Young Playwrights’ Theater, InsideOut Literary Arts Project
And Meridian Hill Pictures Are Launching a Big, Bold, Risky Project
(And We Want You to “Do It”, Too)
“If you never do anything that scares you, or makes you uncomfortable, you will never know what you are actually capable of.”
– Josh, Published YPT Playwright
Young Playwrights’ Theater just got back from an inspiring (and fun) trip to Detroit to launch planning for our MetLife/TCG A-ha! Do It project, and we’re jazzed to share our progress with you.
But first things first. We’re going to use our debut post on the TCG Circle blog to catch you up on the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of our “Do It” venture: The 524 Project.
Through in-school and after-school playwriting programs and professional performances of student-written plays, YPT, based in DC, seeks to create social justice by providing all young people with the opportunity to realize the power and value of their own voices.
iO, based in Detroit, immerses students in the joy and power of poetry and literary self-expression in order to inspire them to think broadly, create bravely and share their voices with the wider world.
DC-based MHP is committed to producing compelling documentary films, educating the diverse populations in community video storytelling techniques and expanding access to documentary in unique traditional and digital forums.
That’s right. You, Artist/Art-lover/Educator/Circle-Blog-Fan, have a key role in The 524 Project. We’re trying something cool that’s never been tried before, and we don’t want to do it in a vacuum. It’s important to us that this project impacts the wider field. We’d love nothing more than for you to learn from our successes and failures and to then take this idea and make it your own. That’s why all three 524 partners – YPT, iO and MHP – are committed to sharing this project on tumblr as it unfolds through videos, photos and the written word. We invite/challenge you to join us live, in real-time, for all the inspiration and frustration of innovating something new. We hope you enjoy the journey, and that it inspires you to dream boldly and take on an aspirational project of your own.
So what is this “big, bold, risky project” anyway? What is it that has the power to unite playwrights, poets and filmmakers who live and work 524 miles away from one another?
Once upon a time, some folks from YPT travelled to Detroit and met the amazing folks who lead iO. As two organizations dedicated to empowering young people through creative self-expression, YPT and iO became fast friends, and they committed to finding a way to collaborate. Specifically, they wanted to work with young people in both of their cities to bridge the 524 miles between Detroit and DC through playwriting, poetry and 21st century technology. Then, something amazing happened. YPT won a MetLife/TCG A-ha! Do It grant and The 524 Project became a reality! This fall, YPT and iO will co-design an arts education curriculum that incorporates playwriting and poetry, and, this spring, they’ll bring it to two classrooms – one at Ballou Senior High School in Washington, DC, and one at Western High School in Detroit.
How do you connect two classrooms physically separated by 524 miles? That’s where MHP comes in. They’re going to help YPT and InsideOut connect the two classrooms in Detroit and DC using iPads and teleconferencing technology. They’re also exploring ways to use this technology to bring the final student-generated 524 performance piece simultaneously to live audiences in both cities AND across the planet (seriously). The technical demands of this project are unlike anything either YPT or InsideOut has ever worked on. For details about all the sweet tech that’s going to make 524 possible, check out MHP Executive Director Lance Kramer’s recent tumblr post “Our Gear”.
So what happens once the classrooms are connected? Over the next year, we’ll use tumblr to broadcast a raw, unfiltered blogumentary of everything that happens as the project unfolds. We plan to feature photos and video recordings from every class, our students’ original creative work and exclusive interviews and posts from all three 524 partners in a constant stream of content.
We’re already hard at work this fall designing our new playwriting/poetry curriculum and getting the teleconferencing/recording technology up and running. The twelve-week program will launch in the new year at Ballou Senior High School in Washington, DC, and at Western High School in Detroit, and then run throughout the spring. The final performance will take place sometime in late spring/early summer in both DC and Detroit, and will be broadcast live online.
DC and Detroit: two cities that loom large in the national imagination. Too frequently, these cities are presented to the world as centers of extreme poverty, high crime and violence, with little recognition of their rich cultural histories. Young people in both cities grow up struggling with the stereotypes associated with the places they call home.
Both DC and Detroit have rich historic and cultural legacies, and are populated by residents with captivating stories. But if young people consistently hear stories about the danger, corruption and poverty of their cities, and are not presented with opportunities to discover and share their own, more nuanced stories of their hometowns, they are denied the power to make a difference.
