Lisa Nelson-Haynes is an arts administrator with 15 years of experience, but she is first and foremost a storyteller.
“My own artistic practice is storytelling, so I’m really excited now to head an organization where that’s the focus,” she said. “That’s my heart work.”
Nelson-Haynes is the recently appointed executive director of Philadelphia Young Playwrights, a nonprofit that brings arts education to area high schools and helps students develop their storytelling skills. PYP serves about 6,000 students and their teachers across more than 40 schools.
Nelson-Haynes, previously the associate director of the Painted Bride Art Center for 12 years, has also facilitated digital storytelling workshops for Berkeley-based StoryCenter all along the mid-Atlantic for about eight years. The Delaware County native and resident tells her own stories at story slams, such as those of First Person Arts.
Before she began performing, she had been intimidated by the idea of it.
"I understand the vulnerability that young people have when they’re sharing their work in a public space."
“I come from this position of being a parent of young people, and I’m always challenging my kids to take a risk,” she said. “But I needed to challenge myself to take a risk. It’s not enough for me to sit back and encourage them.”
“Now, I understand the vulnerability that young people have when they’re sharing their work in a public space.”
PYP’s Young Voices Monologue Festival will be held from March 10 to 17. Nelson-Haynes attended the event last year and said she was “blown away” by the performers’ work. Oftentimes, it focuses on tough topics — things like immigration and mental illness.
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“This is heavy stuff,” she said. “They’re taking the opportunity to really go there.”
Storytelling is powerful for young people because it lets them safely share parts of themselves with others.
“No one is saying that it has to be grammatically correct,” she said. “It’s about what’s going on inside of you, what’s your vernacular.”
During her tenure at PYP, Nelson-Haynes hopes to add a digital element to the storytelling process. Young people are already creating digital content on their own, so it’s a natural fit, she said.
“They need to understand the power of what they have in their pockets,” she said. PYP could host workshops discussing that power, for instance — “show them how they can use that power for good.”-30-
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