‘From Script to Production: My Journey with YPT’ by Marisa Poe

Young Playwrights’ Theater (YPT) is a non-profit organization that gives kids the chance to work as playwrights in professional environments. YPT visits schools teaching kids how to write plays, and helps them develop their creative writing. YPT came to my school, Maret, every Friday for almost two months during my fifth grade year.

Marisa Poe.

Marisa Poe.

The first day that YPT came to our school was probably one of the most memorable ones. Most kids weren’t very excited to sit down and write on computers for a whole period every week. As we ambled into the classroom, groaning about how boring it was going to be, we were met by an awesome YPT teacher, Laurie Ascoli, and two very enthusiastic actors from YPT. We sat down, played a quick icebreaker game, and then got to the fun stuff. The two YPT actors performed a short play for us, and we couldn’t stop laughing as one after the other crazy idea came into the play.

After the play was done (and was met with a huge round of applause), the actors explained that they were going to be picking kids from the crowd to say what ending they wanted the play to have. By now, we had all forgotten about our bored attitudes, and we shot our hands in the air to say what ending we wanted. The actors improvised the whole play every time to get a different ending, and we loved it. As we left, there were echoes of, “That was awesome!” and, “That was so fun!” and, “I can’t wait for next week!”

From 'The Basketball Deal.'

From ‘The Basketball Duel. Kate Glader (Christine Alexander) playing basketball against her owner, Chris Jattawa (Shawn Jain).

YPT continued to work with us; we brainstormed, prepared, and started writing our plays, feeling confident and enjoying the process. At my school, we combined history into the YPT sessions and we all had to write a play relating to an amendment about rights. I wrote a play called The Basketball Duel. It is a story about a professional women’s basketball star, Kate Glader, who is angry about how low her salary is compared to men’s salaries. In her fiery opening monologue she notes, “Kobe Bryant alone makes three times more than every single NBA player combined makes!” Kate confronts her laid-back owner about the issue, and he tells her that she doesn’t get a lot of money because the men are much better basketball players. Kate is outraged, and the two settle the argument with a “basketball duel.”

The “basketball duel” is a one-on-one game. If Kate wins, she and the other starting players on her team will get the salary that the average NBA player makes. If Kate loses, things will be kept the way they are. When I turned my play in, the YPT teacher said that she loved it. Little did I know that in a year, I would be receiving an email that said my play was going to be professionally produced at YPT.

My class hadn’t been informed about the contest, so when I heard that I was a finalist and my play was going to be produced, I was astonished. Before I knew it, I was at a YPT meet-and-greet, learning about other kids’ plays and getting more excited about my play being produced. My dramaturge ended up being Laurie Ascoli, the YPT teacher who came to my school, so I already knew her. After the meet-and-greet, my dramaturge and I had a few sessions to finalize my play. She helped me to enhance the ideas in my play and to build on concepts. By the time we were done refining my play, it was very polished.

Soon after my play was completely finished, a reading was held for my play and the four other plays that were being shown on night three of the New Play Festival. All the actors, directors, and dramaturges sat around a big table, and the plays were read out loud by the actors for the first time. Everyone was laughing every other line for all of the plays. When my play was read, the actors made it absolutely hilarious, and it was the first time I really saw my play come to life. It made me feel proud that I could make other people laugh through my play.

Marissa at the reading of her play.

Marisa Poe introducing her play, ‘The Basketball Duel.’

After the reading, the actors and directors held four rehearsals for my play before the big night. I was busy with basketball myself and couldn’t make it to the second rehearsal, so I came to the third rehearsal. It was really interesting to see what the directors and actors had done with my play in the first two rehearsals. They did some things with it that I never would have thought of, yet the parts that they tweaked became some of the best moments of the play. Making my play the best it possibly could be was a collective effort.

At the rehearsal, the actors did a run-through of my play. I was furiously taking notes the whole time about what they could do better, what I liked, what I didn’t like, and what should be fixed. Also, since being Kate Glader in this play required some ball-handling skills, I taught the actress playing Kate how to shoot and dribble. The rehearsal was a blast.

Play night finally arrived. My grandmother came from Philadelphia to see my play. She was also hoping to watch me play in a basketball tournament, but I had fractured my wrist in practice and couldn’t play. The four other playwrights and I arrived early to eat some pizza and to autograph New Play Festival books, which feature the plays of all 32 finalists, even though only 15 of those finalists actually got their plays produced. After a couple hours, the show started. The small theatre sold out of the free tickets. I was amazed at how much the actors had progressed since that third rehearsal. All the plays looked polished and clean.

The Young Playwrights.

The Young Playwrights: From left: Sierra Morris, Nafisa Weeks, Kreshaun Brooks, Alice Hockstader, and Marisa Poe.

Alice Hockstader, one of the playwrights, wrote a very interesting play called A Mortal in an Immortal Land. It is about a mortal girl living on Mount Olympus who longs for an apple of immortality, which would let her live forever. On her way to receiving an apple of immortality, she meets characters and goes on many adventures.

Kreshaun Brooks wrote a hilarious play, Bob’s Halloween. There was hardly a line when the audience didn’t laugh. The play is about, maybe obviously, Bob’s Halloween. Throughout the whole play, his friend and a ghost prank him, and it scares the pants off him. Don’t be frightened– there is dancing at the end of the play.

Marisa Poe and her family.

Marisa Poe and her family.

Living the Dream was written by playwright Nafisa Weeks. The lovable main character is a successful person in the fashion business. Her best friend is her assistant, and is very jealous of her success. The assistant’s chance to sabotage her comes when the fashion designer designs a perfect dress. The assistant puts a copy of a dress that has already been manufactured on display instead of the new dress at a meeting in the company, and the successful person is heartbroken. She makes a new dress, and finds out about what her former best friend did.

In the final play, Sierra Morris’ Show Your Moves, the best friends really are best friends. A young woman gets enough money to buy a dance studio and she shares it with her best friend. Together, they provide hip hop classes for little kids. Then, their nemesis shows up and tells them that there will be a dance competition. If the friends lose, they lose the studio, but if they win, they keep it. Of course, I can’t give away the ending.

After the plays were finished, the actors took a bow. The playwrights, seated in the front row, were invited to come up on stage with them and bow. Afterwards, Thembi Duncan, the Creative Programs Director at YPT, came up on stage to talk about YPT and give the playwrights gift bags. At one point, she asked the people in the audience to raise their hand if they were published playwrights. We all looked around in the audience to see who was raising his/her hand. It took a moment for me to realize that we were the published playwrights.

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