Company One Theatre is producing GREATER GOOD to AMPLIFY…
that “access” isn’t equal for all, especially at the intersections of education, governance, and democracy.
questions about who holds the keys to power, from local parent-teacher organizations, to the highest political offices.
the challenges that institutions and individuals face in truly living up to their missions.
the ways liberalism and progressivism often avoid the convergence of race and class.
the culmination of Kirsten Greenidge’s 3-year term as C1’s Mellon Foundation Resident Playwright, celebrating the ways she breaks theatrical and narrative norms regarding representation and inclusivity.
In GREATER GOOD, both Michael and Christine reference the volcano Vesuvius as an image of young black boys finding and explosively using their authentic voices. But this isn’t the only time the play invokes the power of exuberant sound.
Gordon, as head of Gleason Street School, walks us through the way that children loudly playing music invites expression of self, and that the “racket” of such ebullience is fundamental for the growth of the child. In the scene “The Music Lesson; Yes, Mr. Vermeer,” Gordon’s drumming, and the xylophone music played by the audience, are like another Vesuvius — cacophonous and transformational.
GORDON: My brother’s kid has a drum set. Electronic. You practice. By plugging in a headset. You hardly make a peep. My kit. Was so loud. Growing up, the funeral home next door on Huron. Would pay me fifty cents not to play on days they had a service. Other days it was free-for-all. Other days it was the rest of the neighbors saying “That racket” “What is this, Rush?” “You’re getting the hang, finally”. No one will say any of these things to my brother’s kid. Band of one. Alone in his room. Here we say: This racket is what connects and binds and the free-for-all is good. — “The Music Lesson; Yes, Mr. Vermeer,” GREATER GOOD
🥁 🥁 🥁
RUSH, the iconic prog-rock band (1968-2018) known for epic story songs and concept albums, introduced the world to Neal Peart — a drummer considered by many to be one of the greatest artists and technical masters of the form. He is preternaturally fast and precise. And loud. With RUSH’s heyday pegged from the late 1970s into the early 1990s, they’d be a perfect reference point for the neighbors as they yelled at the adolescent Gordon, practicing his drum licks.
Interesting sidebar: the funeral home on Huron (referenced in the excerpt above) is a real place in Cambridge MA, which was just rehabbed and turned into a luxury townhome and put on the market for $2,875,000 😮. (It’s two doors down from a townie pizza parlor. #gentrification)
Anyway. Check out this killer drum solo from RUSH’s Neil Peart!
Christine: You know what it is: you know what it is: you want to know what it is: I believe in volcanoes. I do believe in Vesuvius. You know what I do not believe in? Soccer. Basketball. Motherfucking football. If one more person brings a uniform around my kid
pg 110 ATHENA/REEL THREE
Christine is very persistent that she does not want her son to participate in sports – and as the mother of a black boy she has good reason. In 2018 a study by the University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Center concluded that black men are being exploited in the name of college athletics – “Of the 65 universities studied, black men comprised 2.4 percent of all undergraduates but 55 percent of football team members and 56 percent of basketball team members “
To make this disparity worse graduation rates are lower for black male athletes and have been dropping every year. Author and ex-footballer Martellus Bennett cites this study in an article he wrote for The Washington Post Beyond the game: We teach black boys sports are their only hope. What if we let them dream bigger? Martellus talks about the larger cultural implications these stats contextualize – that so many black boys and communities see sports as the only path to success, a path out of poverty.
Sports, he says, creates a hierarchy of how students are viewed in the neighborhood and how the neighborhood chooses to uplift the student. -Athletes are overly celebrated in communities at the cost of academics, arts, technology. Football coaches discourage exploration of anything else. When “only 8 out of every 10,000 high school football players get drafted by an NFL team” this means that these communities that have been set up around black boys are setting them up to fail.
