School Play takes the stage at 2016 Children’s Sabbath

Posted by Steven Fynes & categorized under Notes from the Road .

childrens-sabbath-2016-14On Sunday October 16th, a cast of six Philadelphia middle and high school students presented an excerpt of School Play at the annual Children’s Sabbath sponsored by PCCY.

Hosted at Rodeph Shalom Synagogue in Center City, Philadelphia the event featured speakers of all faith denominations and this year, focused on the urgent necessity of providing an equitable and inspiring education for children of all ages, across Philadelphia and throughout our state.

Our student actors were incredibly enthusiastic and moving as each portrayed a variety of roles ranging from students to parents, teachers and administrators.  Most impressive of all, rehearsals for the performance took place in two brief sessions. While some of the cast had acted in theatrical productions, none were deeply involved in a consistent way. Yet with a few rehearsals, each felt confident and comfortable with the material, and conveyed the essence of their characters’ message to the audience with passion and conviction.

This experience really captures the essence of what School Play was created to do — to motivate diverse community members to present the play to audiences outside of the traditional theatre setting.  Described as “live documentary theatre”, School Play is a real-life play created from real people’s words and performed by real people with one real life purpose: to dramatize the all-too real human consequences of the devaluing and disregard of our public education system and make it personally relatable to more people.

A lively audience of students, religious leaders and congregants from several Philadelphia faith groups were deeply moved by the students’ performance and by what they learned about the rampant inequity in our school system. As always, the audience was encouraged to take home a short excerpt and to download the full script of the play, available free online from this site, or to choose one of the many abridged versions and to present it as a full play or a rehearsed reading at their school, at community rallies in support of public education or at fund-raisers.

School Play exists to help bring reliable, equitable funding to all of Pennsylvania’s public schools. Your reading or performance of the play can help make more people in your community aware of ongoing challenges and the urgency of making public education work — for all of our communities.

For more information, feel free to contact us through this website.

What we learned from our journey

Posted by Steven Fynes & categorized under Notes from the Road .

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Hey there! The School Play crew has returned from our statewide road trip.

 

 

 

 

Five actors, two playwrights, a producer, a stage manager, two flags and six (very large) chairs traveled 2,000 miles around PA in two weeks, presenting 15 shows in 12 counties. We performed in schools and in theatres, sometimes to full houses, sometimes to a small group of local education advocates and parents and once, for Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Education, Pedro Rivera, in his home district of Lancaster, PA.

As a bonus, we happened to hit the road at the peak of fall foliage season, so the endless miles of highway, some of which we crisscrossed in both directions, were magnificently art-directed and lit.

What we learned from our journey is that School Play works exactly as we envisioned. The play touches audiences in every city and town on a personal, emotional level that really points up how universally meaningful our connection to the public education system is — and how critical it is to preserve it as an integral, unifying component of our lives as Americans. Public school creates an astonishingly diverse and robust community of people who believe passionately in democracy and equality of opportunity. This is only one of the valuable and reassuring insights that will surely stay with us.

Everywhere we went, we encountered thoughtful, passionate students, parents, educators and many, many state reps, mayors and senators who came to see the show and speak with us afterwards. In fact, the workshops our actors conducted with students, based on the ideas and techniques used in our play, were a highlight of our trip — as much for the actors as for the students, and certainly for the playwrights.

Students created poems or spoken word pieces based on the play’s “My Favorite Teacher” moment; wrote scenes or monologues and learned to create a character using the resources of their own body, as an actor does. We were frequently invited to return and give neighbors who had missed the play a chance to hear about it and attend. Visitors from other towns asked if we would include them on the next tour.

So now we are back in Philly, strategizing about what direction to take next and how best to support getting Pennsylvania’s schools fairly and reliably funded. If you have suggestions for ways we can use the play to this end, please contact us!

Above all, we hope to take advantage of the momentum generated by our tour: we encourage everyone who expressed interest in doing their own production or reading of School Play to get in touch, and let us know when you’ll be staging your own version!  We’re here with support, suggestions, and experience to share.

And finally, of almost equal importance, this invaluable nugget: when planning a road trip in Pennsylvania, amongst truck stops, Iron Skillet rules.

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SCHOOL PLAY Playwright Arden Kass on Crisis and the Creative Process

Posted by Hallie Martenson & categorized under Uncategorized .

