Young Playwrights' Theater inspires young
people to realize the power of their own voices.
Each month, YPT profiles a new alum of a YPT program in our electronic newsletter, The Wire.
Amazing Alumna, October 2016
“Hopefully I’ve made a difference in someone’s life or day.”
At the front desk of King-Greenleaf Recreation Center in Southwest DC, SanTresa Wright-Benjamin welcomes guests with a smile. A customer service representative with the DC government, SanTresa radiates warmth and capability, and keeps a sharp eye out for boys roughhousing in the halls.
We ran into SanTresa while holding youth writing workshops at King-Greenleaf for Crossing the Street: SW Is..., YPT’s upcoming celebration of Southwest’s past, present and future. “YPT?” she said, “I did that. I even have an old picture!”
“[YPT] helped me understand how powerful my words can be.”
Kenrry Alvarado overflows with passion for his students. Before he has even sat down, the bright, 23 year-old YPT alumnus starts gushing about the work he is doing as a ninth grade Biology teacher at Bell Multicultural High School.
“It’s really about the students,” he says. “We’re giving them the skills and the content that they need to know in order to be successful.
“I think I earned my spot in this place for playwrights.”
Nakia Greene never thought she’d be where she is today. As a sophomore at Columbia Heights Education Campus in 2014, she was shocked when she found out her play, Despair, was a Finalist for the New Play Festival. “I didn’t even expect it to be considered,” she said then. “That’s a really big achievement for me.”
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.
Read on for highlights from the words of Sam, Nana and Anna!
“It’s your story, and don’t give up telling it until it’s heard.”
Nora Spellane knows the power of a good story. The second-semester senior at Macalester College in Minnesota has been telling—and listening to—stories since she was a young girl growing up in DC.
“The theater bug had [already] bitten me,” she says, when YPT’s In-School Playwriting Program came to her ninth grade theater class at Wilson High School. “I loved having the opportunity to tell a story, and I really loved the opportunity of learning other people’s stories. I think that [YPT] is especially unique, [in] that they empower people to tell stories.”
Jhoselin Beltrán-Contreras’ eyes gleam when she talks about the arts in public schools. “I’m very passionate about theater and education,” she says. “It’s so beautiful. …It’s a shame that lots of public schools are losing their theater.”
The sophomore Education major at the University of Maryland grew up on stage, studying theater and performing in musicals at Sitar Arts Center. When YPT came into her classroom as a junior at Bell Multicultural High School, she flung herself into the playwriting process. “It was our chance to express our love for theater in our school,” she says.“I thought it was really important for YPT to be there.”
In honor of Girls Write Out! and the voices of young women everywhere, YPT’s Amazing Alumnae for October, 2015 are three of our Girls Write Out! playwrights: Nevaeh Edwards, Nora Foster and Kaitlyn Murphy!
Check out excerpts from their fun and throught-provoking post-show talkback with YPT Founding Artistic Director Karen Zacarías!
YPT alumna Reyna Rios was born to be a teacher. Quiet and gentle yet determined, she exudes patience, compassion and a commitment to social justice: hallmarks of a person bound to make a deep impact on the lives of young people.
“Being recognized for what I love to do, that’s the best feeling
in the world.”
Erin Powers has big dreams, and she won’t stop until she achieves them. The 19 year-old Film & Video major at Georgia State University aspires to a multi-faceted entertainment career, and envisions herself using her art to spread empowerment and hope.
“To see all of my hard work pay off, that’s the biggest prize ever.”
Kylie Moran found her voice through playwriting, and now she will not be silenced. The 19 year-old alumna of the In-School Playwriting Program battled bullying through much of her life, and struggled to find acceptance as she came out of the closet. But thanks to the power of the arts, Kylie found a strong community that supported her through her journey.
Alfonso Escobar believes that theater should be synonymous with community. The YPT alumnus and aspiring playwright has long used his craft to build relationships, prompt conversation and share the stories of those whose voices are rarely heard.
“YPT gives you some really amazing opportunities.”
The Student Advisory Council has a new resident satirist, and her name is Eva Sirotic. The quick-witted ninth grader at Washington-Lee High School is not afraid to tell it like it is, and her deft humor has helped establish her as one of YPT’s most promising young alumni.
“They didn’t tell us what to do—they helped us be creative and write what we wanted to write.”
Paul McCoyer began his journey with YPT as a boy, and he will end it as a young man. The freshman at School Without Walls has been involved with our organization for nearly four years, and in that time has become an integral part of our alumni network and a proud champion of our work.
“I saw in my own story the power of being asked to tell a story.”
Sarah Giffin found her calling in the In-School Playwriting Program. The 23-year-oldDC native, who recently returned to the city to work in social justice, the arts and youth development, credits our work with opening her eyes to theater’s power as an instrument of social change.
“You have the opportunity to ... put your thoughts and your words out there, and they’ll be taken seriously.”
Not every YPT student goes on to become a professional playwright. Some move to L.A.; some become teachers; some work for the Department of Defense. Some, like Andrew Ferlo, discover a passion for theater in our In-School Playwriting Program and follow it from the page to the stage.
“I literally changed what I wanted to do with my life because of this.”
Sheila Walcott has come a long way in her life: not just personally but geographically as well. A native of DC, she now lives in Los Angeles, where she works as a Manager of Original Films for the Disney Channel. But that was not her original path—not by a longshot.
“It was just like, ‘Okay, so I have a voice. I’m writing something—I have a voice.’”
The incredible journey of Manuel Hernandez began with pots and pans. Born in El Salvador and raised mostly by his grandparents, Manuel discovered a passion for percussion at a young age. “I would just take my grandma’s pots and just beat them up,” he says, “because I didn’t have the money to buy a drum.”