Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Roses that Grew from Concrete: My impression of DC Young Playwrights Festival First Reading

My next acting project in the DMV (DC, Maryland, and Virginia) is with a wonderful little company called the Young Playwrights Theater (YPT). This group goes into high schools in the DC area, and conducts playwriting residences, and workshops. Annually they host the Young Playwrights Festival, a collection of plays from writers that were educated in these workshops. I'm luckily one of the actors hired to perform these new pieces.

To understand the uniqueness of YPT, you have to understand DC's public schools. DC has one of the worst school systems in the country. It has a 66% graduation rate (compared to a 93% at Howard County where I work)*. Its average SAT scores are well below the national average. The average math score is a 399 and a 404 in reading (compared to 501 and 516 for the national average)*. AYP (Annual Yearly Performance) is the minimum statistic a school needs each year mandated by "No Child Left Behind" and Obama's slightly different take "Race for the Top". It's measured through various kinds of stats compilled by the government including graduation rate, drop out rate, test scores, etc. Out of the 11 high schools in the DC system, only 4 made AYP last year*. Remember, that is the bare minimum set by government. To make matters worse it has a majority "minority" student population, with over 81% of the students African American and 11% Hispanic.*

Yet despite these obstacles, the playwrights of YPT have compiled unique and thrilling pieces. They tackle difficult topics like Gentrification to Gender Identity. I was struck on how subtle and perceptive these pieces were. Each writer had a very unique voice and topic matter, and the language was prevalent and poetic.

This is the social media generation. The kids born in the Late 90s, who have no concept of a world without facebook, or twitter. Where pop music is not a genre, but all encompassing concept. Subversive no longer exists. Materialism is the new religion, and we are quickly becoming a globalized culture. Sex has lost its soul, and is now simply an act to engage in. These kids are faced with very adult issues in an increasingly immature culture.

However for all our worry, a new perspective is developing in these children. One that we 20-somethings are failing to see and understand. It's a perspective born from a diversity that even my friends have not experienced. For example, homosexuality in when I went to high school was as distant a concept as the Middle East. We knew it existed, and even heard rumors about one or two of our peers. Walking down the hallway of the high school I work at today, I can't help but notice the same-sex couples holding hands almost definitely, or sneaking kisses before returning to class. Though it causes me to blink, the students walk by oblivious to it. This freedom is allowing these students to explore elements of their sexuality that Americans have never seen before. This environment forged the beautiful piece that I work on this Saturday; about one girl's difficulty with her gender and sexual orientation.

Working with YPT made me take a step back. With all our worries about our nation's future we fail to see the potential. That there are new and inspiring artist maturing right now, with voices that are as unique and diverse as the landscape of this beautiful country.

Young Playwrights Festival opens April 11th and runs till April 13th at the GALA Hispanic theater. Tickets are free, so if you're in the DMV please check it out. For more information on YPT check out their website here.

*Information from DC public school's website:

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