Young Playwrights' Theater inspires young
people to realize the power of their own voices.
Each month, YPT profiles a new Promising Playwright in our electronic newsletter, the Wire.
Promising Playwright, October 2014
“People don’t really get an opportunity like this.”
Tony Jones may sit like a ten year-old, but he thinks, speaks and writes like an old soul. Curled up on a plastic chair in the hallway of Harriet Tubman Elementary School in Columbia Heights, the fifth grader reflects on his time in our In-School Playwriting Program with the patient self-assurance of someone who implicitly trusts his own voice.
"Do you ever get that feeling where everything’s so good you’re almost embarrassed about it?”
YPT's young playwrights are as unique as the areas we serve, each with a personality all his or her own. Some playwrights are energetic, some are shy, some are inspiring and some are inspired. If you had to describe Josephine Crittenden in one word, it would be: precocious.
"I wasn't holding myself back when I was writing."
Chidinma Egesia is at home in the world and at home on the page. The sixteen year-old senior at Columbia Heights Educational Campushas lived in America and Nigeria, speaks both English and Igbo fluently, had her first YPT play published in the 2013 New Play Festival book and is now co-writing, acting and directing a scene in the 2014Young Playwrights' Workshop's play, Chains of Suppression.
"On my bad days it's super hard for me to focus and I really can't write anything, but ... I still try."
Nola James speaks softly and carries a big pen. Shy but sharp as a tack, the sixth grade student at the Lab School of Washington chooses her words carefully, then delivers them with a self-assurance far beyond her years.
Davon Green sits at a desk in Anacostia High School, a mischievous smile playing across his lips. Coy and charming, he reminds one of Messiah, the protagonist of his New Play FestivalFeatured Play, Death of an Attractive Thief - and Davon readily admits the resemblance.
"Messiah is a part of me. He has some hidden characteristics that ... I wish I had, but I wasn't raised that way."
Liam Wells may only be in eighth grade, but he already understands more about being an artist than many of us ever will. “When you can’t really think about anything else,” he says, “that’s what you do.”
"People always assume that teenagers don’t have anything really good to contribute to society, but… people should give us a chance to say how we feel.”
Nakia Greene, a bubbly and eloquent tenth grade student from Bell Multicultural High School, sees clearly the power of creativity and collaboration. An alumna of YPT’s In-School Playwriting Program, Nakia’s play Despair is a finalist for the 2014 New Play Festival and will be published in the New Play Festival book later this year.
"I was really determined on this. I had to have confidence, determination and I couldn't be shy. Just had to let all my ideas flow on the paper."
Nevaeh Edwards is just finishing her first semester with YPT's In-School Playwriting Program at Amidon-Bowen Elementary School. The focused fifth grade student is wiser than her years, and speaks eloquently about her interests. Her favorite class is English Language Arts.
Adrian Soriano is an infectiously happy 6thgrade student at Lincoln Multicultural Middle School. When he was in 4th grade at Powell Elementary School, he wrote a play called Video Game Disaster during YPT's In-School Playwriting Program. His YPT Teaching Artist loved the play so much that it was nominated to be a part of the New Play Festival. His play was a finalist for the New Play Festival, and it was published in the 2013 Festival Book. This week, Video Game Disaster was performed by professional actors at the Josephine Butler Parks Center in Columbia Heights as a part of YPT's New Writers Now! staged reading series.
Even as a seventh grader, Jonathan Berry is a YPT veteran. He first participated in YPTs In-School Playwriting Program when he was in the fifth grade at Bancroft Elementary School. Now a middle school student at Oyster-Adams Bilingual School, Jonathan is participating in YPTs After-School Playwriting Program. YPT provides theAfter-School Playwriting Program in area community centers and partner schools across Greater Washington, and Jonathan is participating in a program for middle school students based at Sitar Arts Center in Adams Morgan. Before enrolling in YPTs playwriting class, Jonathan was already a busy student at Sitar, taking classes in acting, hip hop dance, graphic design, video and photography. However, when his acting teacher suggested that he join the playwriting workshop, he couldnt wait to bring playwriting back to his repertoire and to work with YPT again.
"Once you get to know the people here, they’re really nice and caring, and they’ve got your back."
Max Leathers can’t wait to begin his second year in the after-school Young Playwrights’ Workshop. Last year, he collaborated with other high school students in the Workshop to write, rehearse and perform an original play in the 2013 Source Festival. The Workshop is the only YPT program in which students both write and perform their own original work.
Max grew up knowing about the Workshop. His older sister, Madison, was a Workshop member and a Promising Playwright when she was in high school. She is now a sophomore at Sewanee: The University of the South, where she participates in several student organizations, including a campus dance group. Max knew of his sister’s great experience but wasn’t old enough to join the Workshop until last year, when he started eighth grade and became the ensemble’s youngest member.
Nana Gongadze has a passion for writing. A rising 10th grader at H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program, she first got involved in YPT when the In-School Playwriting Program visited her class in 7th grade.
Nana’s play, The Alligator Summer, was produced in the 2012 New Play Festival. Nana lights up as she describes the story, gesturing excitedly. Her play is a charming coming-of-age story about a boy who wants nothing more than to enjoy the lazy days of summer, but his mother insists that he get a job. Nana explained, "I like to draw upon my own experiences when I’m writing creatively." She once saw alligators by the roadside when visiting her cousins in a small Florida town, so in the play she imagined what it might be like to be a teenager in a very different place. In the play, the boy ultimately finds a job at a wildlife preserve, working alongside his best friend.