When YPT staff began imagining the scope and purpose of The 524 Project, we watched and discussed this incredible TED Talk as a staff. We encourage you to check it out. In a compelling 18 minutes and 49 seconds, novelist Chimamanda Adichie warns about the danger of sharing and listening to a single story about another person, culture or country. She proposes (and we agree) that stories wield incredible power, especially for young people.
The cross-disciplinary 524 Project aims to combat the single story young people in DC and Detroit currently hear about their hometowns by bridging the 524 miles between the two cities. Participating students will discuss, create, own and share a new narrative of their cities. We’ll broadcast the students’ dramatic and poetic writing to a national audience online via tumblr and through live performances in DC and Detroit, empowering participating youth to reclaim their cities’ legacies and to spark new conversations about each city’s past, present and future.
In short: TBD.
We don’t know how this is going to play out. As far as we know, no one else has ever done something exactly like this before, and we’ve got a lot of questions:
What happens when we break down traditional disciplinary and organizational barriers toward a collaboratively imagined artistic mission? What can we accomplish together that we can’t accomplish alone?
How can we empower young people to disrupt the dominant narratives of their own communities? How can we complicate the “single stories” of Detroit and DC?
How do we create a new arts education program that has longevity and is accessible, so students are able to duplicate and lead their own multi-media projects after the teaching artists have left the classroom?
What constitutes a meaningful interaction? How is technology both a connector and an isolator for young people?
How do we ensure that we are providing tools and opportunities to tell stories, without dictating the stories that are told?
What are the issues at both the local and national levels that are currently top of mind and heart for young people in DC and Detroit?
How do we build and sustain a national audience on tumblr?
Can mobile devices and/or tablets be a tool for facilitating cross-cultural exchange, collaboration, creation, performance and promotion of a traditionally non-digital art form — all through using free software?
How can teaching artists model strategies for mobile devices and tablets to be embraced as positive tools to enhance learning in an educational setting, rather than viewed as frivolous or a distraction?
Over the next year, we’ll do our best to answer these questions and then we’ll share what we learn with you. It’s going to a fun journey, and we’re thrilled you’re along for the ride.
We told you we were going to involve you in the project. Don’t look so surprised.
YPT, iO and MHP look forward to exploring and exploding myths about DC and Detroit in the new year.
So, in the spirit of myth-building/busting, we invite you to lie to us.
Tweet us a tall tale about your hometown in 140 characters or less (including #524project). You can expose a common misconception. You can share a delusion of grandeur. You just can’t tell the truth.
We’ll be monitoring the #524project hashtag and sharing your best lies on the 524 tumblr in weeks to come (along with live, real-time updates on The 524 Project), so connect with us on twitter, follow the blog and stay tuned.
Signing off (for now),
Your friends at:
Young Playwrights’ Theater
InsideOut Literary Arts Project
Meridian Hill Pictures
In this photo: Gedalya Chinn (Resident Teaching Artist, YPT), Nicole Jost (Artistic Director, YPT), Alise Alousi (Associate Director, iO), Shawtai Brown (Writer-in-residence, iO), Brigitte Pribnow Moore (Executive Director, YPT), Laurie Ascoli (Program Manager, YPT), Lance Kramer (Executive Director, MHP), Mahogany Jones (Writer-in-residence, iO)
Brigitte Pribnow Moore is the Executive Director of Young Playwrights’ Theater (YPT), the only professional theater in Washington, DC, dedicated entirely to arts education. Brigitte has nearly a decade of experience in nonprofit management, arts administration, fundraising and strategic communications in the DC region. Brigitte holds a BFA in Theatre from the University of Maryland, Baltimore, County (UMBC), summa cum laude, a Certificate in Nonprofit Management from Georgetown University and a Masters in Public Relations and Corporate Communications from Georgetown University. In her spare time, she reads and writes obsessively and bakes a lot of cakes.
The intent of the MetLife/TCG A-HA! Program is to enable theatres to dare to try new approaches to problem-solving artistic, managerial, production and/or technological challenges–to try things the organization doesn’t and couldn’t normally do. To learn more about the program, click here.