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!