Raven Gabrielle Koo-Koo Abbey is having a great time with YPT at camp this summer. She just started her second year at Camp Promise at the East County Recreation Center in Montgomery County. At camp, she and 120 other students get to participate in YPT’sSummer Playwriting Program, in addition to other arts, crafts and games. This is Raven’s second year at camp with YPT. She had a great time last year and she says, "I thought the activities were really fun - and it was really organized. And it was just really fun." She especially likes playing the theater games and acting out the plays written at camp.
"You get to experience someone else’s life, and you get to see someone else’s perspective."
Bernadet Assefa doesn’t do anything halfway. She began playwriting in the In-School Playwriting Program this fall, and soon joined YPT’s after-school Young Playwrights’ Workshop as well. As a member of theWorkshop, she co-wrote a play with a small ensemble of students who performed their own work in the 2013 Source Festival.
Jeba Chemeda is a second grader at Harriet Tubman Elementary School and a participant in YPT's After-School Playwriting Program. Through a Proving What's Possible Grant, YPT is partnering with Harriet Tubman to provide a year-long after-school program for first and second graders called SoJam. Students in SoJam build literacy and artistic skills through workshops in playwriting as well as acting, photography, poetry and visual art, all taught by YPT teaching artists.
Paul Schad is an eleventh grader at Chelsea School and a featured playwright in the upcoming New Play Festival. His play, Tim the Sloth, will be performed on April 23 at GALA Hispanic Theatre.
While Paul is a very talented writer, his favorite subjects are math and science. He says, "I'm more of a math person. I like to solve puzzles." In his free time he enjoys hanging out with his family - which includes two brothers, a sister and a nephew on the way - and playing video games. He also has "a lot of unique animals, like turtles, rabbits and honeybees."
Genesis Lopez is a fourth grader at Elsie Whitlow Stokes Elementary School and a Featured Playwright in the upcoming New Play Festival. Her play, An Annoying Life, is currently in the dramaturgy process and will be performed alongside six other fun, family-friendly plays on April 22.
In her free time, Genesis enjoys biking, skateboarding, roller blading and playing soccer with her brother. Since YPT came to her classroom, she has added writing to that list, as well.
Christina Schneider is a multi-talented eighth grade student at H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program. She plays competitive field hockey and soccer, has acted in a school production and at Synetic Theater's summer camp and can even pogo stick with no hands! When she's not participating in these activities, she enjoys reading, shopping and hanging out with friends. She is also a featured playwright in this year's New Play Festival. Her play, New Beginnings and Second Chances, will be produced on April 23.
When Christina learned that her play is going to be produced in this year'sNew Play Festival, she was so excited that she couldn't believe it was really happening. The experience of being a featured playwright became real for her while having her photo taken at the New Play Festival kick-off party.
Sam Burris is a ninth grader at Washington Lee High School, and recently became a published playwright as well. Sam’s play, The Stranger, was produced in the 2012 New Play Festivaland was recently published in YPT’s first nationally available book, Write to Dream.
When he got the call that his play was going to be published, Sam says it was "probably one of the greatest feelings ever. I never expected it to go very far. It was great to be part of the production process and it’s great to have it published now. It makes me so much more confident."
"In school, there is a limit to what you have to write about. In YPT there is no limit. The limit is space and other galaxies."
When 12th grader Morena Amaya is asked what she likes to do in her free time, she says, "Tough question because I do a lot of stuff." She is involved in a program that helps her apply for college, is an avid reader of fantasy novels and enjoys listening to music and spending time with her family. She is also a member of the Young Playwrights’ Workshop, an after-school student theater ensemble that works together to create, develop, rehearse and perform an original play. This year’s final performance will be on June 17 as part of the DC Source Festival, an annual three-week festival of new work.
When YPT's In-School Playwriting Program came to Patricio's eleventh grade English class in the fall of 2010, he was part of his school's poetry club. He had even had a few pieces published in a book of student poems released by local writing nonprofit, 826DC. He had never written a play, however, and was surprised to discover how quickly he picked up the art form.
"It was different, but I actually liked it!" Patricio laughs, sitting in YPT's studio on a chilly Wednesday afternoon. "I liked that I could write about what I wanted to."
When fourth grader Demi Jamison is asked what she likes to do in her free time, she proudly shows off a notebook filled with plays she is writing. Demi’s class at Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School has just started the In-School Playwriting Program. Although she and her classmates are still learning about the basic structure of a play, she is so enthusiastic that she couldn’t wait to start writing.
"I started writing in kindergarten!" six-year-old Fallou Fall says, kicking his feet as they dangle off the edge of his chair. "We started making up stories about our weekends. I made like two pages, then started going to three... then eight... then nine!"
"First, I wanted to be a teacher," six-year-old Mya Gonzalez says matter-of-factly. "But once I came into school last year, it made me realize I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write stories about people."
Mya sits perched on a chair in the common room of Long Branch Community Center in Silver Spring, Maryland, where she is finishing her second summer at Camp Promise. YPT first began offering the Summer Playwriting Program for Mya and 150 other Montgomery County students at Long Branch through an exciting partnership with the Commonweal Foundation last summer. So when Mya started at Spring Elementary School last fall, she was able to bring her new YPT knowledge with her.
