AFYP in the Spotlight: Zach and Andrew

Today we are back and putting Mr. Zach and Mr. Andrew in the Spotlight!  Zach and Andrew both graduated with playwriting concentrations and will be leading our teens on our Playwriting Intensive Workshop next Monday (Feb 20) and will be teaching the Creative Writing For Stage and Screen class that starts today (Feb 14)!  We interviewed both of them to learn a little more!

When Did You First Start Writing?  Did Something Inspire You?

Andrew: I started writing seriously around my second year of college. I had always done it as a hobby and side projects, but never really felt like it was a career path that I wanted to follow. I went to go see a show with my brother in D.C. and it was the first time I had noticed the audience being so engrossed with a production. Hearing the conversation afterwards and the immediate impact the show had made me want to pursue writing more seriously. 

Zach: I started writing in 3rd or 4th grade, I believe. I was really into sports books at the time, so I wrote about a soccer game that I participated in a few days earlier.  I still write mainly about my own life!

What kind of stories do you want to tell?

Andrew: I enjoy telling stories that are more slice of life with magical realist twists on them. The stories that interest me the most are the ones that seem average or ordinary that everyone goes through, but trying to tell it in a more extraordinary way. I think that a lot of people believe their life is boring, small or uneventful, but sometimes those insignificant moments are the ones we connect with the most because we all experience them at some point. 

Zach: I want to tell simple stories, bold stories, stories that make you laugh until you cry, stories that come from real life and I want to put a fresh twist on stories that have been told.

What is your favorite play or screenplay?

Andrew: My favorite play is constantly changing as I read more and more of them. Anything by Annie Baker instantly becomes a favorite of mine (John, Circle Mirror Transformation Play, The Flick), but currently I am in love with Constellations by Nick Payne. It's so simple, elegant and beautiful. And, to jump on the bandwagon, I'd say that La La Land is my favorite screenplay as of now. 

Zach: My favorite play is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and my favorite screenplay is Whiplash.

What are you most excited to teach your Creative Writing for the Stage and Screen students about?

Andrew: One of the most exciting things about teaching a creative writing class is getting to hear all of the different ideas and styles that the students bring. Every person brings something unique to the table and no form of writing is considered to be the absolute correct way to write. It's a trial and error process about finding what works for you and working on perfecting that. We are here to help you find your voice and what styles work for you, but the more exciting part is getting the chance to see how that develops. Writing is such a personal form of art that each piece someone brings is a gift in itself. 

Zach: I am most excited to teach the students about the different ways that they can make their stories relate to a world of readers and audience members.

AFYP In the Know: Theater History--Chinese & Japanese Theater

In honor of our Spring Showcase, Mulan Jr, starting on Saturday, we thought it would be fun to focus this AFYP In the Know on the history of theater in Japan and China.  These forms of theater developed entirely separate from Western forms, and are very, very old.  In fact, Japanese Noh theater is the oldest form of theater that is still regularly practiced in modern day!

Pekingese shadow puppets

Pekingese shadow puppets


References to theatrical entertainments (like clowning, music, and acrobatics) can be found in Chinese texts dating back to 1500 B.C.E. during the Shang dynasty.  

By the time we reach the Han dynasty (206 B.C.E-220 C.E), shadow puppetry is beginning to become a popular theatrical form.  Shadow puppet plays often depicted stories of great adventures or fantasy.  Two distinct types of shadow puppetry developed in China.  Their primary differences were how the puppets were constructed.  Both types of puppets were constructed from colored leather, with incredible detail. Cantonese puppets were larger and the puppetry rods attached perpendicularly to the puppets, so that they would not cast a shadow.  Pekingese puppets were smaller and more delicate than Cantonese puppets.  The rods for Pekingese puppets were visible, but attached at the neck of the puppet before bending out of the way, so they didn't not interfere with the shadow figure.  In both Cantonese and Pekingese shadow puppetry, superstition said that the puppets could come alive at night.  In order to prevent this, the puppets were taken apart each night, with the heads and bodies of the puppets stored separately.

