The production of GREATER GOOD will take place at The Commonwealth School, in Boston’s Back Bay. The design team and full artistic team has been frequently visiting the school since the winter, planning for how the scenes and audiences will inhabit and move through the space.
MICHAEL: Join us. Our own Haitian Revolution up in here. TOUSSAINT.
Toussaint is known as the Black Napolean, he took charge during the slave revolt in Haiti turning it into the Haitian Revolution against the French. “He helped transform the slave insurgency into a revolutionary movement. By 1800 Saint-Domingue, the most prosperous French slave colony of the time, had become the first free colonial society to have explicitly rejected race as the basis of social ranking.” (wikipedia)
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.
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.
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!
Lina posted a great resource earlier today that detailed some components that comprise “white supremacy culture.”
Last night in rehearsal, we spent more than an hour discussing how the conditions and systems of whiteness manifest themselves — in the school, amongst the council, in governance, in interpersonal relationships between characters, and in the world outside the play.
Some observations that came from that conversation are listed below. The comments have been anonymized.
• “Whiteness has been constructed in the play to be as loomingly present as it is in reality.” • “Isa’s line about how ‘you can’t have your pet pony black person go on a rampage’ — to be on the school’s parent council, do you have to be a certain kind of black person?” • “I’m interested in how whiteness is associated with obliviousness — permission to be oblivious. For Gordon, as the cis white head of school, only someone with his status can behave the way he does.” • “Is part of the way Gordon keeps his position, and how everyone takes care of him, waiting on him, making allowances for him — is it because the POC on the council actually need a white guy as the figurehead?” • “White people are able to tap out of situations/conversations/the work when it gets tough. This feels connected to Gordon’s desire to ‘just drift’ and basically walk away from this school whose mission is about access and citizenry.” • “Thinking about ‘code-switching’ in these scenes. In life, there are metaphorical ‘front spaces’ where marginalized people need to perform, and ‘back spaces’ where marginalized people feel more comfortable to be themselves. How do POC interact during the scene with the cocktail party, where there are no white people, but they are still surrounded by the overwhelming presence of whiteness? On top of which, economics, rather than race, becomes a sorting factor with regards to characters’ status.” • “I read recently Domination and the Arts of Resistance — it touches on front space vs back space. People in positions of power have the ability to be more casual in spaces of performance. In the cocktail party scene, Kim comes out and almost says that they need Christine to substitute for Ann on the council because they don’t want the composition of the council to shift to become more white.” • “Whiteness as an ideology exists outside of bodies, even in a place with a plurality of black and brown people.” • “Black people are hyper visible in some spaces while being simultaneously invisible in those same spaces. Like the way that Val presumes Christine isn’t a member of the parents council, and instead is a stranger who got lost on the way to CVS. Then, at the same time, Christine is featured in the fundraising videos as the diverse face to represent the school.” • “There are some POC characters who are aware they’re in white spaces, and play differently to that.” • “Marginalized people in white spaces are often called on to leverage their identity as a selling point. Like Christine is asked to do as a black woman of a lower economic status, or like Kyle has probably been asked to do with regards to their black trans identity.” • “Wealth and whiteness are often linked, but that does not hold true in this play. Money is all over this play all the time, and the some of the wealthiest characters are POC. The most economically disadvantaged character is white, but has positional power as the Vice-Prolocutor of the council.” • “Kirsten is looking at the issue of substitution — how white culture looks to simply substitute people of color for one another, such as we see with Ann and Christine.”
Built by dismantlingracism.org who offered organizations support in creating anti-racist movements in their environments. Through their years of doing this work they created a list of characteristics of white supremacy that show up in our culture and harm us.
Highly recommend reading the whole document.
White Supremacy Culture The above link has details on the following characteristics as well as their “antidotes” – Perfectionism – Sense of Urgency – Defensiveness – Quantity Over Quality – Worship of the Written Word – Paternalism – Either/Or Thinking – Power Hoarding – Fear of Open Conflict – Individualism – Progress is Bigger, More – Objectivity – Right to Comfort
Think about these different characteristics and how we are harmed or helped by these characteristics.