"YPT is always fun because we get to play games and we get to write stories," says McKenzie Tayloe, a fourth grader at Walker-Jones Education Campus. "When we start writing, it’s always my favorite part."
McKenzie sits with her ankles crossed in the Walker-Jones library, her wide blue eyes lighting up with excitement when she’s asked how she feels about creative writing with YPT. She just finished her second year in YPT programming through Walker-Jones’ enrichment program for high-performing students, but her experience as a storyteller goes back even further.
"I like to read a lot," says fourth grader Kani Green, sitting in the library at Walker Jones Education Campus. "I like to create my own stories, and I like to see them come to life." He leans back in his chair, his trademark dreadlocks hanging in front of his face while he talks. Kani has worked with YPT through Walker Jones’ Gifted and Talented Program since last year, but his interest in writing started even earlier.
A few years ago, Kani was inspired after reading a mystery book. "That’s when I started wanting to make up my own stories," Kani says. So when a YPT teaching artist came into his classroom in 2010 and said every student in the class would be writing an original play, Kani was ready. "YPT really lets me use my creativity," he says with a smile. "My favorite class was the day when I first thought of Peppy."
"I think I have to have a career in theater," Julie Kashmanian says earnestly. "I can’t imagine doing anything else."
Since she can remember, Julie has loved creating stories. Now an eighth grader at H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program, she spent her childhood inventing wild original tales. Before she had even learned to write, she would dictate stories for her parents to transcribe while she did the illustrations. So when YPT’s In-School Playwriting Program came to her school last fall, she felt ready to write her first play. But the night before the first draft was due, she sat down at her computer and felt stuck.
"I like to be funny," Aayanna Collier says with a grin. "Ilove to make up songs. I wrote a song about how awesome I am."
It only takes a few minutes sitting opposite the fourth grade student, at a small desk in Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School, to tell that she is a natural entertainer. She sits poised on the edge of her seat as if ready to spring into action, and her brown eyes light up as she talks about wanting to be an actress when she grows up and how Beyoncé is her hero. But her strongest talent seems to be creating her own material.
While reading the hilarious and inventive playFrozen Cactus by Shawn Lee, you would never guess that the playwright doesn’t really consider himself a writer. Between basketball and soccer, drawing and dancing, Shawn never really had the time-or, he admits, the patience-to write. But when he joined YPT’s In-School Playwriting Program at Ballou High School halfway through last semester, he found the inspiration to write, and the patience soon followed. Frozen Cactus was selected as one of 12 out of over 700 plays to be produced in YPT’s New Play Festival this spring.
When Lillian Keller was in the third grade, she heard that her school’s newly created drama club would be performing James and the Giant Peach, which just happened to be one of her favorite books. "I thought, oh, that’ll be fun!" says Lillian, now a fifth grader at Bancroft Elementary School. From that moment on, she was hooked. She’s been involved in theater ever since.
"I have no idea what I want to do for a career," Jenna Blanton laughs, sitting in the Swanson Middle School music room."I’ve been thinking about it, trying to find what I really like, but I can’t seem to choose just one thing that I want to go for."
Eighth grader Jenna’s diverse interests are obvious in the play she wrote for YPT’s In-School Playwriting Program last semester, Lost in the Jungle. Her main character, Alice, travels to the jungle to work with her biologist uncle, but when she arrives, her world collides unexpectedly with two young tribal warriors.
"Initially, I thought we were going to perform our play for little kids, so I wrote a fantasy, but once I realized we could do whatever we wanted, I decided to make it a comedy/adventure, though a fantasy at the same time," shares Ubochioma Obi Ukaegbu, or Obi,a senior at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School.
"In my play, there is a male who is a boxer and a female who is a dancer and they are trying to cope with each other and trying to go to prom. I did boxing and I did dancing, so I tried to separate myself into those two different characters," explains Edwin Martinez.
A year after he was in the In-School Playwriting Program at Bell Multicultural High School, a friend of Edwin’s invited him to join YPT’s after-school Young Playwrights’ Workshop.
"One day I was walking on Georgia Avenue with some friends, and we were looking for a corner store and couldn’t find it. Instead, we saw a big condominium where the corner store used to be," shares Shannon Marshall. "When we saw that, we were like, ’Wow, what is going on?’"
Shannon’s experience of the gentrification happening in her own neighborhood inspired her to write Society Unjust, which was performed as part of the 2011 New Play Festival. Society Unjust is about a 73-year-old woman faced with the difficult decision of whether to sell her home to a developer to pay for her medical expenses.
"I like challenges," explains KaMiya Barett, an eighth grader at Lincoln Middle School. "If it’s above my level, I will do it because it challenges me to work harder."
When YPT came into her classroom, KaMiya rose to the challenge. "People think that the hero always wins and is tough, but sometimes the villain can be tough too; it’s just that they have a bad way of showing it," explains KaMiya. "I wanted to show how sometimes it can be backwards, and instead of the hero winning, sometimes the villain wins."
"I’m gonna write my play about a panda bear whose name is Lola. She’s a very cool girl, and she’s a very popular person, and she’s really nice," explains Sky Stringer, a fourth grader at Watkins Elementary School. "She goes to a store and gets a magical purse, but this other girl wants it who goes to her school, and she’s a bully - but she also dresses nicely. They both fight over the purse, but it ends happily. At the end, they both get the purse, but the bully gets a purple one and she gets a gold one."