Christine: If one more person brings a uniform around my kid Instead of a pencil or a paintbrush or 3D printer I swear to God. My son’s voice is loud here. And nobody says stop that. Or sit out. Or man up. He is: he is: he is allowed to be.
pg 110 ATHENA/REEL THREE
Not only economically but in the long term we know that football causes irreparable damage to the brain. According to NPR “A report by the Journal of the American Medical Association, published in 2017, showed that in a study of 111 brains of deceased former National Football League players, 110 had evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE has been linked with repeated blows to the head, and can result in behavioral changes and cognitive decline.” Despite the known risks, low-income students think that the chance of getting rich in the NFL, or a scholarship to high school or college is worth it. (NPR)
Christine wants her son to have nothing to do with this culture and risks.
Fun quotes: “Given the formidable revenue generating force of college athletics—especially football and basketball—these figures strongly suggest racial exploitation, the kind whereby black men are used primarily for their athletic skills to generate income for universities that educate mostly white graduates for successful careers.” Are universities exploiting black male athletes in order to raise revenues?
“It’s a luxury to worry about these long-term, sort of abstract damages to these kids and their parents,” Samaha said. “The risks are all around them — the risks of not going to high school, the risks of not making it into college, or the risks of of falling into kind of the street path that they’d seen other people around them fall into.” Football is their ticket out. But Samaha argues that America needs to reckon with the broader ethical implications of the sport. “America’s dual commitments to football and racial oppression have meant that the danger of the sport will increasingly fall on the shoulders of low income black and brown kids,” Samaha said. Meanwhile, he says, the money from the sport is mainly going to white coaches and white owners. Poor students more likely to play football, despite brain injury concerns
In GREATER GOOD, Isa, a Black teacher, is assigned to serve on the gala committee. During her conversation with the parents who run the committee, she pushes back against their insistence on fancy centerpieces and fingerbowls, asking them instead to consider the true mission and purpose of a school. In doing so, she invokes the image of the “promissory note” — similarly to the way Martin Luther King Jr deploys it in his “I Have a Dream” speech.
ISA: The thing is. The thing is. We do not. We don’t. Make anything. Schools do not make anything. We are promissory notes. Who trusts a promissory note? — “Our Fathers’ Parlors,” GREATER GOOD
Writing for The Grio, professor Alvin Tillery notes that “Dr. King stated that African-Americans and their allies had come to Washington to cash a ‘promissory note,’ written by the framers of the Constitution to all Americans, at the ‘bank of justice.’ In using this language, King was drawing on a long tradition in black political thought that highlighted the reality that African-Americans had been largely excluded from the American Dream despite the fact that they had been model citizens of the republic since the founding. In this same verse, King demands that America replace the bounced checks — ‘marked with insufficient funds’— that it had issued to its black citizens for more than 300 years with ‘a check that will give [blacks] upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.’”
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
There is no one person to blame in the downfall of Gleason but we can point to certain “strategies” in management that certainly didn’t help. Many times throughout the play there is mention of excess, that leads to waste, that we can assume then leads to a deficit for the school the ultimately causes it to close. The baccarat crystal, alpacas and lobster are some examples of this.
Marie Antoinette was an Austrian queen who was married to the French King Louis XVI. She is famously known for the quote “let them eat cake” and she is used as a symbol for excess, indulgence, and a doomed bourgeoisie. She was executed during the French revolution for the crime of “treason”.
We see her directly referenced twice in the play when Isa is talking to Kyle about their raise. Isa brings up Marie Antoinette to tell Kyle to embody the spirit of excess – she wants Kyle believe that they are worthy of “riches”.
