The book was launched at the Busboys and Poets restaurant on 14th Street. The event included a performance of the play “Society Unjust” written by Shannon Marshall, a junior at Bell Multicultural High School in the District, who now attends Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. The play is about an old woman, dying of cancer, who is conflicted over whether to sell her house to a building developer.
YPT was founded in DC in 1995 and is currently used in schools throughout the District and Northern Virginia. More than 1,800 area students are enrolled in the program.
“We felt our model was ready to share with the rest of the country,” Brigitte Pribnow Moore, the program’s executive director, said, discussing her hopes for national expansion.
Schools in New Orleans, Baltimore, Detroit and Wilimington, Del., have shown interest in incorporating the program into their English lessons, she said.
YPT offers a 12 week program from grades four through 12. One day each week, an English class dedicates its attention to playwriting; classes are conducted by teaching artists, which include actors, directors, playwrights and stage designers. Students learn character development, plotting and pacing.
“YPT teaches students to express themselves clearly and creatively through the art of playwriting,” the book explains.
At the end of the 12 weeks, professional actors perform the skits in front of the class. Of the thousands of students who have written plays over the years, none have gotten cold feet and declined to have their play performed, Moore said.
Chelsea Kirk, who teaches high school English at New Beginnings, a youth detention center in the District, said during a question and answer session, that her students were more responsive to YPT’s playwriting program than reading Shakespeare, which she had taught them for two years.
Many of the plays her students wrote dealt with street life, teenage pregnancy and violence. Many of the students found the plays helped them cope with hard lives.
“It’s beautiful to be able to engage with that difficulty and that challenge through the art of playwriting,” Kirk said.