Eleventh grader Ian Real is used to moving to new places. He has lived in Germany, California, New Jersey, Illinois, Kentucky and Argentina. So, when the U.S. Airforce sent his father to Washington, DC in January of 2011, Ian was already on the lookout for new ways to meet people.
A new friend from Bell Multicultural High School invited him to the Young Playwrights’ Workshop, and he decided to join. "The first time I went to the Workshop, I was greeted," he remembers. "TheWorkshop relaxed me and gave me confidence, as well as strengthened me as an actor through constructive criticism and acting concepts. It’s a release."
"YPT is fun. They come to my class all the Wednesdays, and I like being there because it’s exciting. It’s fun!" explodes Elijah Brown, a fourth grader at Watkins Elementary School.
Elijah hasn’t finished his play yet, but he is looking forward to seeing it performed. "We get to write our own plays and then other people perform it," he shares. "I’ll get to see it myself. They’ll do MY play!"
"Before you judge a person, get to know them because you might actually like them," says Christina Sheler, a senior at Benjamin Banneker Senior High School.
Christina’s play, The Antistereotypical Dinner, is about a young interracial couple, Janae and Han, who decide to tell their families about their recent engagement -- and their three year relationship -- on the same day.
"Creativity means being unique," explains seventh grader Ann Gill.
Ann is full of creative energy. In addition to playing drums in her church’s choir, cheerleading, and writing fictional stories on her own, she has just finished her first play, The Day After Bob Said, "Yeah, Right," which was selected to be performed as part of the New Play Festivalon April 11.
"I really like making money," says Paul McCoyer sheepishly. "I wanted to write about something that could happen in real life, something that was also kind of interesting and a little funny."
Paul’s slapstick satire Money, Money, Money will be performed at the New Play Festivalon April 11. In the play, two friends, Jack and Renaldo, start a lemonade stand together, but are driven apart by greed and a series of hilarious circumstances. Paul based the character of Jack on himself and Renaldo on a friend of the same name. "I think Renaldo’s kind of happy to be in my play," Paul explains with a smile. "He’ll be a little bit famous."
"Everybody needs a little happiness in their life," says Reyna Rios with a smile. "I think if you write about a topic that is happy and joyful you can make somebody’s day happier and brighten it."
When YPT came into her eleventh-grade English classroom at Bell Multicultural High School, Reyna seized the opportunity to inspire people with her words. "At first I was just going to write about a gossip scenario, but then I thought, ’How is that going to change anyone? How is that going to have an effect on a person’s life?’ I wanted to do something more meaningful, which is how the idea for my play came up," she explains.
“Just believe in yourself. You know you can do it,” Joneya Simpson says. This is her advice for other young playwrights who may feel nervous about writing their first play. Joneya experienced playwriting for the very first time when Young Playwrights’ Theater brought the In-School Playwriting Program into her 6th grade classroom at the Evans Middle School campus of the Maya Angelou Public Charter School.
“I was inspired to write my play by my best friend Dasia,” Joneya says. “She wants to work at the Rainbow City Mall when she grows up.” In the play, Joneya’s protagonist disagrees with her mother over whether a job at the mall is a good idea. “Her mother doesn’t want her to leave school. She wants her to be a success in life,” Joneya explains. Her play ultimately has a happy ending, with the main character deciding to stay in school but work at the mall over the summer. The mother character says, “You are old enough to make your own decisions.”
“I like to write poems about animals, food and about my mom,” Donyeah Phillips says. Now, because of YPT’s In-School Playwriting Program at his school, Donyeah also enjoys writing plays.
“My play was about me and my sister, Jaz,” Donyeah explains. “In the play she’s always going out to play with her friends but I want her to stay home with me. So I use candy that has special powers to make her stay at home.”
Donyeah’s sister, Jaz, is five years old. “She goes out a lot,” Donyeah says. “She goes to the playground and stuff.”
Sydney Person is a fifth grade student with a passion for snakes. Whenever he talks about them his eyes and smile grow improbably wide. “I like how they’re slithery, and dangerous, and I like how they kill things by squeezing them to death,” he explains. “And how they eat them and their jaws open so wide it’s crazy.”
Sydney’s enthusiasm is charming and he can speak with similar zeal on a number of topics. Right now he’s excited about the play he wrote with YPT’s In-School Playwriting Program.
“It’s about Chocolate Choco and Chocolate Fudge,” he begins. “They’re brothers but they haven’t seen each other in 18 years. Chocolate Fudge used to live in Hawaii with his friend Kit Kat, but then Chocolate Choco called him and said to go to Las Vegas where there was a talent show. So he tried to steal Kit Kat’s speedboat…” The story goes on. Eventually they meet up with Alvin the Chipmunk who happens to be a shape shifter in this play.
“I like to be popular,” Aaliyah says, smiling. She fiddles with the strap of her red purse that matches perfectly with the red ribbon in her hair and her red polo shirt. The gold hoop earrings she wears are shaped like hearts.
“My play is called The Fab Five: Confessions of a Party Girl,” Aaliyah explains. “It’s about this girl named Ariyanna. She’s really popular. Her father is the President and her mother is the principal of her school. So if the teachers get on Ariyanna’s case about being too popular then her mother can defend her. The other girl in the play is Chelsi. She’s not popular and she wants Ariyanna to stop being popular. She keeps bossing her, acting like she’s her mother, but she’s not.”
