New Year, New President and HOPE


As we start 2021, we, here in the United States, were faced with an attempted coup, a worsening global pandemic, and hope that comes with a with new leadership. I am choosing to look to the future and envision a world brought together by equal opportunity, respect and open communication. I continue to hold the positive attitude that we can continue to change the world for the betterment of all. 

I may sound like the froofy folk who wear rose-colored glasses, but I had an idea that if we could start dialogue between young people we could develop understanding, respect and trust, which, by using the skills they learn during the intensive, can spread throughout their communities and the world. I still believe in the value of the project. And so, I persist. 

We need connection right now more than ever before in our history. It seems we needed to be sequestered away from everyone to be able to appreciate what we long for…connection, understanding, charity and thought-before action. We need time to make friends, to play, to explore and examine. I needed time to mull, cultivate, germinate and ruminate. 

The Youth Exchange Project is rumbling along after all of that ‘ate-ing’ in the pandemic-zoom-induced-think-tank. Our mission stays the same: To connect teens from differing cultures and experiences for the betterment of all. Our medium of connection…we will see.

Last year we were all virtual, which had its merits – we were able to connect folks from different areas and get more master teachers and guest artists involved. We used film as a tool and played more with language. This year, who knows. Perhaps, we will do a combination virtual and in-person event with two different groups in two different locations. I would love it to culminate in an event that represents the varied cities and cultures emanating from those locales! It’s time to expand our thinking. It’s time to expand our reach. So, keep those dreams aloft and look for the Youth Exchange Project to continue to grow and ask yourself ‘How can I help?’!

We need time now to make our dreams come true. Dream Big


To Our Friends and Supporters…

While a person may be individually pious, such good will pale in the face… of not protesting against an emerging communal evil.”

~Rabbi Judah Loew

We at the Youth Exchange Project mourn the death of George Floyd at the hands of those very men sworn to protect him; to protect us all. We acknowledge that his murder is the latest manifestation in a long-standing pattern of systemic racism and oppression.

We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with all the black, brown, and LGBTQ people of the world. We do not accept a society that continues to denigrate and eradicate people because of their differences. The Youth Exchange Project empowers students to identify and speak their own stories while hearing, seeing and performing the stories of others. We see your story, George Floyd, and vow that it, and the story of people like you will continue to be told. #BlackLivesMatter

2021 YEP’sters performance!

What a glorious group of thoughtful individuals. I am coming down from the intensive so I shall attempt to cull the ravings of a proud warrior. But….our teens our teaching artist, our guest speakers were out-of-this-world good! We hope to change the world. Start by watching the 40 minute show (and talkback) if you are intrigued and then share this with others around Charlotte and the world. Let’s listen for a moment and then decide what we might need to change.

Click the link to watch the show!


rehearsal 2021
The Show: Now That I Know Your Name

2021 Week 1

Welcome to the end of the first week of the 2021 Intensive! It has been a very long, amazing and wonderful month this week. We dove deeply into our cultures, ideas of who we are and where we come from. We shared common and uncommon experiences. We met amazing and fantastic people both as a part of the daily do’s and special guest artists. Jeremy DeCarlos, Actor, Activist and Casting Agent came by and talked about representation and his experiences. Mason Parker:  Spoken Word Artist, Rapper, Poet, and more, came by and worked with the Teens about speaking our truths, being open and having a responsibility to share our stories so those without a voice can be represented and heard as well. Dori Robinson came in and taught playwriting, character development and storytelling. We have examined our own and shared insights about our cultures, identity, where we come from and what we want to change. We have built a group of trustworthy and trusting folk who are headed into a week of creating, rehearsing, playing and devising!

Did I mention that this intensive is intense?

Devising is being an Actor/Creator. It is being a Human  who is willing to stand in front of others and share. It is group work, solo work, tedious, exciting and fun. It is crafting an experience for an audience to be taken on a journey (have some fun, question, be entertained and think deeply).

We will also continue to question, explore, craft and meet more amazing people. Arlethia Halistock, Actor, Activist, Community Initiatives Leader for the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte is on the docket as well as international sensation Bridget O’Brien, theatre creator, educator and innovator!

The final culmination will be an invited event ‘sharing’ of the product the YEP’sters  created. There will be more information about Friday for the participants  next week. 

The Performance :

6PM on the evening of July 23rd at the ARTS FACTORY : 1545 W Trade St 

  • Please come early ( between 5:40 and 5:50) 
  • The performance will be about an hour
  • We will have a question and answer period post sharing
  • There are approximately 40 seats so ….

There is a facebook event: https://fb.me/e/MbIRNwHn


I have taken a break. I went into nature, hiked, sat in a freezing cold waterfall and swam in a lake. I spent time with my family. I breathed mountain air. It is time to reflect. We made the agonizing decision to go ahead with the Intensive this spring. We decided to go virtually because I was confident that we had facilitators who could create a virtual space that was safe, challenging, encouraging, exciting, educational and fun for everybody. Ok, I admit, I had my doubts about the technology but I have faith in the youngers to help us navigate. I, too, was experiencing zoom fatigue, but I hoped that after a break we could all start anew.

