In the maze of D.C. political and activist organizations, the mission of Young Playwrights’ Theater is clear: Teaching students to create art has less to do with art and more to do with making them “realize the power of their own voices.”
Professional actors performed four new, varied, and surprisingly mature works by D.C. area teenage playwrights in Truth and Dare at Theater J on February 11. Truth and Dare was part of New Writers Now!, a biannual program of staged readings featuring professional actors. All of the evening’s plays were written through YPT’s In-School Playwriting Program, which serves over 1,800 elementary, middle, and high school students annually.
YPT brought in a group of stellar professional performers for the event, including Maggie Erwin, Kenneth Ray, Bryan Norrington, Fatima Quander, Lilian Oben, and Farah Lawal Harris. The performers did not rehearse together until the day of the performance, but worked together smoothly.
Opening remarks by Board Chair Miriam Gonzalez, Executive Director Brigitte Pribnow Moore, and Artistic Director Nicole Jost touched on the evening’s themes of secrets, misunderstandings, and hardships. Jost said the evening’s plays were selected out of 850 submissions because there was something about them YPT couldn’t forget.
The first play, In for the Kill by Ralanda Simpson, tells the story of orphan and assassin Reiko. Its twists and turns are dark and raw. One line is especially haunting: “Adults will do anything to kids, just because.” In a post-show discussion, playwright Simpson remarked that it was “funny” to see her play come to life. “What was I thinking?” she asked.
Mr. and Mrs. Evans’ Sick Dog by Ben Kassiun is about a dying dog and its blissfully unaware and ridiculous owners. Bryan Norrington did great comedic work in his role as the dog and Lilian Oben and Kenneth Ray were spot-on as the owners with dewy-eyed expressions and silly voices. Kassiun claimed it was “a lot different from what I had in mind, but interesting.”
I Was… by Jennifer Cruz is about a transgender teen, Terry, whose mother and old friends refuse to let go of “Teresa.” Cruz’s insight and poetic moments are impressive – although Terry’s mother finally cries “my son” at the end, her acceptance is too late.
Mrs. Pepper’s Room by Dorothée Mulumba is unpredictable and humorous. Maggie Erwin shined as Southern belle Ava Westly and Fatima Quander was bold and hilarious as popular girl Bridget Taylor. Mulumba said her play was inspired by her friends – they all came together in the most random ways.
After the performance and post-show discussion, a YPT alumna spoke about her experiences and made a brilliant point: A published and performed play is something many adults strive for and never achieve. It’s awe-inspiring that YPT gives this gift to young students who are too often referred to as “just kids.”
If we start saying, “Your voice matters” instead of “Wait until you’re older,” perhaps the next generation will be more inclined to raise their voice and claim their space. YPT performing student plays is activism in its most direct form.