“In the end Chelsi loses and Ariyanna wins,” Aaliyah says, grinning. “Ariyanna is still popular, like me.”
Robert Scalzo participated in Young Playwrights’ Theater’s In-School Playwriting Program as part of his fourth grade class at Lafayette Elementary School.
“I wrote a really funny play,” he says, smiling. “It’s about a really weird rich dude named Captain Po Po Money Britches who wants to get a red trash can from another guy. They don’t have a lot of dialogue. They just stare at each other for long moments and make funny faces.”
“I’ve wanted to become a famous singer and dancer since I was three,” fifth grader Jalen Hamilton-Ross says, smiling. Right now Jalen is basking in the glow of a successful performance of his original play. He wrote the play as part of YPT’s In-School Playwriting Program and on this, the final day, he has just watched professional actors read it aloud in front of the class.
“It felt good to have them read it because I was like, maybe it will be really funny,” he says. Jalen worked together with his friend Sydney Person to develop the concepts for his play. Then each boy wrote their own version of the main events. Jalen’s play included a rap.
"The idea just kind of popped into my head and then it went down on paper," Lindsay Pierce explains matter-of-factly. She is talking about the creation of her original play, Popularity Schemes as part of YPT’s In School Playwriting Program at Lafayette Elementary School.
In Popularity Schemes two girls contrive to become the most popular girl in school by telling rumors about each other.
"It’s more of a scene you’d see unfold in a high school or middle school hallway," Lindsay explains, going on to clarify, "I don’t have older brothers or sisters, but I hang out with fifth graders."
"Writing the play was fun," Lindsay reports. "The stuff Miss Laurie told us was helpful. It was fun to come up with my own idea and not have any rules about what I was supposed to write."
Lillie Lainoff was inspired to write her play Somewhere Over the Rainbow by watching two friends deal with the loss of their fathers.
"I have two friends that recently lost their fathers from accidents or non-age-related consequences," Lillie says. "It really hit hard for both of them. I wanted to write something for both of them to show them that other people were thinking of them and they didn’t have to go through it alone."
In Lillie’s play a 12 year old girl grieves for her father all over again after her workaholic mother thoughtlessly donates her teddy bear to charity. It had been a gift from her father. The two characters struggle to communicate.
Cassidy Boomsma is in the eighth grade at Swanson Middle School in Arlington, Virginia. Middle school can be a confusing time. Some students are still interested in creative play and games, while others begin to turn toward high school pursuits, like dating and algebra. Cassidy captures the contradictions of this phase in her play Love, Math and Martians Don’t Mix.
Lucy: Don’t you wanna go to the park?
Thaddeus: I veto that idea. I don’t engage myself in useless and frivolous behavior. Now run off and leave me unaccompanied.
"I was inspired by the people I see at school," Cassidy says. "When I was little I used to play rocket ship." Now Cassidy likes to hang out with her friends, read and check her e-mail. "I don’t know what I want to be yet, but I’m thinking maybe a lawyer or a doctor," she says. "That would be interesting."
Lucio: Now. I will tell you my most trusted fellows something truly remarkable. This script. The script I have in my hand is the source of all my power. With it I can write anything.
With this line, playwright Kenrry Alvarado demonstrates a keen understanding of theatrical convention, even as he defies it. Such sophistication makes it hard to believe that Daft Desire is only Kenrry’s first play.
"I’m a movie buff," Kenrry explains. "My friends come to me when they want to find out what to watch. I watch a lot of movies. When I was writing Daft Desire I was thinking about Kill Bill. I wanted to write from a feminist point of view, to deviate from the usual guys as protagonists. So I made the main character female."
"I was excited. I just kept being like ’Oh wow. Wow. Wow. Oh,’" says Kalia Snowden of the moment she learned that her play was chosen to be part of YPT’s New Play Festival. "I had a wowzer moment," she says.
Kalia is in the 9th grade at Wilson High School. She lives in Adams Morgan with her grandmother and brother.
Her play 3434 depicts a futuristic world in which science has rendered women and girls unnecessary and illegal. "Usually, I’m the actress not the playwright. I was just thinking about the most snooty role, to the point that there’s no arguing that you’re the star," she explains. "Then I was like, ’What if I was the only girl in the play? What if I was the only girl in the WORLD?’"
Charlee Mize is the first student you see in the YPT Documentary. She stands confidently next to YPT actor Fatima Quander and invites the audience into the tale:
Fatima: Let us tell you a story!
Charlee: Yes, let’s begin.
"I was amazed when I saw the YPT Documentary," Charlee enthuses. "I was one out of a bunch of students that are playwrights. I felt chosen."
Charlee is in the 5th grade at Key Elementary in Washington, DC. This fall she participated in YPT’s In-School Playwriting Program at Fillmore Arts Center. "I wish I could do it again this spring!" she says. "Since it’s not offered, I think I’ll study Shakespeare, sculpture and geometry."
"My character is like me in some ways. She says funny stuff. She asks random questions," says Karen Ocon. "But then, she’s also straightforward. She speaks her mind. She is direct with her anger."
Karen is speaking of Yuuki, the heroine of The Vampire Prophecy, a play she has written through YPT’s In-School Playwriting Program. Karen enjoys vampires, but is not particularly interested in the Twilight series. She is more inspired by Japanese animation and events from her own life. Her advice to other aspiring playwrights is to "think of the moments in your life that were sad or happy, that give you passion, and try to write something from that."
