Past Promising Playwrights
Each month, YPT profiles a new Promising Playwright in our electronic newsletter, The Wire.
Promising Playwright, January 2020
"You want to do your best, but at the same time, you just write what goes through your head and stop thinking about it." -Elan
In Fall 2019, YPT Program Associate and Teaching Artist Claudia Rosales Waters facilitated the In-School Playwriting Program in Ms. Polk’s theatre class at Eastern High School in Washington, DC. At the time, Elan Williams, Eastern High School Senior, was rigorously working on his original short play, Lifted. In his play, the protagonist, Ocean, survives an accident that changes his life, and when a hotshot CEO offers to help Ocean cope with the ordeal, his intentions are not as genuine as they seem. Ocean wrestles with his identity as the antagonist CEO is pushing him to be someone he’s not.
“I was just trying to find a way that [the story] can be relatable to me, personally, and to other people out there,” explains Elan.
This is not Elan’s first time writing creatively in class, but he had not really thought about writing creatively outside of school until his time at YPT. “It’s definitely possible,” says Elan on taking his writing further. “I like having help from Ms. Polk and Ms. Waters, for sure. And I didn’t really think I could come to this elaborate play that I’m thinking of right now. Now, I can.”
When he’s not writing, Elan runs track after school. As a senior, he’s hoping to continue on to college to study psychology. “I’m more interested in behavior and research. I want to know why people do certain things. I think that’s really interesting.”
But first, he has to complete and present his play. In December 2019, Ms. Polk’s class invited professional actors to read students’ final plays aloud for their peers, and then students offered written feedback and reflections on each of the plays. The process from start to end for Elan was both challenging and fun. “I think that the most challenging part is trying to put things on the stage and the characters and all that stuff, and how they’re supposed to flow and move throughout, on the stage, so it looks good,” says Elan, adding that the reward is “being able to finish a scene and it makes sense.”
After having successfully completed the In-School Playwriting Program, Elan advised fellow young writers, “Have help. Just don’t overthink things too much. You want to do your best, but at the same time, you just write what goes through your head and stop thinking about it. When I do that...I think about it and try to visually see what I want to happen, and when you do that, you can write it out pretty easily for the most part. Oh, and check back over stuff.”
Promising Playwrights, Summer 2019
Elementary School Students Azaiyah and Jackelyn have been working together as one of many co-writing pairs in Mr. Jared Strange’s workshop for YPT’s All the World’s a Stage Summer Enrichment Program at Garrison Elementary School. Garrison is one of eight DC School sites hosting workshops for the program. In each class, students spent three weeks with YPT teaching artists to collaborate and write an original play. Then, for two weeks, they worked with Keegan Theatre teaching artists to rehearse and produce and the final week, they perform their play for their peers, teachers and family. At the time of this interview, Azaiyah and Jackelyn were working on a couple of scenes that are part of Garrison’s group play.
The play, currently Untitled, is about two kids, Neveah and Steve, who find a large egg on a beach and run into a time traveler who needs help getting back to his own time. But the evil Mr. Goose is trying to stop them.
“We got to pick the story and Neveah was one of the characters that we made up and Steve was another character,” explains Azaiyah. “Mr. Jared said that [our play] had to do with time, so we thought about time travel.”
The playwrights said it was fun but challenging writing the play because there were times when they didn’t know where they wanted to take the story. “We have to write a lot and add a lot of details,” says Jackelyn. “Sometimes I’d run out of details and don’t know what to write.”
But their solution around the occasional writers’ block was reviewing the dialogue they had written until they figured out what came next. Of the best part of the program, Jackelyn says: “You get to share it out in front of the class and they give us some ideas on how to fix it or make it better.”
Neither playwrights are strangers to writing. Azaiyah has written stories on her own time, while at home. “I plan on—when I grow older—to become a writer and a book publisher because lots of kids love to read books and I love books too,” says Azaiyah. “At home, sometimes, I would get this little journal and I would write things out.”
For Jackelyn, she started writing creatively in a Writing Workshop class. “In my school, we do a writer’s workshop and we have publishing parties where the teachers would come in and see what we are writing,” explains Jackelyn. “One of them was about information books, so I do that at home, like about how to pick your right clothes or how to make fruit cocktail.”
For Mr. Jared’s class, though, the students were finalizing their play so that the following two weeks they could rehearse, create props and perform. “I can’t wait to start the play. I want to see how it’s gonna turn out and how we’re going to make the egg and other stuff,” exclaims Azaiyah. The students presented their plays July 24 through July 26, 2019, at Spooky Action Theatre in Washington, DC.
Promising Playwright, June 2019
For the last couple of weeks 5th grade Brent Elementary School student Carlos has been creating a story as part of Celebrate the Creative Spark!, a DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities initiative to bring programs into DC classrooms to “spark” creativity and imagination. YPT facilitated accelerated storytelling workshops in DC schools where students drafted and presented original monologues.
Carlos’s monologue, titled Marcus’s Troubles is about a boy named Marcus from Italy who decides to steal money from his job to make a payment on his family’s home which they are about to lose. After being caught, Marcus tries to flee to the United States, and the monologue captures his inner turmoil as he is waiting for his flight at the airport.
“I gave it a lot of thought,” explains Carlos. “Since we’ve been learning about poverty in [writing class], I chose to talk about poverty and struggle in my story.”
