THEATER FOR THE NEW CITY TO PRESENT
"THE FACULTY ROOM" BY WILLIAM ELECTRIC BLACK
Fourth in his GUNPLAYS series, this immersive drama swallows its audience into a schoolhouse in a hard lockdown: an experience your children have probably been drilling for.
WHERE AND WHEN
April 13 to 30, 2017
Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave. (at E. 10th Street)
Presented by Theater for the New City
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 3:00 PM
$15 general admission, $12 Seniors/Students, $10 groups
Box office (212) 254-1109, www.theaterforthenewcity.net
Group sales: Alex Santullo (212) 475-0108
Play's website: www.gunplays.org
Running time 85 min. Critics are invited on or after April 13.
NEW YORK, February 19 -- Baby Boomers had nuclear air raid drills in school that stamped their souls with the realization that death is always close by. Their children now have lockdown drills, rehearsing what to do when a shooter is on the loose in the school. A nuclear attack never materialized (at least, not yet), but the present generation has Sandy Hook, Columbine, Virginia Tech and a host of other massacres to remind them of their own mortality. The hard lockdown--when an imminent danger is known--is an unforgettable rite of passage for many people, and it is the setting of "The Faculty Room," the newest play by William Electric Black that is the fourth in his GUNPLAYS series. Theater for the New City will present its world premiere run April 13 to 30, directed by the author.
In this play, the faculty members of James Baldwin High School have found themselves in a mandatory lock down because two star players on the girls' basketball team have quarreled over a lover. Their argument has escalated to armed conflict because of the prevalence of guns in the school. Huddled together in the faculty room are the three women and a man. The middle-aged female security guard aims to manage the crisis with authority. The girls' phys ed teacher/basketball coach, who grew up in the neighborhood, has confiscated a pistol from one of her star hoopsters just the day before. The perky, idealistic teaching artist is relishing her first inner city teaching gig, hoping to inspire teens who have lost their way, lost their dreams, and lost family members. Finally, there is Mr. Cutter, a history teacher in his sunset years, who has taught his students that the epidemic of gun violence is just that, a disease.
The lives of two black girls are at stake. The manual says that in an event of imminent danger, all individuals, including safety officers, must not engage in any building sweep activity, but must take appropriate lockdown action and await the arrival of first responders. But will these people "do it by the book"? Will James Baldwin High School be on the news tonight? For certain, things will never be the same in its Faculty Room after today.
You can't understand a man, the proverb goes, until you've walked a mile in his shoes. But who, among us, has tasted the paranoia, dread and loss from gun violence that is, shockingly, common to urban high schools? This play is staged without a fourth wall so you can experience the situation first-hand: you sit right in the faculty room with the four teachers and, when they slip in, the hoopsters, who are surprisingly unperturbed by the whole experience.
"GUNPLAYS" (www.gunplays.org) is a series of five plays by William Electric Black addressing inner city violence and guns. In 2014, Black launched his GUNPLAYS series at Theater for the New City with "Welcome Home Sonny T," a drama that spotlighted two significant forces driving the current epidemic of gun violence: the social impact of alienation and unemployment on young black males and the declining influence of black ministers as a force of stability in affected neighborhoods. The second play in the series, "When Black Boys Die" (2015), premiered at Theater for the New City in 2015. The third, presented by Theater for the New City for 2016 Gun Awareness Month, was "Death of a Black Man (A Walk By)," a play with hip hop verse, chanting, songs and poetry.
William Electric Black's record with "activist" plays is admirable. In 2009, he directed Theater for the New City's sensational and serious "Lonely Soldier Monologues: Women at War in Iraq," a staged series of monologues based on a book by Helen Benedict. The play earned widespread notice and significantly helped the issues of America's female soldiers to be widely recognized for the first time.
In 2015, William Electric Black also issued a children's book, "A Gun Is Not Fun," and is now looking for community groups, businesses, government agencies, school systems, hospitals, and churches to underwrite the cost of printing so that children in Pre-K/1st & 2nd grade can get free copies.
