Arts and Entertainment

Islander honored at the White House for his theater program

Islander Darren Lay recently traveled to Washington, D.C. to accept a prestigious honor — his West Seattle-based project, the Young Shakespeare Workshop, was one of 12 recipients of the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, the nation’s highest honor for after-school and summer arts and humanities programs.

Lay, who has helmed the Young Shakespeare Workshop for the past 15 years, was joined by project alumna Danisha Harris as he accepted the award from First Lady Michelle Obama in an East Room ceremony.

Chosen from a pool of more than 471 nominees and 50 finalists nationwide, the awardees were recognized for using engagement in the arts and humanities to generate a wide range of outcomes, including increases in academic achievement, graduation rates and college enrollment, as well as improvements in literacy and language abilities, communication and performance skills and cultural awareness. Each of the awards came with a $10,000 grant.

In the case of the Young Shakespeare Workshop, the money is a significant financial boost — the organization’s annual operating budget is less than $30,000.

The group currently operates after-school and in-school programs at Cleveland and Chief Sealth high schools and is looking for a new home for its summer programs. Each year, the summer program, which is open and free for Island kids to join, brings a free Shakespeare production to Vashon.

Lay said he was excited to have received the award and that he hopes it leads to more awareness of the Young Shakespeare Workshop.

“The organization has really flown under the radar for 20 years,” said Lay. “We’re in real need of a home for the program and some big support.”


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