We did. I look back at what being online forced us to do. We couldn’t rely on proximity, fun running-around games and physical touch to build teamwork and collaboration skills. As a Physical Theatre professional, this made me sad. We missed out on the cool balancing, the finding-yourself-in-space, your cultural identity within space, etc.

We also had challenges building theatre together. We were not in the same room. We had no audience reacting, feeding energy back and forth. It is a very different thing to record homework assignments than to rehearse and put together a piece of theatre. So, we adapt….

And grow! I was amazed on a daily basis how deep these teens wanted to go in discussion, in questioning the guest artists, in writing and performing about themselves. I was amazed at the quality of reflection, of what they were learning and sharing on a daily basis. I was amazed at their technical and creative skills when crafting a performance piece. I had an idea and they came back the next day with the piece done, edited, crafted, cut, and polished – and it blew my little idea out of the water! This happened multiple times. We were given gems of knowledge on a daily basis. The participants had taken a rock that we had given them (or just pointed to- over there under that mountain) and they came back with a fully cut, sparkling, multifaceted gem!

There are too many examples to cite here, but take a gander at the videos and quotes we will soon be posting. I hope you are as inspired as I am. I have faith that connection, education, creativity and collaboration can happen virtually. And for now, that is what we have. As for the future, we are still hoping for full, in-person Intensives, but we will continue to integrate with technology! And, perhaps, we will do another all-virtual intensive with folks from around the globe! Who knows….

I am sitting in gratitude.

~ Shawnna Pledger

Faculty Spotlight: Mason Parker

New to the Summer Intensive faculty this year is Mason Parker. Mason and Youth Exchange Project founder Shawnna Pledger first met when they performed together at the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte. They spent several months touring together in a van performing a show about substance abuse. While Mason is an experienced actor, that is not his role at Y.E.P. Rather, he will be guiding the students’ journey with the spoken word.

Mason is a lyricist, spoken word artist, and writer. While his start is deeply rooted in southern hip-hop, Parker studied the performances of Michael Jackson and the wordplay of Tupac and Langston Hughes to fuse the art of performance and lyricism. His admiration of performing began at a young age after participating in a monologue competition and sneaking into the spoken word scenes around Charlotte. 

In 2013, he was named Charlotte’s Best Rapper by Creative Loafing Magazine and Male Hip-Hop Artist of the Year in 2016 during the Queen City Awards. Parker has worked as a radio personality at Power 98 FM, Charlotte’s number one urban contemporary radio station as well as performing on stages across the world. As a writer, he published a comic book, The Paperback Hero Saga, which is accompanied by a short film and musical score. As an artist, Parker values the content he establishes in his music and puts a lot of weight on words that will resonate with his listeners. 

His work is a narrative, addressing overcoming homelessness, child abuse, mental health, spirituality, parental loss, and fatherhood. Harnessing the power of his journey, Parker offers stories of hope and spiritual awakening for social loners and juveniles. His unique delivery is soulfully honest, rich with pain, victory, self-realization, and truth. To follow his creative journey in real-time, visit Mason on Twitter and Instagram, and his website, www.iammasonparker.com.

Faculty Spotlight: Dori Robinson

The Youth Exchange Project is excited to introduce Boston-based theatre maker and activist Dori A. Robinson. Dori is joining Y.E.P. as a new faculty member for this year’s Summer Intensive.

Dori A. Robinson

Dori has considerable experience as a director and experiential educator working with such organizations as: The New Victory Theatre, Theatre Development Fund, Park Avenue Armory, Trusty Sidekick, Shattered Globe, Timeline Theatre, New York Student Shakespeare Festival, and most recently Greater Boston Stage Company where she was the Director of Education. She is also a playwright, and has had her original work produced in Boston, New York and Chicago. It is in this role that she joins the Y.E.P. faculty. Dori will be guiding the students in putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, in order to translate their thoughts and conversations into dialogue. She employs a “teaching style [that] allows students to connect with dramatic works and ideas through their minds, hearts, hands, and bodies.”

Dori and Y.E.P. Founder Shawnna Pledger met when both were pursuing their Masters Degrees at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. They were in the Educational Theatre program and shared a passion for Applied Theatre. They are kindred spirits, and Shawnna is very excited to welcome Dori to be part of this summer’s Youth Exchange Project.

To read more about Dori, click here to visit her website.

Y.E.P. is Fashion Forward

We are pleased to announce the launching of the Youth Exchange Project store. You now have a way to support Y.E.P. while stepping out in style. The store features swag adorned with our classic logo, as well as some re-envisioned versions. Shop for t-shirts, tote bags, hoodies/sweatshirts, stickers, and even face masks!

For the third year in a row, the Youth Exchange Project is proud to have been awarded a Cultural Vision Grant from the Arts & Science Council. That grant requires a 1:1 match, however, which means that for every dollar we’ve been awarded by the ASC, we have to raise that dollar in independent funds. You can support this effort by making a financial donation to Y.E.P., or by shopping at our store. All profit is poured right back into the Youth Exchange Project, and enables us to keep the program going, pay our artists and teachers, and offer free or reduced tuition to our participants.

Scroll through below to see a sampling of available Y.E.P. merchandise.