ISA: At your summer review. Gordon should have offered. KYLE: I think I’d actually’d love a burger. ISA: You should just ask him. If they are gonna act like this is the Palace of Versailles… Then Marie Antoinette your inner self—
KYLE: It’s fine, it’s totally fine. They keep— ISA: Nodon’ttaketheirscrapsYouareMarieAntoinettewhatiswrongwithyou? Kyle. KYLE: It’s just bread. It’s just bread. Shift and KYLE seems isolated and ISA does not seem to hear Their. AlthoughIameyeingrottingfoodlikeit’sbeingservedtomeonasilverplatter. AlthoughIameyeingrottingfoodwhenitistimeIgotupfromthetable. Shift and KYLE and ISA are back on the same plane. It is just bread. It is just bread. It is just bread—
Kyle’s line of “it is just bread” is a meaningful (maybe intentional) reference to the quote “let them eat cake” that is attributed to Marie Antoinette but in French does translate more directly to “let them eat bread”
From wikipedia: ” ‘Let them eat cake’ is the traditional translation of the French phrase “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche“, supposedly spoken by “a great princess” upon learning that the peasants had no bread. Since brioche was a luxury bread enriched with butter and eggs, the quotation would reflect the princess’s disregard for the peasants, or her poor understanding of their situation.”
With each “It is just bread” that Kyle says, the gap between the extravagance of Gleason and Kyle widens.
In the same scene the Palace of Versailles is referenced to. The Palace of Versailles is where Marie Antoinette lived and is the ultimate symbol of waste. “As the most imitated building of 17th century, Versailles stood for power, wealth, sex and scandal….” [Five ways Versailles has influenced pop culture today]. Versailles started off as a simple hunting lodge for King Louis XIII
Versailles, which is capable of holding up to 20,000 people, has 700 rooms, more than 2,000 windows, 1,250 chimneys, and 67 staircases… Up to 3,000 princes, courtesans, ministers, and servants lived there at any given time. Palace inhabitants coveted spaces nearest the king’s apartments, as this proximity offered status. ….
While Versailles’ extravagance is dreamlike, keeping it running was a financial nightmare. Some estimates say that maintaining the palace, including caring for and feeding the Royal Family and their massive staff, consumed anywhere from 6-25% of the entire French government income.
Actual building costs for Versailles are debated by modern historians, because currency values are uncertain. However, Versailles’ price tag ranges anywhere from two billion dollars (in 1994 USD) all the way up to a maximum cost of $299,520,000,000! The palace represented an extravagance that presented a stark contrast to the working class in France. (Source)
The extravagance of Versailles caused tension amongst the different classes in France – much like the extravagance of the Gleason Street School gala leads to tension between the teachers, rich parents, poor parents, parents of color. Ultimately the french revolt and kill Marie Antoinette but they continue to pay for the upkeep of Versailles.
Gleason Street, the fictional school in GREATER GOOD, exists in the lineage of “progressive education.” There are loads of resources out there that discuss the nuances of progressive ed in great detail, but lets begin with an overview. For this purpose, Wikipedia is a good launchpad:
Progressive education is a pedagogical movement that began in the late nineteenth century; it has persisted in various forms to the present. The term progressive was engaged to distinguish this education from the traditional Euro-American curricula of the 19th century, which was rooted in classical preparation for the university and strongly differentiated by social class. By contrast, progressive education finds its roots in present experience. Most progressive education programs have these qualities in common:
• Emphasis on learning by doing – hands-on projects, expeditionary learning, experiential learning • Integrated curriculum focused on thematic units • Integration of entrepreneurship into education • Strong emphasis on problem solving and critical thinking • Group work and development of social skills • Understanding and action as the goals of learning as opposed to rote knowledge • Collaborative and cooperativelearning projects • Education for social responsibility and democracy • Highly personalized learning accounting for each individual’s personal goals • Integration of community service and service learning projects into the daily curriculum • Selection of subject content by looking forward to ask what skills will be needed in future society • De-emphasis on textbooks in favor of varied learning resources • Emphasis on lifelong learning and social skills • Assessment by evaluation of child’s projects and productions
In the 1960s-70s, the number of progressive schools went through a national decline for a number of reasons — some of which are applicable to our own exploration of education and governance in the play. These include:
• The economy: The oil crisis and recession made shoestring schools less viable. • Non-implementation: Schools failed to implement a model of shared governance • Interpersonal dynamics: Disagreement over school goals, poor group process skills, lack of critical dialogue, and fear of assertive leadership
In the modern moment, the numbers of progressive schools are on the rise, and are connected to wider regional accrediting bodies. In Massachusetts, the Association of Independent Schools of New England is the central membership organization both accrediting and representing the needs of the independent and progressive school ecology. (And a reminder, that progressive schools and independent schools are not exactly the same.)