IMG_1138School Play was born out of personal experience with the funding crisis, which is probably why it feels so passionate. My daughter graduated from Central High School in 2012 after a phenomenal, rich experience, educationally and socially. So when my son applied to another leading public high school and got in, we were thrilled. Then the budget cuts started literally dismantling the educational system: my son came home and told us he’d be learning Spanish from Rosetta Stone because the school could no longer afford to hire a live teacher. (At first, I thought he was joking.) After a few more reports like that, I started to feel guilty about complaining but not figuring out how to do something — yet we weren’t even allowed to come in and teach the kids ourselves!

I began to volunteer for PCCY. First, I helped collect 4,000 letters from children whose schools were being affected by the cuts and, with a bunch of parents and students, deliver them to Harrisburg. I organized the kids into a choral reading of the letters in the Rotunda, but none of the politicians, certainly not then-Governor Corbett, came to hear the kids read or their parents speak. It was pretty hurtful; so much so, that I wrote a nasty editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer. But as a playwright, it was the kids’ voices, reading those letters that kept going around in my head. After one too many really uncomfortable conversations at a dinner party with people whose kids had never attended public school, or whose school had every facility and resource they could ever dream of, and who were totally unfamiliar with the conditions in schools just 7 miles away, I realized that just like myself, no oSPMariahHarrisne was really focusing on the reports in the newspapers and on the radio — for most people, a school funding crisis sounded like just another dire report about budgets and shortfalls — or just another political skirmish — but not something that might affect me personally – or devastate my child’s future. And my kid’s problems were hardly the worst of it, as I became more and more aware of how other schools and families were suffering. And still the kids’ voices echoed in my memory.

Then this crazy vision came to me: People should hear what’s really going in schools and in families, and undoubtedly, they’ll be as outraged as I am. They should hear the voices of real people, just as I heard the voices of those children. Although my heart is in the theatre, I have worked as a copywriter, broadcast producer and screenwriter for my entire career. I realized that I possessed a unique set of skills for creating something that might help make a real difference — by combining the unique power of theatre to speak to peoples’ hearts and minds, with the promotional and marketing techniques I had learned through my paying work, I could, for once, have the privilege of effectively “communicating” something that actually mattered to me. So that’s where School Play came from.

IMG_1146So far the response from our audiences is exactly what we hoped for – they respond to the authenticity of the voices onstage with genuine emotion, either because they recognize their own experience in the stories our actors tell, or because they are deeply shocked and dismayed by the true accounts they hear. The most amazing things happen to us, people crying at interviews and thanking us for asking about their lives, or hugging us at shows, for turning their lives into art. Every artist should have the opportunity to work on something this powerful — this monumental, really — at least once in their life.

But I have to say that everything that has happened in the past year and half, since this project first began, has been the result of working with some amazing partners — both to help pull it together financially and logistically, and as co-creators of the actual play. I’m very proud of having decided to take action about an issue I found so disturbing I could no longer just contemplate it — but I actually think that the smartest thing I did was immediately reach out to people who could help me turn a good idea into a tangible and meaningful reality.

If enough people who believe that kids everywhere deserve the best education we can give them start to speak up publicly, eventually, as Arthur Miller wrote,“attention must be paid.”

How To Launch A School Play

Posted by School Play Admin & categorized under Uncategorized .

New Site!

From 10,000 stickies… Welcome to our brand new web site – Schoolplaypa.org. We are SO excited to introduce every one of you to our play, our actors and our long-awaited, 15-venue, 2,000 mile statewide tour. Just in time for our first show in Elkins Park, Pa, where we’re expecting over 50 guests in the pouring rain. (People who care about kids and schools REALLY care!) Even now, with the Pennsylvania legislature still struggling (in October!) to pass a budget, we’re making a full scale push to get every village, town and metropolis talking about how urgently we need to find a fair and reliable solution for funding our public schools. School Play is our way of inviting everyone in Pennsylvania into the conversation about education, via the true stories of real people all across the state.  Keep checking back here for news and notes from the road, by every member of our cast and crew — and guest bloggers too, as we traipse around the state in rented vehicles, making up word games to play in the car. So browse our brand new site, sign in and send us reactions to our shows or news about your upcoming School Play performance or just keep us in the loop with what you and your local school district are experiencing. See you on the road!