In their new original play, the Young Playwrights’ Workshop asks the question, “Do people change?” Set on New Year’s Eve, their latest collaborative effort delves into the lives of diverse characters, from a spoiled socialite to a hardworking waiter.
The Young Playwrights’ Workshop is an after-school student theater ensemble and part of the Young Playwrights’ Theater (YPT). The students wrote the play together and will perform it themselves when they premiere Young Playwrights’ Workshop Presents this Monday at the Source Festival.
YPT’s artistic director Nicole Jost leads the after-school workshop. Jost is a local playwright and alumna of YPT’s playwriting program. I talked with her about the show’s evolution and what it means for DC.
Joanna Castle Miller: How did the group come up with the idea for this play?
Nicole Jost: Every workshop member created their own original character, someone that they would ultimately portray onstage. The play developed from the relationships between these nine characters. This approach really allowed the students to dive deep and spend a lot of time thinking through the details of their characters’ lives. It’s been a pleasure to watch them take total ownership of them.
JCM: On a similar note, what was collaboration like? How did you all decide which parts to cut and whose ideas to take?
NJ: We had a lot of open discussions and conversations to make sure that everyone was on the same page. When an important decision needed to be made, like the title of the play, we would have a dialogue leading to a vote.
We also had a very useful in-house reading of the script that was attended by professional artists in the community. That reading helped us see the shape the play was taking, where gaps existed in the story, what scenes were really working.
A lot of material was generated through improvisation, which is a great tool for collaboration.
JCM: Why do you think the show is a good fit for the DC theater audience?
NJ: As a city we’re missing something if we don’t include people of all ages in the conversation. Too often young people are just not—their stories, their perspectives are left out. YPT seeks to share students’ voices with communities in DC to address that gap.
JCM: Will you do anything else with the piece after Source?
NJ: We don’t have any plans to remount the play. It’s very specific to the people who created it, so it’s not something that you could easily map onto a new group of actors. And next year’s workshop will create something entirely different. I think that’s a great thing.
JCM: How does the workshop differ from YPT’s other programs?
NJ: The workshop is very different from YPT’s other programs. The nine members of the workshop are the only students that we serve who both write and perform original work. The program has a heavy focus on writing, like all YPT’s programs, but students also learn to work as an ensemble, and how to use their voices and their bodies to bring their own stories to life.
JCM: How are students selected?
NJ: The application process is open to students in grades 8-12 from all over the region. We hold auditions in the beginning of the year to select members. What we look for during auditions is whether people demonstrate a willingness to learn, an openness to working with others and a strong desire to share something with the community.
It’s not necessarily about who has the most experience with theater already, but rather who’s ready to engage with the process.
JCM: What do you hope students will gain from this experience?
NJ: Most of our Workshop students go on to careers outside of theater, and I think that’s great. Of course we want to support budding playwrights and actors, and we do everything we can to help students who choose that path, but I don’t think you have to be a “theater person” to benefit from being a part of the workshop.
This kind of self-expression builds confidence. It helps you realize your own power. So I hope that this year’s workshop members gain a sense of pride in their own work, and the knowledge that they can do absolutely anything they set their minds to.
Young Playwrights’ Workshop Presents premieres Monday, June 17, at 7pm at the Source Festival. Tickets are free. The Source Festival takes place at Source, 1835 14th St. NW. Nearest Metro: U Street (Green/Yellow lines).