A movement is taking flight and Young Playwright’s Theater (YPT) is one of its co-pilots. Their upcoming Silence is Violence event will explore environmental injustice as it relates to gentrification in Washington, DC. The evening will be a “multi-sensory” experience featuring original one-minute plays, spoken word, interactive exercises with the audience, and musical performances. More than 25 youth and adult writers will be featured and professional actors, including Helen Hayes award winners, will perform their work.
For more than 20 years, YPT has been putting tools in students and young people’s hands so they can feel empowered to harness their creativity in ways that powerfully express their deepest concerns. They provide in school and afterschool playwrighting workshops for students living in DC’s lowest income communities and their services reach approximately 1,500 youth annually.
While their YPT’s roots in arts education run deep, the Silence is Violence series is a semi-recent addition to their community engagement approach.
The first Silence is Violence event took place five years ago as a rapid response event to the #BlackLivesMatter movement following the death of Mike Brown and many other African American men at the hands of police officers. Farah Harris, now the Artistic Director of YPT says Silence is Violence stemmed from her asking a question at the end of a staff meeting. “It started a conversation about what YPT’s role could/should be to activate a deeper dialogue on social justice issues.”
Ms. Harris noted that she was the only Black person on staff at the time and she felt the need to ask whether her personal activism in response to the events in Ferguson, MO would jeopardize her position. On the contrary, YPT moved to get behind her vision and the Silence is Violence series was born. Within two weeks she and the former artistic director had planned a sold-out event. One student wrote a letter to Travyon Martin’s mom and many other young people performed on stage with professional artists for the first time.
What was an impromptu event is now a series that occurs twice a year and it has become a model for how YPT engages youth and students. Quite literally, the Silence is Violence series was conceived from an act of speaking up.
When asked about the importance of the theme for this year’s spring event, Ms. Harris shared that “it’s not just global warming or pollution or water crisis, gentrification also causes on a large-scale food deserts and poverty to people of color. It affects people’s health, lifespan, and quality of life, especially when they’re displaced from their neighborhoods or witness that happen to friends in their community.”
Through the upcoming Silence is Violence event, Ms. Harris and YPT are looking to engage audiences who don’t often hear the voices of young people and they’re targeting city officials and lawmakers in DC to come out learn directly from the youth in their community.
On the national scale, young people across the country have been galvanized to raise their voices in pursuit of meaningful change on issues that directly impact their lives and communities, from health care and gun violence to sexual harassment and racial justice. For YPT and many organizations like it, this is exactly the kind of activism they seek to foster in their work with youth.
Silence is Violence will take place Monday, March 5, 2018, at 7:00 pm at the Josephine Butler Parks Center – 2437 15th Street NW, in Washington, DC. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online. Entry is free for youth under 18.