Shadow puppets in performance

Shadow puppets in performance

More traditional acting styles, using human actors, also developed.  The Tang dynasty (618-907 C.E.) was known as "The Age of 1000 Entertainments", and society was more focus on leisurely activities, arts, and entertainment.  During this time Emperor Xuanzong established the first known academy for acting and music called The Pear Garden, for the pear trees planted in the courtyards of the school.  Emperor Xuanzong oversaw the 300 students who trained each year at The Pear Garden in music, dance, and acting.  The acting form developed in the Pear Garden was primarily musical.  It is from this historical school that Chinese actors are commonly called "Children of the Pear Garden" and the phrase "pear garden" can refer to Chinese opera.  

During the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), dramas became more sophisticated, with 4-5 act structures.  This structure remains mostly intact today, in Beijing Operas.


The four most well-known types of Japanese theater are all still in practice today.  These types are: Noh, Kyogen, Kabuki, and Bunraku.

a noh performance showing the "SHiTE" and "Hayashi"

a noh performance showing the "SHiTE" and "Hayashi"

Noh and Kyogen are the oldest forms of Japanese theater, dating back to the 14th century.  It was developed by a man named Kan'ami and his son, Zeami.  Noh is a very traditional and structured art form, with training for actors beginning as early as age 3.  In performance, the actors' movements are very, very precise, because the smallest shift in the body or the facial expression will mean something new.  It is often a family tradition, with sons following in their fathers' footsteps to become Noh actors.  Historically Noh and Kyogen plays were performed only by male actors, but the first women--who began performing in the 1940s--were the daughters of esteemed Noh actors. 

kyogen actors in performance

kyogen actors in performance

The traditional structure of a performance is to have five Noh plays, with brief Kyogen in between each play as an intermission of sorts.  Kyogen are short, comic plays that run about 15 minutes long and usually use 2-3 actors.  The comedy provided respite from the more serious Noh plays.  In Noh performance, highly stylized movements represent complex emotions.  Masks are often worn, especially by background characters.  While Noh is still performed today, the actual storyline of Noh plays hasn't changed much.  Noh focuses on classical stories, where a supernatural character is often transformed into a human.

 Most Noh plays usually involve a chorus, an orchestra, and at least two main actors.  The traditional characters are:

  • Shite - the main role/protagonist
  • Wake - the foil or counterpart to the protagonist
  • Hayashi - the musicians, playing the flute, the hip-drum, the shoulder-drum, and the stick-drum
  • Kyogen - the comedic actors for the Kyogen interlude

Kabuki performers

Kabuki performers

Kabuki theater is most known for its iconic red and white makeup and its elaborate costumes.  The earliest form of Kabuki was actually started by women in the early 1600s, as comic playlets that depicted ordinary life.  This was very popular with lower and middle classes.  The upper and royal classes did not approve of this "mixing" of the classes and banned women from performing in 1629.  However, they took over the Kabuki and began to transform the art form, using all male actors.  Specific poses and make-up represented very specific emotions and characters.  The colors of the costumes were also very important, since the colors expressed the character's primary emotions.  

Kabuki performances lasted the full day.  Kabuki also has a five-act structure, following a very traditional rise and fall of a story.  The Jo, or first act, was a slow opening, introducing the characters and the story.  The Ha, or acts 2-4, sped up the action leading to a great dramatic moment or tragedy in act 3, with battles being common in acts 2 or 4.  Finally, the Kyu, or act five, wrapped up the story in a quick and satisfying conclusion.

bunraku in performance, with master and APPRENTICE (hooded) puppeteers

bunraku in performance, with master and APPRENTICE (hooded) puppeteers

Bunraku is a form of Japanese puppet theater that was founded in the beginning of the 17th century.  Bunraku puppets are three-dimensional, unlike Chinese shadow puppets.  Bunraku involves three types of performers: 

bunraku puppet

bunraku puppet

  • Ningyotsukai--the puppeteers
  • Tay--the chanters
  • Shamisen--the musicians

These complex puppets are extremely detailed, and traditionally need three puppeteers to operate each puppet.  The puppeteers are sometimes hooded, but more often the master puppeteer, in control of the head of the puppet, does not wear a hood.  The puppets are very intricate and their life-like faces often have eyes, mouths, and eyebrows that move.  

