfilling Tomii’s wish by making YPT programming widely accessible, both online and in-person, by producing theater that both resonates with diverse audiences and prioritizes people over institutions, and by furthering the collective action of our community to face our failures and build antiracist, just spaces where all young people and their families can truly thrive.
Please, support YPT with a donation today so we can achieve these dreams together.