"I just write. I don’t think about it. But for some reason, it’s always a hit."
- Nathan Sanders
Nathan Sanders is a senior at Bell Multicultural High school. He is an accomplished debater, and a student in the Young Playwrights’ Workshop, participating in both the acting and playwriting programs. Nathan loves to entertain, and believes his talent will take him far.
"People Magazine and the New York Times are going to get a piece of me," he says with a confident smile. "Even though I’m not 100% sure that I’ll make it as an actor in the movies, I’m 200% sure that I’m going to try."
"You can be the best, but there’s always someone better."
This line is spoken by both the hero and the villain in De’Vanti Shouff’s play The Other Side of the Mirror. De’Vanti’s play was selected from among his peers to represent Bell Multicultural High school at the 2009 New Play Festival. The Other Side of the Mirror presents a hero’s fall in a noir style.
"I like the old black and white detective films," De’Vanti says. "Sometimes you don’t know who the real protagonist is until you get to the very end."
De’Vanti’s play is similarly mysterious, and he deftly weaves the theatrical elements together to heighten the conflict in the final moments, even suggesting that Beethoven’s "Moonlight Sonata" be played. "I thought that song had a sad tone, and I wanted to suggest to the audience that something sad was about to happen," De’Vanti explains.
De’Vanti’s play was presented at the New Play Festival. "I thought it was awesome," he enthuses. "I didn’t think it would come together as well as it did. I was worried about the ending."
"When I got up to read my part in front of the big audience, I thought I might embarrass myself. But I didn’t. That feels pretty good."
- Daniel Nguyen
This summer Daniel Nguyen participated in the Horizons at Maret program, and worked with his classmates and YPT to create an original play about vampires and soccer. The class then performed a staged reading of their original play A Very Strange Soccer Game for all of the students in the Horizons program.
"YPT is fun. I consider the staff like my family, because I’ve been here for so long. I feel comfortable."
- Mercedes Gramajo
Mercedes Gramajo has been working with Young Playwrights’ Theater since 2007, first as a student in the In-School Playwriting Program at Bell Multicultural High School, then as a participant in the Young Playwrights’ Workshop for three semesters. She has written original plays, performed her own writing, and served as an actress for other students’ plays as well.
"I didn’t know that I could stand on a stage and express myself. Now I know that I can, and I want to keep on doing it."
- Heidy Lovo
Heidy spoke these words on Monday June 8th as she stood on the stage at GALA Hispanic Theatre, having just performed an original monologue as part of New Writers Now! Her piece explored miscommunication in an elementary school classroom between a recent immigrant and his schoolteacher. Inspired by John Leguizamo, Heidy transformed a memory from her own past into a hilarious performance, playing multiple roles and speaking in English and Spanish.
Heidy is unafraid to try new and often wacky things, and though she has multiple family obligations and a lot of school work, she makes it a point not to miss her sessions with the Young Playwrights’ Workshop.
Madison Leathers is a ninth grader at Capital City Public Charter School. She is a member of the Young Playwrights’ Workshop, participating in both the Tuesday acting sessions and the Wednesday playwriting group.
She lives with her mom, dad, and little brother in Northeast DC, in the neighborhood of Woodbridge. She enjoys softball, skateboarding and playing the piano, violin and guitar. She has been playing the acoustic guitar since she was in the 5th grade and plans to use her stipend from the workshop to buy an electric guitar. "I need it for my band Romeo is Dead," she says. The rock group has five members and plays both original songs and cover songs. Madison co-wrote their song Just Walk Away with band member Melissa Paiz.
In a few years Madison hopes to attend either Berkeley or NYU to study writing, music or forensic science.
"If YPT hadn’t come into my classroom that day, I wouldn’t have this passion to write," Kamilia Epps said as she spoke to the audience after her play For Which It Stands was presented at New Writers Now!
Kamilia wrote her play in 2005, as part of YPT’s In-School Playwriting Program at Bell Multicultural High School. She is now a college student and contract employee for the Department of Labor and was thrilled to see her work performed by professional actors. "I felt like a god in a sense, just sitting there seeing something that I have created being brought to life," Kamilia says. "Not to mention the actors performed the characters exactly the way I imagined them, or better."
"It’s been very powerful for me to return to YPT after finishing school," says Nicole Jost. "As an artist, I believe it is my responsibility to create opportunities for others to express themselves, especially those that might not already have access to such opportunities. My job allows me to do that."
Nicole Jost has been affiliated with Young Playwrights’ Theater since 2002 when she was a sophomore at Wilson High School. In September of 2007 the YPT Wire profiled her work as a college intern, teaching the summer playwriting class at Bell Multicultural High School. This past fall YPT was thrilled to have Nicole join its team as Program Assistant. She works with associate director Patrick Torres to administer YPT’s programs serving over 500 students throughout DC.
"I don’t do serious plays," Pete Hall says. "I do comedy because I want to see people smile. There are so many things going on in the world today that make people depressed, so I like to give them something to make them laugh."
Pete is a senior at Bell Multicultural High School and a natural comedian. At last year’s New Play Festival his play Keepin’ Outta Trouble had many laughing to the point of tears. Now, Pete is a member of the Young Playwrights’ Workshop and his latest work Save ’Da Planet Fool! will be featured at Monday’s New Writers Now! Green Growing and Original. In Save ’Da Planet Fool! environmentally-minded gang members take over a TV news station to spread their anti-pollution message.
