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YPT HELPS DC YOUTH FIND THEIR VOICES
The only professional theater in DC dedicated entirely to arts education has an ambitious mission: To inspire young people to realize the power of their own voices.
Karen Zacarías founded Young Playwrights’ Theater in 1995 out of a desire to use her experience with art to positively impact her community. Since then, the program has exploded. YPT has produced more than 350 plays and reached more 13,000 students, performing for nearly 100,000 people across the DMV.
YPT works directly with students in schools in the DMV through its large array of program offerings. “I got my start with them when they came to my school through the In School Playwriting Program when I was in middle school,” said Nana Gongadze, a YPT alumna. “A play I wrote – ‘The Alligator Summer,’ a comedy about kids looking for a summer job - was chosen as part of the New Play Festival.”
Through playwriting, YPT “develops students’ language skills, and empowers them with the creativity, confidence, and critical thinking skills they need to succeed in school and beyond,” according to the organization’s website. YPT’s vision is to seek social justice by empowering all students, especially those who from underserved areas, to value their own voices and opinions.
"YPT (helped) me realize that I could be more than I already am,” said Anna Vargas, another YPT alumna and current member of their Student Advisory Council. “I’d never done creative writing before — I didn’t think I could write as well as some of my friends. YPT has helped me believe in myself.”
CATCHING THE PLAYWRITING BUG
YPT runs several different types of programs throughout the year: both in-school and after-school programs, a summer writing workshop, and the Young Playwrights’ Workshop. In addition, YPT also collaborates periodically with theaters, museums, and other institutions to create works that are relevant to current events.
Each in-school program culminates in the New Play Festival, an annual “celebration” of the voices of YPT’s students. YPT chooses several plays from its group of students and partners each writer with professional actors and directors to put on their plays in front of a public audience. The 2016 festival will take place at three different venues in DC over the course of three weeks in April.
“Seeing my play performed was the best part [of the program]. It was so cool to see how the play had come so far, and the creative choices that were made… I had never written a play before then, and the experience definitely made me catch the playwriting bug. I've been writing them ever since,” said Nana.
YPT’s upcoming performance, “Girls Write Out!” is coming to DC on Monday, October 19th, at the Forum in Sidney Harman Hall. Featuring four plays written by YPT student playwrights age 8-15, the production is part of the Women’s Voices Theatre Festival.
EXPANDING ARTS EDUCATION
YPT’s model of teaching has garnered attention from media across the nation, and the organization has won numerous awards, including the prestigious National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities in October of 2010.
The award was presented to YPT by First Lady Michelle Obama, and solidified the importance and success of YPT’s work with students.
“We all went to the White House and were asked specifically if we could bring a student,” said executive director Brigitte Taylor. “One of our students, Marianna, had written a play about missing her mom. It was so simple and beautiful. She got to go on stage and talk about her work and her experience in front of all these people, including Michelle Obama. She also got to call her mom from the White House. Anytime that I’ve been able to see the path a young person takes from beginning to end like that has just been so meaningful.”
In the future, YPT hopes to expand to even more schools across the area and reach even more students. “A lot of people are drawn to arts education—I knew that it was important because of the meaning of the arts in my own life, but it wasn’t until I saw that transformative power in these students that I really understood the meaning and power of the arts. I want to make sure every student is successful,” said Brigitte.
“I’ve learned the importance of being young and needing a creative outlet,” said Shelby, a YPT volunteer. “It gives kids the opportunity to trust their own ideas and tells them that what they think and say is important. The mission is amazing. As I was working more and more with the kids, I discovered how important their voices are, and especially how important it is to give a voice to youth in underserved areas.”