(All photos by Lakiem Gibbs.)
YPT’s 2016 Giving Voice Award Gala on March 12 featured spectacular speeches by WJLA’s Jummy Olabanji and the guest of honor, Shakespeare Theatre Co. Artistic Director Michael Kahn -- but the stage may well have been stolen by three of YPT’s own playwrights, high school seniors Sam Burris, Nana Gongadze and Anna Vargas.
All three young artists have been involved with YPT since middle school, and have served on our Student Advisory Council for most of their high school careers. With graduation looming, they spoke beautifully about their next steps and the impact YPT has had on their lives.
Read on for highlights from the words of Sam (SB), Nana (NG) and Anna (AV)!
When did you first get involved with YPT?
AV: YPT’s [In-School Playwriting Program] came to my 8th grade theater class. I had heard about the workshop ... and I was feeling a mix of emotions. I was really excited to start writing, but I felt a little discouraged, because ... my friends [all] had fantastic ideas from the get-go.
NG: I first met YPT back in 8th grade - 5 years ago, when I was a part of the [In-School Playwriting Program] and subsequently the New Play Festival. Since then I’ve been a member of the Student Advisory Council.
SB: I’ve been working with YPT for four years now, ever since my play was selected to be in the New Play Festival all the way back in 2012. Since then I’ve worked with ... the YPT Workshop, the Kennedy Center in partnership with YPT and last but certainly not least the Student Advisory Council.
What was it like writing your play, and then seeing it produced/published?
AV: I created not only a new piece of writing that was totally 100% mine, but also I got to experience what it was like to forge something from the ground up, just for myself. It felt fantastic. When I was stopped on my way to science class one fateful day and was told I was a Finalist for the New Play Festival, it felt even more fantastic.
NG: This work has also benefitted me by bettering my skills as a writer and a leader - the various projects and events I have been a part of, in however small a way, have given me a chance to practice applicable, real life skills and grow my confidence as a speaker. I know that even when I graduate high school and move on to bigger things in life, I won’t soon forget everything YPT and these experiences have given me.
What impact has YPT had on your life?
NG: Having YPT in my life for the last few years has been such a comfort and an encouragement for me to grow as a writer, a leader and a creative thinker. ...It has been immensely rewarding for me to make a difference in arts education, especially ultra-locally in the city that I love. ...The kids I see coming out of these programs genuinely are changed students. I’ve seen so many kids say they’ve never written a play before, but that they want to do it again. I’ve seen kids grinning ear to ear when they see their work performed, kids who don’t have a lot of these kinds of opportunities in their lives.
SB: [YPT] understand[s] that young artists so often get [so] caught in their head that rather than being flung back into the real world, we just need a gentle reminder that it exists. They understand that to us, and in many ways to them, the worlds in our heads ... are as real as the one we can see and feel. And how can I express the importance of that understanding? It has been paramount to my development as a person and as an artist.
AV: There are certain people and things that run parallel to your life, never intersecting, and I’m beyond glad that YPT wasn’t one of those things. ...YPT became the signs guiding me up the scary mountain of my life, and now that I’m at the top, I can see myself below going in so many different directions.
What’s next for you?
NG: After graduating this summer, I will be attending American University right here in DC, to study communications, art history and creative writing. I don’t know right now exactly where I’ll end up in the future - but my dream is to be a writer for a living. I love to be creative and to make art of all kinds, and having a career where I can use these skills to inspire people would be the ultimate achievement.
SB: As of right now I’m scurrying across the east coast auditioning for acting and performing arts programs, and someday I ... hope to make it big.
AV: I’m going to go to college next year and although I don’t know where that’s going to be quite yet, I know I’m going to have an opportunity to explore all of my creative interests and create more “me” things.
What advice do you have for other young playwrights in YPT’s programs?
AV: It doesn’t matter where you start, you just need to start. Let YPT help you take your first steps and guide you on your way, but the journey is your own.
NG: Be confident in your ideas. It takes a lot of bravery ... to just commit to an idea enough to start putting it down on paper. Find validity in, and be enthusiastic about, what you think up. It is uniquely yours and it has so much worth, but the only way to get better at writing is to write, so create, create, create!
SB: Never be afraid to explore the farthest reaches of your mind, for there will always be a Young Playwrights’ Theater to understand.