“I saw in my own story the power of being asked to tell a story.”
Sarah Giffin found her calling in the In-School Playwriting Program. The 23-year-old DC native, who recently returned to the city to work in social justice, the arts and youth development, credits our work with opening her eyes to theater’s power as an instrument of social change.
“[YPT] showed me how theater was used as a way to uplift voices that were already there,” she says, “to let them be heard and ... provide a stage for communities to connect.”
Of course, we’re not going to take all the credit for it—as Sarah herself put it, her voice was already there. As a senior at Wilson High School in 2008, she was already penetrating deep issues of personal and community identity.
“[I had] a lot of questions about why there were certain social codes that existed” in “self-segregated” DC Public Schools, she says. She was also in the process of applying to colleges, and was having trouble defining the person she wanted to become once she left home. So she put these questions into her play: In Labor of Life, which we produced in our 2009 New Play Festival.
In Labor of Life tells the story of an unborn child grappling with “competing ideas” about how we define our lives. One by one, personifications of concepts such as faith, emotions and nihilistic fun “try to convince her to subscribe to their way of thinking”—to be guided, in other words, by one set of principles or another. “The play was, in a sense, me trying to figure out how to approach the world ... how to understand the world around me and how to respond to it.” Seeing her words realized onstage “legitimized those questions” and showed Sarah that theater can do more than make people laugh or cry: it can help them think, learn and connect.
Inspired by the possibilities she saw in the 2009 New Play Festival, Sarah enrolled in The New School and studied theater and social justice. She trained in Theatre of the Oppressed with The Forum Project, was a teaching artist with Groundswell, earned her certificate in drama therapy and volunteered with a number of community organizations. After her freshman year she returned to YPT as our summer intern, learning about “the whole spectrum of what goes into running YPT” and bringing that breadth of knowledge back to her work in New York.
Last year, Sarah moved back to DC and is excited to get back in touch with her lifelong home. “I really do feel connected to this city and the unique challenges faced by [its] residents,” she says. Sarah has applied her skills to her work as a freelance teaching artist/facilitator and recently joined forces with YPT collaborator Omolara Williams McCallister to help organize a #BlackLivesMatter celebration in March.
“It’s getting increasingly difficult to describe myself,” she chuckles, knowing that the lives most worth living rarely fit in a box.