Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater will host the Voices of Now (VON) Festival, a four-day event featuring original works of theater written and performed by nine different youth ensembles. The festival will bring together nearly 100 artists, ages 11-18, from DC, Maryland, and Virginia who have been working with professional theater artists from Arena Stage to devise original one-act plays. This year’s ensembles will come together May 16-19 to perform and discuss their work in the Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle at the Mead Center. Please see below for the full event schedule.

Celebrating its 15th anniversary, VON is an internationally renowned, season-long drama program that works with ensembles of middle school, high school, and adult artists to devise autobiographical theater pieces. Each ensemble’s play poses challenging social questions relevant to the artists’ communities and investigates those questions by recounting the artists’ personal stories. This year’s plays examine topics including issues of gun violence, multi-cultural experience, self-image, and the experience of grief from losing a loved one. All performances will be followed by a talkback led by an Arena Stage staff member.

“Silent waters run deep—Voices of Now gets to the heart of the story and breaks young people out of their silence,” shares Arena Artistic Director Molly Smith. “For the teenagers in Parkland, Florida, a school shooting brought out their voices. I’m proud that Arena Stage has Voices of Now to bring out these important—critical, essential—voices in a supportive setting. The results of these student artists’ year of work is stunning.”

VON formed its first partnership 15 years ago with Jefferson Middle School Academy in Southwest DC. In addition to Jefferson, several Fairfax County Public Schools will again take part in the festival, including Glasgow Middle School, Holmes Middle School, Key Middle School and Robinson Secondary School. Returning for its eighth year is an ensemble in partnership with the Wendt Center for Loss and Healing, which is made up of young artists who have experienced the death of a loved one.

This year’s program features the return of the Key World Ensemble at Key Middle School, which was formed to explore the experience of English language learner students in Fairfax. This will be Key’s fourth year at the festival.

Additional ensembles include the Mead Ensemble, a program located at the Mead Center designed for students in grades 7-11; the Mentor Ensemble, which is made up of alumni from previous ensembles whose role is to mentor the younger artists in the program; and the Advocacy Ensemble, which features emerging artists from throughout the DC metro area who are interested in using theater as a tool for social advocacy.

This year’s festival is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Beryl Rice. A community activist, youth advocate, and longtime member of the Community Engagement Committee at Arena Stage, Rice was integral in working with Arena through the Southwest Youth Task Force to develop Arena’s programming for neighborhood youth including VON in its early stages.

2018 Voices of Now Festival Schedule
All performances take place in the Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle in the Mead Center (1101 Sixth St. SW).

Wednesday, May 16 — 7:30 p.m.
Alien/Nation by the Mentor Ensemble
Safe and Sound by the Advocacy Ensemble
Face Time by the Jefferson Ensemble

Thursday, May 17 — 7:30 p.m.
Crash Course by the Holmes Ensemble
Running Free by the Key World Ensemble
Safe and Sound by the Advocacy Ensemble

Friday, May 18 — 7:30 p.m.
Map Quest by the Glasgow Ensemble
Alien/Nation by the Mentors Ensemble

Saturday, May 19 — 7:30 p.m.
Force of Nature by the Mead Ensemble
Right of Way by the Robinson Ensemble
Piece of My Mind by the Wendt Ensemble

TICKETS: Tickets for the VON Festival are FREE, though reservations are required through the Arena Stage Sales Office at 202-488-3300 or at tickets.arenastage.org/single/psDetail.aspx?psn=26077.

VON was designed by Arena Stage Director of Education Ashley Forman. In addition to performing at Arena Stage, ensembles perform throughout their own communities. Past ensembles have performed at Atlas Performing Arts Center’s Intersections Festival, Imagination Stage, American Alliance for Theatre and Education’s National Conference, Association of Theatre in Higher Education Conference, 2013 International AIDS Conference, and the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage.

VON International: Arena Stage has partnered with the U.S. Department of State and foreign embassies to coordinate five VON international trips. Following an initial trip to India in 2012, the program has continued its international expansion by sending staff members to Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai, New Delhi, and Patna, India; Zagreb, Croatia; and Lima, Peru to work with a variety of communities, including local participants, artists, educators, leaders, college-age youth from vulnerable communities, and young adults with physical disabilities.

For more information on VON, visit arenastage.org/education/voices-of-now.

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