Narrator: It is the year 2020. Media plays the role of government in the lives of school children. Children are forced to learn through video games, the Internet, and watching aimless hours of TV. However, there are some who want to break away.
Nerd 2: Don’t you think it’s time that we start a revolution?
So begins Priscilla Ward’s sci-fi play, Twilight, a meditation on the influence of media on education in America.
"I’d been reading George Orwell’s 1984 and Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death and I was inspired to write about how our culture is influenced by the media," Priscilla says. "We’re so influenced by what we see. Sometimes people just take the information in like robots instead of thinking on their own."
"This is how life works. You don’t always get what you want."
This refrain is repeated by multiple characters in Jorge Hernandez’s play The Last Goodbye. It betrays a world-weariness that is not immediately apparent upon meeting the playwright. Jorge is sunny and hopeful, polite and inquisitive. He is in twelfth grade at Bell Multicultural High School and hopes next year to attend George Washington University or Harvard.
"Some people have told me that it won’t be possible," Jorge says, "but I’m still dreaming." He smiles broadly.
"Some people think that the fact that they’re young means that nobody will listen," Mayra Rivera says. "Through YPT I learned that people do listen. Just express yourself and don’t care what other people say."
"I’m dedicated to what I do," Maurice Olden says. "I want to be an actor. I like changing into different characters."
Maurice got his start six years ago with Young Playwrights’ Theater. As a 4th grader, Maurice helped to create and perform Hip Hop Pinocchio working with YPT after school. He remembers fondly their performances at such diverse venues as grocery store grand openings and the Kennedy Center’s Millenium Stage. "I liked reading my own lines in front of a crowd," Maurice says.
Julius Johnson will be the first male in his family to go to college. He is humble when asked if he thinks of himself as a role model. "My little brothers can’t wait for me to leave already," he says. "They want my room." Then he adds, "I know they’ll miss me."
This self-deprecating humor is typical for Julius. "I just love to laugh and have fun," he says. "That’s my thing. Separate the balance between fun and work."
I am the earthquake that quivers the ground
but yet I don’t make a sound.
I am the reflection of the moon and stars
on the sun’s face!
I am the twinkle in the eye of
the less fortunate,
yet with laughter and grace.
And I am the speed of the track star’s run
but never counting my pace.
And I am the rich man’s daughter
but in my mansion there’s no quiet place.
At fourteen, Gerson Blanco is a YPT veteran. His first play, Renny vs. Javier was produced as part of New Writers Now! in 2007. His latest work, The Black Sheep was just featured in the 2008 New Play Festival.
"I thought the Festival would be like the first time," Gerson says, "like just a small place. But then, when I saw how big it was and all the people arrived I got kind of scared. But then, when I got up on stage, I don’t feel nothing. I was confident," Gerson says, smiling broadly. He smiles too as he remembers the actors. "That last guy! He was so funny. His face was so funny," Gerson grins, recalling Cesar Guadamuz’s performance.
"It’s really hard for a person to realize the truly precious things in life as they are living it. Sometimes it is not until you’re about to lose everything, not until that moment when it all becomes clear," says Engedasew Menkir. He is speaking of a key moment from his play Puzzle.
As a student who immigrated from Adis Ababa, Ethiopia only three years ago Enge has had the opportunity to consider what really matters from multiple perspectives. He is currently a student in the 11th grade at Bell Multicultural High School.
Sophie Reveal’s ideas flow faster than her words. She is bursting with creative energy and trips over herself to get the words out fast enough. She examines each idea from all perspectives, telling the story over again to make sure she said it the right way.
In her play A Chocolate Covered Adventure the miniature candies who make up her cast of characters are similarly snappy with their repartee:
Dark Chocolate: Curses! Foiled again. Get it? Foiled? We’re candies...wrapped in foil? I crack myself up.
"You can be friends with anyone, no matter who you are."
This is the moral of Jane Stirling’s play, The True Power of Friendship. A third grader at Key Elementary, Jane has been working with Young Playwrights’ Theater as part of her arts programming at Fillmore Arts Center.
Her play will be featured at this month’s New Writer’s Now! on January 28th. When her parents heard her play had been chosen to be featured at our event, her mother wrote, "We’re so happy to see that her abilities are finally catching up with her imagination."
"You may shoot me with your words. You may cut me with your eyes. You may kill me with your hatefulness, but still, like air, I’ll rise."
- Maya Angelou
Sitting in the front row as their play is performed, Elmo and Diamond cannot help but join in and speak the rhythmic pulsing words along with the performers. They giggle and tap each other on the shoulder at key moments.
Eronmwom "Elmo" Oviasogie and Diamond Miales are the honored guests of YPT’s November edition of the staged reading series, New Writers Now! Working with a group of seven other girls in YPT’s After-school program at Kelly Miller Middle School in the Spring of 2007, Diamond and Elmo created I Rise. Their play was based on Maya Angelou’s poem "Still I Rise." Now Diamond and Elmo sit in the front row of the Woolly Mammoth Theatre and watch as professional actors enact the roles.
Destiny Jackson wants to be the first African American woman president of the United States of America.
If this 11-year-old does eventually assume the highest office in our land, she may feel right at home in the White House. Last year, with YPT, Destiny took a private tour of our nation’s first home guided by the head curator of the White House Historical Association.