Cuts in funding for public education in many states have led to the founding of an unprecedented number of independent schools, many of which have progressive philosophies. The charter school movement has also spawned an increase in progressive programs. Most recently, public outcry against No Child Left Behind testing and teaching to the test has brought progressive education again into the limelight. Despite the variations that still exist among the progressive programs throughout the country, most progressive schools today are vitalized by these common practices:
• The curriculum is more flexible and is influenced by student interest • Teachers are facilitators of learning who encourage students to use a wide variety of activities to learn • Progressive teachers use a wider variety of materials allowing for individual and group research. • Progressive teachers encourage students to learn by discovery • Progressive education programs often include the use of community resources and encourage service-learning projects.
All grayed-box text has been culled from Wikipedia
This post contains an action item specifically for the cast and team of GREATER GOOD.
As the script and design concept go through revisions, Steve, Kirsten, and Ilana are inviting folx to participate in an ad hoc design visioning brainstorm.
Read and think about the prompt below. Then, share your brainstorm with us by using the CONTACT page (found on the upper menu bar of this site).
What is covered up? Behind the walls of Gleason Street School, under the floorboards, in and below the foundation of the building, is a festering history of oppression in America. It’s a goop, a guck, a living organic substance. It is a psychological manifestation of the oblivious ego of white privilege. It seeps out of the cracks. It can’t be contained. The substance holds objects — perhaps books, the pillars of the White House, broken pieces from the House of Slaves from Goree Island, for example. We want to make a brainstorm list of what other things are in this substance. All ideas are welcome.
Mount Vesuvius, the Italian volcano formed by the collision of the African and Eurasian tectonic plates, is invoked by both Michael and Christine as a powerful metaphor. Often, in myth and art, Vesuvius stands in for sudden, unexpected, and violent explosions. It’s the volcano that erupted in Ancient Rome and buried the city of Pompeii and all its inhabitants, with barely a warning. When it last erupted in the 1940s, it spewed ash to such an extent that the gas and ash cloud covered the whole of southern Europe. It’s considered one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes, and the force of its eruptions has been estimated to release a hundred thousand times the thermal energy of WWII’s Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombings.
The two Vesuvius references in the play are as follows. Both instances connect to Black children, and in particular Black boys, being silenced …then finding their voices.
Michael, in the scene “Toussaint is a Whisper”:
Whatever your head filled up with was meant to be spat back out. While you sat in your space at that desk. A lot of the time. In third grade. Ms. Watson. Third grade. My head just got too full. Too much would come spilling. Oh my God it would come spilling out. Vesuvius. Sparks, sparks, sparks. But Ms. Watson. Was having none of it. I was sent to the Principal. The nurse. The counselor.
Christine, in the scene “Athena/Reel 3”:
Okay, okay, okay. You know what it is. You know what it is. You want to know what it is. I do believe in volcanoes. I do believe in Vesuvius. You know what I do not believe in? Soccer. Basketball. Motherfucking football. If one more person brings a uniform around my kid I swear to God. You know what it is. That is not I want.
The dramaturgy team put together a timeline of events in the play as the events would have unfolded linearally, rather than the order in which they appear in the script. Actors may find it useful to refer to this chronology as we map the narrative and character journeys.
Note: as the play changes through the next week’s revisions, this timeline may also change. Watch this space for updates!