Mr. Black speaks with anguish about recent shootings in our area, like the 13-year-old girl--a rising basketball star--who was fatally shot in Mount Vernon on New Year's Eve. He despairs that gun violence is still not regarded as a public health issue, as it should be. And he despairs of the prospect for constructive government action in the near future. "Trump said we should get the federal government involved in Chicago--send in the troops! Mayor Rahm Emanuel said, 'Why not through gun laws?' Nobody's listening."
He cites recent scholarship (http://tinyurl.com/k3c3s93) asserting that the Second Amendment was ratified (and why it says "State" instead of "Country") to preserve slave patrol militias in the southern states. "Today, for a whole class of people, guns plus prison plus lack of education equals modern slavery," he asserts. Gun possession is trending younger and younger and many inner city teens now pack guns in their backpacks rather than books. "If shots were fired around our daughters and sons in private colleges," he says, "we would snap into action. But society tolerates it in inner city schools, in our own back yards." Even kids who aren’t directly affected can be haunted by post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms for years. Gun suicides are on the rise among teens, he points out, and popular culture sensationalizes our armed culture to susceptible age groups. Recent surveys reveal more use of guns in PG movies nowadays than in R movies.
The actors are Ann-Kathryne Mills, Sarah Q. Shah, Brittney Benson, Kaylin Reed, Levern Williams and Mattie McMaster. Set design is by Mark Marcante and Lytza Colon. Costumes and props are by Susan Hemley. Lighting design is by Alexander Bartenieff.
William Electric Black (www.williamelectricblack.com), aka Ian Ellis James, is a seven-time Emmy Award winning writer for his work on "Sesame Street" between 1992 and 2002. He also wrote for Nickelodeon's "Allegra’s Window" and LancitMedia’s "Backyard Safari." Theater for the New City gave him his start in theater, presenting his earliest work, "Billy Stars and Kid Jupiter," in 1980. Now, TNC proudly continues its tradition of supporting and developing Black's unusual and energetic theatrical work.
In a series of multimedia projects, Black has campaigned for exercise and good nutrition for young children, prescription drug awareness and obesity prevention. He has received a Bronze Apple (National Educational Video Award) for directing. He has also received several Best Play Awards and has been published by Benchmark Education, The Dramatic Publishing Co. and Smith & Krauss.
He is a faculty member at NYU’s Tisch School (Dept. of Dramatic Writing/Open Arts, and NYU’s Summer High School Program). He has also taught at The Collegiate School, The Riverdale Country Day School, Southern Illinois University, 92nd Street Y, Teachers & Writers and TheatreWorks USA.
Beside socially-conscious plays like the Gunplays series and "The Lonely Soldier Monologues," Black creates delightful musicals for family audiences. These have included "Betty and the Belrays" (TNC, 2007), in which three white female singers challenged a racially divided society by singing for a black record label, "My Boyfriend is a Zombie" (TNC, 2010), which was like Grease with a zombie twist, and "American Star!!!" (TNC, 2013), a satire of adolescents' obsessions with celebrity idol TV shows. The last of these, on its serious side, shone a canny light on magical thinking in minority youth, where lack of opportunity gives rise to "pie in the sky" dreams like instant TV stardom. Black has also written, produced and directed a series of plays and musicals for La MaMa, where he runs the Poetry Electric series.
He is writing, directing, and producing animated videos on stroke prevention with the National Stroke Association and childhood obesity prevention for Hip Hop Public Health under the direction of Dr. Olajide Williams featuring music by Doug E. Fresh, Chuck D, other rap artists. He has completed three short films to educate the Black faith-based community and the Hispanic faith-based community on stroke awareness. In 2015, he published an early reader, "A Gun is Not Fun" (www.agunisnotfunthebook.com) for children's education as part of a national campaign to save lives in cities across America.
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CRITICS ARE INVITED on or after April 13.