For Carlos, this was a nice change from the fiction he usually writes. In his writing class, he has written two fantasy short stories, but this was the first time he’s written a dramatic piece. “I enjoy [writing],” says Carlos. “I can make anything happen.”
When not writing, Carlos is actively involved in Junior Coach, a peer leadership program in which students volunteer their time by doing such things as monitoring recess. After school, they learn about how to grow as leaders in school and in life and go on field trips.
Overall, Carlos has this to say for other young writers writing with YPT: “My advice is whatever they want to add to just add it. If they think it’s good, it’s good. Don’t let anyone stop it. Don’t let anyone stop you from doing it.”
Promising Playwright, April 2019
“Children can do a lot of things that adults can do, so you shouldn’t judge small people.”
Tucker Elementary School 5th-grader Arianna has accomplished a lot in her life so far, and now she is about to write her very first play.
Her play, currently Untitled, is about a teen actress named Arielle who is trying to get the lead role in a play. She must compete with her long-time rival for the chance at the starring role. “They both want this lead role that they’ve been working for all their lives,” explains Arianna, “but there are pros and cons about each actress, so they don’t know who is going to win.”
Arianna’s play came from her love of celebrities and the intrigue of actors’ lifestyles. “I’m very obsessed with a lot of actors and actresses,” says Arianna, “and sometimes I watch their videos on YouTube and stuff where they talk about how they got their lead role, and I thought I could write this kind of thing and make it a play about getting a role in a play.”
She also has acted in plays herself; her first role was the lead character in a school production of James Madison, Little Man, Big Ideas. She also writes poetry and is the 2018 Poet Laureate of Alexandria City Public Schools. Although this is her first play, she says that if all goes well, she’ll definitely want to write more plays.
When she’s not being a star on stage or reciting poetry, Arianna loves to read and is currently reading the Harry Potter series. She also runs track and likes to swim.
Arianna has big plans for the future. “I’m actually thinking about becoming the President of U.S.,” she exclaims. “I feel like politics really influences young children more than we know, and that’s sort of not fair. I want to change that and I want to sort of feel like how it would be if I was running the whole country… with help, of course.”
Arianna says she’s learning a lot with YPT and has advice for other young people who are trying to have their voice heard, “A lot of people say stay true to your dreams, but also try not to cover up any mistakes that you make, because you can learn from them.”
To the world, she says, “Children can do a lot of things that adults can do, so you shouldn’t judge small people.”
Promising Playwright, March 2019
The 6th Graders have worked very hard in the In-School Playwriting Program at Washington School for Girls (WSG) in Southeast, DC. With the help of YPT Teaching Artist Soneka Anderson, stories about friendship, espionage, ghosts and more abounded. Nyeema Lewis’ play was all that she hoped for and more. Nyeema got to see her play performed by professional actors in front of her friends, family and teachers.
Her play, This Ends Now, tells the story about a man named Donald who plans to take away the right to vote for women at all costs. But his daughter, Rosetta, will do anything she can to stop this from happening. Although entirely fictional, her play drew on social issues that are at the forefront today. For Nyeema, getting the play down on paper in YPT’s In-School Playwriting Program was complicated.
“I went through at least two or three different storylines and I started over a couple of times,” explains Nyeema. “There was this one night I just deleted everything from my other story and I started all over and it was just hard.”
In the end, though, Nyeema thought the experience writing a play and sharing it was very rewarding.
“I felt like all my work paid off because everybody was saying that I did a good job,” says Nyeema. “My dad was here and he was saying he’s proud of me.”
At WSG, everyone knows Nyeema is a writer. “Everybody calls me a soon-to-be author,” she beams. She wants to become a published author when she gets older and plans to keep writing as a hobby and see where it takes her.
As for YPT, she encourages young writers to experience the program if and when they can. “It’s a chance for you to get better knowledge about writing and a fun experience that you get to remember throughout your years of life.”
To fellow young writers, she advises, “[G]ive writing a chance because even if you’re not a reader/writer kind of person, just try it. I started out not liking it, but I did it in my perspective and the things that I liked, and I started to like it more.”
Promising Playwright, February 2019
For 5th Grade playwright and Mundo Verde PCS student Kamari, a talent show is all about the drama behind the scenes! In her new play, Top Ten (a working title), a student named Jessica moves from Spain to Paris after she is accepted into one of France’s best universities. And when the college-wide talent show is announced, Jessica signs up but must take on the notorious cheater Maria who has also entered the showcase.
Kamari says that she was inspired to write this play because of her enthusiasm for Mundo Verde’s annual variety show, an event that showcases the talents of the school community.
“Mundo Verde usually hosts a variety show each year, so I thought it would be a good idea to have a play about what goes on in a variety show,” Kamari explains.
This is not Kamari’s first time writing a play. She performed in a play based on Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers a couple of years ago, and last year, wrote her first play with YPT's After-School Playwriting Program.
When not at school, Kamari loves to read, and is an avid fan of graphic novels such as Big Nate and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. While she doesn’t know yet what she wants to do when she grows up, she knows the sky’s the limit.
About her time with YPT's After-School Playwriting Program so far this year, Kamari says, “I think YPT is really nice because you get to write a play, but you also get to learn how to write a play, and you can also be in a play if you wanted to.”