For some people, the best day of the year is their birthday. For others, it’s the last day of school, New Year’s Eve, or their wedding anniversary.
For many at FST, the best day of the year is Young Playwrights Festival Day, which brings together educators, young students, and their families from around the world to celebrate young people’s creativity and imagination. Also known as “YPF Day,” this annual festival takes over FST’s campus for a day of live theatrical performances, receptions, and an awards ceremony. This year’s YPF Day took place on Saturday, May 14.
For thirty-one years, FST has been inspiring students to write plays through its award-winning WRITE A PLAY program. This arts-in-education initiative gives students in kindergarten through 12th grade the example, inspiration, and tools to write their own original plays. At the end of each academic year, students submit what they have written to FST’s annual youth playwriting competition. During the 2021-2022 school year, FST received submissions from almost 4,600 young playwrights.
Each year about two dozen plays are selected to be featured in full productions and brought to life by professional actors. This year’s collection of winning plays written by students in grades K-6 was called The Grandma That Eats Everything & Other Winning Plays. The plays written by students in grade seven and up were presented in a separate production.
On May 14, winning playwrights and their families came to FST’s campus to watch these original plays performed before their very eyes.
“There is nothing on earth like the excitement and joy these young playwrights experience when they see something they wrote—something from their imagination, brought to life—on stage,” said Adam Ratner, FST’s Young Playwrights Festival Coordinator and Lead Teaching Artist.
This year’s YPF Day was particularly meaningful because it was the first time in three years that FST was able to bring the playwrights, their parents, and participating teachers to the theatre to see these full-fledged productions. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, FST has not been able to hold YPF Day in-person since 2019. In 2020 and 2021, the theatre had to present the event virtually or wasn’t able to hold the event at all.
“After these difficult and trying years, we were finally able to come together with friends, family, and the community to celebrate the plays of these amazing young artists,” added Ratner. “It was a dream come true.”
Following the performances of their winning plays, students and their parents attended an awards ceremony. During the ceremony, each winning playwright received a medal and a certificate recognizing their courage to create.
A few others were recognized at this ceremony for their own contributions to the WRITE A PLAY program. Ricardo Robinson-Shinall, the Fine Arts Department Chair at Braden River High School, was recognized as the 2022 WRITE A PLAY Educator of the Year.
“This award is an honor,” said Robinson-Shinall. “You don’t get into teaching for awards—you get into teaching because you love kids. To be recognized for something I didn’t even think that I was good at, but something I love to do, feels great.”
The Patterson Foundation—a philanthropic organization that strengthens the efforts of people, non-profits, and communities by focusing on issues that encourage learning and sharing—was recognized as the 2022 WRITE A PLAY Business Partner of the Year.
The Patterson Foundation has been a longtime supporter of FST’s WRITE A PLAY program, most notably in providing a two-to-one match for FST’s In the Schools Endowment, which was created in 2015. This million-dollar fund, now managed by The Community Foundation of Sarasota, has made it possible for FST to offer WRITE A PLAY to Sarasota County Schools for free throughout the pandemic. Removing the financial barrier has helped WRITE A PLAY reach new audiences and strengthen partnerships beyond participating schools.
After three years of missing out on the excitement and electricity of YPF Day, FST couldn’t wait for the best day of the year to return.
“Playwrights and children all around the world—whether they won or just submitted a play to our Festival—got a chance to express their truth, to write down what they were thinking and feeling, and what they imagined,” said Caroline Saldivar, FST’s Director of Children’s Theatre. “It’s so important that we honor every single person and child for what they have to share with the world.”
Header Picture: Winning playwrights honored during FST’s 2022 YPF Day. Photo by FST.