"We met Barney, the White House dog, " Destiny remembers, "and we got to see all the different rooms. The place was huge. Colossal. You could get lost there!"
Nicole Jost writes strong female characters who advocate fiercely for their rights and desires.
The power of her voice first became apparent to YPT in 2002 when she wrote The Fear and The Pope as a sophomore in the In-School Playwriting Program at Wilson High School. That play featured the exploits of two criminal masterminds as they balanced the promise of love against the possibility of a life of wealth and power.
"I can achieve any goal I set my mind to. Yes, I can. I know I can."
Berta Gonzalez wrote this line for the character Javier in her play Learning to Say Goodbye. Javier uses these words to summon his strength and confidence as he leaves his family for the first time to go to college far from home.
It is with equal courage and assurance that Berta prepares to make her own journey to Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida this fall. Although she is not the first child in her family to go to college, she is the first to leave home to attend school and she anticipates that the change will be a challenging one.
"Man, you don’t even write no more," Aaron Boose’s friend said to him on the day he was suspended from Wilson Senior High School back in 2002. His friend’s words were a sharp indictment. Aaron had always written poetry and, in 2001, through work with YPT, he had become a playwright. His play, From Da Bricks to Wall Street, co-written with classmate Johnny Burton was performed at Woolly Mammoth in the fall of 2002 as part of the New Play Festival.
"It was so good because I had my family there. Everybody loved it. We met the actors before that. It was so good," Aaron remembers. "Before YPT, I never thought of writing that way. I never thought I could write anything that maybe children would watch actors perform out in the schools."
In 1999, YPT made a big impression on Cecelia Jenkins. She was a shy 6th Grader at Hardy Middle School when she started the After-School Playwriting Program at Fillmore Arts Center with Karen Zacarias. Cecelia says of her first impression of Karen, "She was very very nice and she was easy to talk to. With writing, if someone is that way, it’s so much easier. Anything you write is personal so if someone is nice and respects you it makes it a whole lot easier."
Cecelia’s play Friendship: The Wonka Wonka Cool Girls Club was selected to be part of the 1999 Tour, and was performed city wide. Cecelia recalls the day when the play came to her school. "Everybody loved the play. They were laughing and couldn’t believe it was me who wrote it because I was a little shy girl. The whole school liked it," she remembers.
Sheralyn Saunders is the picture of confidence and creativity. Her play, Say Goodbye, was featured on March 26th at New Writers Now. At Busboys and Poets after the show, she is all light and energy, flashing hands and bright smiles. Yet, as a dramatist, she’s not afraid to work in darker tones.
"Don’t be afraid to be different when you write. You can’t go wrong. It’s self expression. It’s you and the pen. You can bring anything to life," Sheralyn says.
In his play, Who’s the Big Bad Wolf? Christian Blanco takes an all-too typical domestic abuse situation and raises the stakes to fantastical new heights. The protagonist, Brian, watches in terror as his stepfather transforms into a werewolf, complete with claws and teeth. The violence he experiences in his home drives Brian to find a creative outlet.
(Rubble-strewn streets. Six soldiers are cautiously moving through the debris, guns raised. Explosions can be heard in the background. A block of cinder falls off a building and slams into the ground next to one of the soldiers.)
This is how Kyle Sumner’s play Impasse begins. A tale of friendship and war in Iraq, it is exceptional not only for its emotional candor and depth but also for the specific detail with which Kyle vividly renders the world of his play.
Beneath her quiet, composed exterior, Lyndsey Newsome’s mind is busy churning out detailed scenes of unexpected comedy. “I’ve never been the type of girl to fit in. A lot of the kids at school bore me, so I just go into la la land and make stuff up.”
Irene Wu is a young woman of strong opinions and great ambition. Like the determined protagonist of her play, All’s Fair in Love and War, who’d rather live the life of a dashing knight than a cloistered princess, Irene will not be underestimated.
Josie Guevara Torres is an 8th grader at Capitol City Public Charter School. Her play Trouble Quinceañera was featured in November 2006’s New Writers Now! "I was nervous at first but then when I saw the play it actually made me feel better," Josie said.
Trouble Quinceañera is the story of a latina girl, Cindy, on the eve of her 15th birthday. Cindy hopes to have a big, traditional celebration for her "quince" but has to face the sad reality of her father’s unemployment. In the end, her friend Alejandro finds a way to make Cindy’s 15th birthday truly special.
Kyrtham Franco is a sixth grader at Capitol City Public Charter School and the author of Magnet Dude, featured in the Fall 2006 Express Tour.
In Magnet Dude, the title character faces the trials and tribulations of life as a super hero. Kyrtham’s comedy was inspired by his love of cartoons. He advises other aspiring writers "Just plan and write all your ideas down. Then do a final one and present it in front of an audience so they can critique it."
Fernando Romero graduated in May 2006 from Antioch College with a major in theatre. His life as an actor is one he could have little imagined as a young boy growing up in a mountain village without water or electricity in El Salvador.
The transition from his childhood in El Salvador to his adolescence in Washington was the topic of a play My Story Fernando wrote with YPT. Fernando first became acquainted with YPT while he was a student at Bell Multicultural High School. After graduation, YPT offered Fernando a job, first as a receptionist and then as a Program Coordinator from 1999-2002. Founder Karen Zacarias gave him his first acting job with YPT’s Express Tour.