Kabuki and Bunraku often share the same plays and stories.


AFYP in the Know: Shakespeare

AFYP Teaching Artist Kathleen Barth shares why she loves Shakespeare - and you will, too!
My introduction to Shakespeare was in eighth grade when my English class and I read and eventually performed As You Like It. While I sustain a boundless passion for the Bard and his works today, back in eighth grade I did not look forward to reading Shakespeare at all. I felt anxious and even fearful about reading--not to mention performing--As You Like It, worried if I would understand the language. However, the moment I began reading the text, I realized I had nothing to fear with Shakespeare. The language I once viewed as intimidating was actually simple to understand after I received the tools to harness the magic of the text. Later, when my class and I started performing scenes from the play, I unleashed my inner actor through the text's innate theatricality, which liberated me from the shyness. 
Since my incredible introduction to Shakespeare, I have read well over half of Shakespeare's canon, taken classes in acting Shakespeare, performed in classical plays, and taught workshops in Shakespeare and performance at AFYP. As a teaching artist, I teach Shakespeare by giving students the tools to analyze classical text and get on their feet and play in performance. 
Join me at AFYP on January 16th from 9:00-3:30 for a fun Shakespeare Workshop, where we will explore and play with the Bard's popular comedy, Twelfth Night.
AFYP's Advanced Actors perform a musical number in last fall's Billy Shakes and the Big Screen

AFYP's Advanced Actors perform a musical number in last fall's Billy Shakes and the Big Screen

AFYP in the Moment: Improv!

Last April, we did a test run for our popular new Student Holiday Workshop program with a one day Improv spectacular! We had such a great time that we decided to incorporate two entire days of Improv programming into this season's full Student Holiday schedule.

On November 7, 5-11 year old students will Explore Chicago-style Improv and 12-18 year olds will participate in a Short Form Improv Intensive. Short Form Improv is derived from Viola Spolin's Theatre of Games. Spolin worked with America's very first improvisational theatre, the Compass Players, located in Chicago in 1955! Spolin worked with the Second City during the 1960s, a improv comedy troupe that is still extremely popular today. Spolin's short form theatre games are great tools for learning and make for fun, fast-paced performances (you can catch classic short form improv on the TV show "Who's Line is it Anyway?"). Both age groups will spend the day playing Spolin-inspired games and learning how they can be used to make hilarious performance pieces!

November 8 features Explore New York-style Improv for students ages 5-11 and Long Form Improv Intensive for students 12-18. Long form improv has its roots in New York City with Del Close, the contemporary master who created the form. Close believed that Spolin's work was a great basis for creating a unique type of performance where actors not only made up the content on the spot, but also created the game itself. This type of improv is practiced at the Upright Citizen's Brigade in NYC (and, locally, by George Mason's own Mason Improv Association!). Students in the Explore program will learn about creating improvised stories and students in the Intensive will learn the elements of long form improv and the art of the game. 

Our Explore programs (5-11) will be taught by Oscar Salvador and Skye Lindberg. Summer camp students will remember Mr. Oscar if they participated in the improv elective option. Our Intensive programs (12-18) will be taught by Rebecca Wahls and Justin Sumblin. Miss Rebecca taught last year's Long Form Improv Workshop.

Students playing, one of our favorite short form improv games, "I'm a..."!

Students playing, one of our favorite short form improv games, "I'm a..."!

Are you excited yet!? We sure are!