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Sophie Pollono (2023 Theater) performing during 2023 National YoungArts Week. Photo by Jason Koerner.

What Past Winners Want You to Know About National YoungArts Week  

By YoungArts | January 5, 2024

This weekend, 2024 YoungArts winners with distinction will arrive in Miami to collaborate with peers across 10 disciplines, develop their craft with internationally recognized leaders in their fields and create lifelong connections during National YoungArts Week. We chatted with a few of last year’s winners– Sophie Pollono (2023 Theater), Hans Yang (2023 Writing), and Bayan Yunis (2023 Photography)– to learn about what they have been up to since National YoungArts Week and what advice they have for the new group of winners.  

2023 YoungArts winners in Theater before their performance. Photo by. Jason Koerner.
2023 YoungArts winners in Writing rehearsing for their readings. Photo by Rodrigo Gaya.
2023 YoungArts winners in Photography in South Beach. Photo by Holly Fischer.

What advice do you have for 2024 YoungArts winners?

Sophie: My biggest piece of advice is to go in with the most open mind and heart possible. Trust that you are there for a reason. There’s no other place or time like this. It’s beautiful and unique and you need to soak up every moment you can. The beautiful thing is, at National YoungArts Week you all are winners, and all are exceedingly passionate about what you do, so know that you deserve to be there alongside these amazing people and learn as much as you can from your peers. 

Hans: I highly encourage dining with a different discipline’s group at least once during the week, branching out from your own discipline’s circle (you’ll get to know them through the countless workshops, programs, and discussions you’ll have with them anyway), discovering new friends, peers, and possible collaborators. Sitting with the Classical Music section (and many, many other groups), especially with so many individuals of shared Asian-American heritage, was a doorway into numerous new friendships. 

Bayan: Take advantage of all of the opportunities that YoungArts presents. YoungArts Post is a collection of so many collaboration and exhibition/performance opportunities, so don’t ignore the weekly YoungArts Post emails! For those of you who are attending National YoungArts Week, talk to anyone and everyone! Every person you see is someone that you can potentially collaborate and/or befriend, so take advantage of the fact that you are surrounded by such talented people. 

What was the experience like of having your work in the National YoungArts Week exhibition? 

Bayan: It’s rewarding to have your work on display. Being able to observe the crowds of people walking through the exhibition allows you to see how people authentically perceive your work. Before National YoungArts Week, I wasn’t used to seeing or hearing real-time feedback of my work outside of a classroom setting, so it was a confidence-building experience. 

Bayan Yunis standing in front of her work. Photo by Jason Koerner.
Bayan Yunis speaking about her work. Photo by Rodrigo Gaya.

What was the experience like of performing your work on stage during National YoungArts Week?

Sophie: The experience of performing on stage during National YoungArts Week was so special. First of all, it’s the coolest venue ever, and as a singer, the acoustics in the theater are absolutely incredible. It was very exciting. My favorite day of the week was when we had tech rehearsal all day in the theater and then performed. Even though the Theater discipline performs early in the week, you feel prepared because the amazing coaches help you pick the best possible material and work with you so much. I just felt thankful to get to perform among such amazing humans and to perform a song that I felt prepared and excited about. That being said, I was so nervous, but when I just let go and sang, it was a moment I will remember forever. 

Hans: Due to the extensive support the writing cohort had from the speech coaches and our specific instructors, we were all quite prepared and well-versed in the routine of our performance. I felt comfortable falling into the rhythmic cadence of my beginning sentences, emphasizing the high points of the excerpt, and ending with flamboyance. But I was especially nervous due to the fact that my piece, “Fresh On the Boat”, incorporated a frequent use of expletives and many mentions of threatened violence, alcohol, (for the means of characterization and theme) and had some political commentary. I wasn’t sure how I was going to swear profusely into a microphone in front of my mother in the audience and my writing mentor watching live. So when Naomi Ling (2023 Writing) before me finished performing a somber Asian-American elegy, I was feeling Oh God, this might be too different. But to my delight, as I criticized deadbeat fathers, rampant materialism in a digitized society, and the many downsides of having blood alcohol content above 0.10%, the audience liked it a lot! I was quivering a little at the end from the rush of dopamine, staring out onto the darkened floor onto the faces of the friends I’ve made that week, hurling the ending line of my excerpt at them: “And then he f****** laughs.” I really felt that my literary brashness was welcomed and accepted, at least more accepting than my straight-laced father when I rehearsed my piece to him before Miami. All in all, I never saw a crowd that was unreceptive, bored, or hostile the whole week. Really amazing. 

What was your favorite National YoungArts Week moment? 

Sophie: My favorite moments during National YoungArts Week were when we would get to watch the other artistic disciplines performances! Supporting such incredibly talented people with such passion made us so happy. The fellow Theater finalists and I would always gush together afterwards about what we saw. Particularly, I remember the dance performance blowing my mind. It was inspiring to see gifted artists of all different categories excel at what they were born to do. 

