Backstage

First lady to present award to Young Playwrights' Theater

write on: Fatima Quander, left, and Wendy Nogales in "Mariana's Wish" by Mariana Pavon Sanchez.
write on: Fatima Quander, left, and Wendy Nogales in "Mariana's Wish" by Mariana Pavon Sanchez. (Erin Williams/the Washington Post)
By Jane Horwitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 20, 2010

First lady Michelle Obama will present a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award Wednesday to the Young Playwrights' Theater (YPT), which teaches playwriting in Washington area schools. YPT will receive $10,000 to expand its programming.

The award comes from the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, in partnership with the National Endowments for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Now in its 15th season, YPT sends teaching artists to Northern Virginia and Washington schools to help about 1,000 children in grades 4 through 12 write short plays, which are then performed by professional actors.

Eleventh-grader Mariana Pavon Sanchez, 19, of Wakefield High School in Arlington County, will read part of her play, "Mariana's Wish," at the White House ceremony. Originally from Nicaragua, she wrote about how she persuaded her father to let her fly there alone to visit her ailing mother last year.

When YPT teaching artist MegGreene came to her class, Mariana says, she first balked at trying to write a play. "I was like, I don't know even how to speak a lot of English, so how can I write a play?" she recalls. (See excerpts of "Mariana's Wish" and other plays at http://www.yptdc.org.)

"I decided to write about my life -- a little bit of my life -- so it was fairly easy," Mariana says. When she saw her work onstage, she says, "my heart was thumping hard. That really made me happy. I'm so happy and I know my Mommy's happy. . . . My cousin [in Nicaragua] translated it for her."

YPT's producing artistic director and chief executive, David Andrew Snider, says, "Now, a year later, she is speaking to the first lady and getting a chance to perform part of it ["Mariana's Wish"] in the East Room of the White House. . . . It's an extraordinary example of what happens when you ask students to share their stories, to share their words, to really put themselves forward and . . . let them know that what they have to say matters."

YPT's 2010 showcase of plays will run at GALA Hispanic Theatre Nov. 3-6.

GNP's new product

The political satirists of Gross National Product will shortly be at it again, poking politicos in the patootie. Their show "Don't Tea on Me," a mix of skits and audience-suggested improvs, opens Thursday at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street NE and will run through Nov. 6 (http://www.gnpcomedy.com).

"We're going to do a fake Tea Party rally beforehand," says GNP founder John Simmons. "We're going to have different people in the sketch, holding different signs, and we have our little Palinettes and O'Donnell types." One placard, he adds, will say "Manifest Destiny -- The Original Border Patrol," another "Speak English, You Morrans," deliberately misspelled.

GNP, which came into existance in 1981 spoofing the Reagan presidency with "A Bonzo Christmas Carol," has been based at various times in Washington, New York and the West Coast. But for the past two years, GNP has taken a break, because Simmons's co-star (and wife) Christine Thompson had a bout with lymphoma. "We defeated it," says Simmons.

There's no dearth of topics or public figures to skewer. "One day it's 'I'm you -- I'm not a witch,' and the next day you find a Republican candidate who was a Nazi dress-up type guy," says Simmons. Thompson will reprise her 1990s Hillary Clinton impersonation, though now, of course, as secretary of state.


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