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School Girls Series: Delivering Laughs Amid Dramatic Themes

Ep. 24

I'm excited to share a series of conversations with actresses who starred in Jocelyn Bioh's play, School Girls: Or the African Mean Girls Play. These interviews were recorded with students at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Maryland. This fall, I developed a program for Jewish high schools, which are majority White spaces, to explore plays by Black playwrights, to read and watch those plays, discuss the themes, expand the art they love, and perhaps most importantly, to interview Black actors and directors who have made those plays come alive in performance. This interview is with Mirirai Sithole, who originated the role of Mercy at School Girls' NY production at MCC Theater. Mirirai's theater work includes Suzan-Lori Parks' "The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World AKA The Negro Book of the Dead" and her TV work includes roles on "Broad City", "Russian Doll", and "Black Mirror". Mirirai won Lucille Lortel award for Outstanding Featured Actress and a Drama Desk Award for Best Ensemble with her School Girls' cast mates.

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4/15/2021

"Pipeline" - Nya

Ep. 30
This episode is one of two classroom interviews with 11th grade students at Shalhevet high school in Los Angeles, CA. As part of the Exploring Black Narratives program, we studied Dominique Morisseau's play "Pipeline" and interviewed actors who starred in productions around the US. Today's interview is with Andrea Harris Smith who played Nya at the Studio Theatre production of "Pipeline" in Washington, D.C.Pipeline centers on a public high school teacher named Nya whose own teenage son, Omari, attends a private boarding school. Nya’s ex-husband Xavier, Omari’s dad, believes that the private school will give Omari the best education though it’s a distance from his home and Omari would be one of the only Black students in his classes. At the start of the play, Nya calls Xavier with the news that Omari has gotten into an altercation with his teacher. The teacher had pressured him to talk about Richard Wright’s novel Native Son as though Omari were the representative to speak about Black characters. Feeling increasingly cornered by the teacher, Omari physically pushed back and winds up suspended and at risk of being arrested. Nya worries that the school administrators will see Omari’s appearance and respond harshly, channeling him into the school-to-prison pipeline. While Nya is confident in her role as a teacher, she feels inadequate as a parent trying to protect her son.If you'd like to learn more about Exploring Black Narratives, here is an article about the program that I wrote for American Theatre magazine: https://www.americantheatre.org/2021/03/19/the-familiar-and-the-new-teaching-black-plays-in-jewish-high-schools/
4/15/2021

"Pipeline" - Jasmine

Ep. 29
This episode is one of two classroom interviews with 11th grade students at Shalhevet high school in Los Angeles, CA. As part of the Exploring Black Narratives program, we studied Dominique Morisseau's play "Pipeline" and interviewed actors who starred in productions around the US. Today's interview is with Heather Velazquez who played Jasmine at the world-premiere production of "Pipeline" in 2017 at Lincoln Center Theatre in New York.Pipeline centers on a public high school teacher named Nya whose own teenage son, Omari, attends a private boarding school. Omari and his girlfriend Jasmine are among the only students of color at their school. When we meet them, Omari is about to leave school. He has been suspended after an incident in class in which his white teacher singled him out repeatedly as a Black student and Omari physically pushed back. Jasmine is understandably worried about the consequences for Omari. And because she’s in love with him, her desire to shield him is wrapped up in her need to keep him around. While Jasmine and Omari’s relationship is intense, Jasmine’s presence onstage is filled with humor. She’s tough-talking but uncertain. And though she’s onstage only a short amount of time, she’s an unforgettable character.If you'd like to learn more about Exploring Black Narratives, here is an article about the program that I wrote for American Theatre magazine: https://www.americantheatre.org/2021/03/19/the-familiar-and-the-new-teaching-black-plays-in-jewish-high-schools/