Hans: There’s this very distinct moment that continues to be emblazoned in my mind. After the Voice performance, everyone was having snacks and participating in the uproarious celebratory chant. In the din I start chanting in Mandarin with my fellow cohort, and then slip into a Sichuanese dialect. At this moment, Nathaniel Zhang (2023 Classical Music), standing to the right of me, just looks up at me all bug-eyed, dressed up all fancy in his smart-looking suit, and he simply remarks, “I know that dialect too.” Then, happiness. Two seconds later, we’re clenching each others shoulders and just jumping and shouting Sichuanese at each other, then starting to make a mad rush around Floor 3. It looks like the Asian version of a Conan O’Brien remote episode from the 2010s. In a heated, spectacular frenzy, Nathan and I gift flowers, exchange Instagrams with, and shower praise together for the incredible Voice finalists. Ezekiel Sokoloff (2023 Classical Music) started tagging along and celebrating with us as well, as did Christian Yom (2023 Classical Music) and Robert Gao (2023 Writing). We were exhausted at the end of the night– piling into the elevator, our formal wear sweated through, our feet cramped by leather shoes, a maniacal smile etched into our faces. Never been so energetic in my life.

Bayan: You’re in the middle of such a fast environment that it can be hard to keep track of what has happened. However, going on field trips to photograph at South Beach and Vizcaya were by far my most vivid, favorite moments.   

Bayan Yunis taking a photograph in South Beach. Photo by Holly Fischer.
Hans Yang with other winners at the National YoungArts Week Wrap Up Party. Photo by Jason Koerner.

Since National YoungArts Week, what have you been up to? Have you collaborated with other YoungArts winners or worked on other YoungArts opportunities? 

Sophie:  Since National YoungArts Week, I have been focused a lot on my growth as an artist. I auditioned for colleges, continued to train, enjoyed summer at home before I left for school, and continued to audition professionally and perform as much as I can. I am proud to have just finished my first semester at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) majoring in musical theater. I can honestly say nothing prepared me better for the college audition process, and most of all knowing how to learn and work on art and technique, than National YoungArts Week. I walked into my first day of classes at CMU feeling much more at ease and confident in my identity as an artist because I experienced National YoungArts Week.

I made lifelong friends during the week, and my fellow Theater winners and I support each other as much as possible. We are constantly going to each other’s shows or texting in our group chat. This summer, I made my 54 Below debut in New York City in an original musical, and the audience was absolutely filled with fellow YoungArts winners and people I call great friends. It is the absolute most supportive group of people. I hope to work with them all in the future on artistic projects.  

Hans: I’ve worked with my homeboy Eddie Chen (2023 Dance) on our collaborative Asian-American advocacy project, the National Cre-Asian Society, where we collaborated with Make Noise Today, a Long Beach advertising agency, in order to develop storytelling workshops for AAPI youth, along with Amy Wang (2023 Writing) and Mia Davis (2023 Writing). With Margaret Tsai (2023 Design), I’ve worked on a visual poem project involving my poetry and her work.  I was stunned by her unbelievable versatility in all sorts of physical mediums. I’ve also conversed with some of the Film winners about their prospective projects, like with Winston Verdult, marveling at his spectacular cinematography and experimental artistic vision. On the individual end, I’m tackling two new partially-finished major projects amid my hectic senior year– “FABLE FOR SLOW VIOLENCE”, a tragic novella-length tale about the doomed romance between an Indian-American MIT quantum physicist and a Taiwanese-American Harvard premed student through three iterations of the same lifetime, and “ARCADIA”, a dystopian novel about a future world mired in eternal geopolitical conflict, when all work is automated and when the selfishness of the human condition manifests itself in an influx of new artists whose only goal is to be remembered.  

Bayan: Since National YoungArts Week, I’ve created more bodies of work and was given the opportunity to help design social media content for the Seattle Seahawks! 

Is there anything else you would like to share about your experience?

Sophie: National YoungArts Week was the first time I was regarded as a serious “artist” by other people. Being allowed to call myself an artist and foster that has helped me so much as I venture into the world. The week truly changed my outlook on trusting myself and my own artistic identity, knowing that being around such amazing people helps me grow as a human and artist, and that all of us are so unique. I think sometimes being a young person who is so dedicated to a specific craft can be isolating, but National YoungArts Week showed me that there’s other people who are just as passionate as I am and what amazing magic happens when you’re surrounded by that. It made me so excited to venture into the professional world and the next chapter of my life. 

Hans: I could write another novel with all the things I loved about the week, but I think I’ve rambled enough. At the end of all this, bring a jacket. Stay hydrated. Miami is nice this time of year. Have fun, 2024 winners with distinction. 

Bayan: The idea of pursuing art was not something I ever considered before becoming a YoungArts winner. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t think I had what it took nor knew how to become a successful artist. National YoungArts Week changed that for me. That week was an affirming experience that encouraged me to pursue a professional artistic career. Without YoungArts, I would be on track to becoming a psychologist… (Not that being a psychologist is undesirable, but I would much rather be an artist.) 

2023 YoungArts winners in Theater backstage before their performance.
Hans Yang at the Writers’ Reading. Photo by Jason Koerner.
2023 YoungArts winners in Photography at Vizcaya. Photo by Holly Fischer.

From January 8-12, 2024, audiences are invited to meet the next generation of artists in special, one-night performances in Miami. Performances and writer’s readings will also be livestreamed each night at

Performances at New World Center
500 17th St., Miami Beach

Monday, January 8
8 PM | Voice Performance

Tuesday, January 9
8 PM | Jazz & Theater Performance

Wednesday, January 10
8 PM | Dance Performance & Film Screenings

Thursday, January 11
8:30 PM | Classical Music Concert

On the YoungArts Campus
2100 Biscayne Blvd., Miami

Friday, January 12
7:00 PM | Writers’ Readings

Friday, January 12
7:30 PM | Design, Photography & Visual Arts Exhibition Opening + Being (the Digital Griot) by Rashaad Newsome

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