Leah Reddy is a Master Teaching Artist at Roundabout and has served as Partnership Coordinator for Roundabout’s partnership with Brooklyn School for Music and Theatre (BSMT) for the past 5 years. At BSMT, Roundabout Teaching Artists partner with educators to co-plan and co-facilitate 8-visit classroom residencies that explore classroom content through theatre. This fall, Leah partnered with Kayla Dinces in her creative writing class. Together, Leah and Kayla worked with the school’s Restorative Justice Coordinator, Yuko Uchikawa, to explore creative writing using theatre and restorative justice practices. The students attended Roundabout’s production of KINGDOM COME as a part of the residency. In a series of 3 blogs, Leah will share her experience as a Teaching Artist in this residency. The following is blog 3 of 3.
We live in a world where young people, particularly young people of color, are disrespected and devalued. I don’t want the environments I create in the classroom—even if I’m just there for 45 minutes—to reinforce or replicate that power structure, and I started this project because I had a hunch that Restorative Justice could help with that. One of the cornerstones of Restorative Justice practice is the restorative circle, in which a community sits in a circle and passes a talking piece around, with each community member having the opportunity to speak on the topic at hand. Yuko told me that “since restorative circles value equity in the space one takes up (use of talking piece allows everyone the opportunity to speak) and also the circle keeper is also a part of the community, not above or below the participants… it creates a place of expression and respect and not replicate the hierarchical power structure.”
We had circles in each of our workshops, often at the very end, when we responded to a reflection question. As a teaching artist I liked the practice not only because it made a comfortable space for every voice (something difficult to do when you have outspoken students in a class) but also because it highlighted that we are all on an artistic journey together.
We spent this week working with students to develop their collaboratively-written, original short play, Acceptance? Kayla and I began the process by offering a scenario for students to build on that connected back to Kingdom Come: two cousins and a grandmother in conflict over something the grandmother discovers online. We left the conflict, and it's resolution, open.
Tyreese, Kahmeeca, and Olivia improvised several ideas, eventually circling in on the grandmother discovering that the male cousin was gay, and the fallout as her beliefs clash with her grandchildren's experiences. From there, Donta, Chelsea, and Akima worked as playwrights to develop the script, while other students took on design and technical roles. The process was student-driven and the engagement and energy in the room changed. It felt successful: students were actively making theatre, inspired by a Roundabout production.
The process ground to a halt when the playwrights wrote in language and plot twists the actors didn't feel was true to their characters or story. Would our ensemble be able to be able to analyze and resolve their conflict? What effect would our practice of restorative circles and the time spent exploring dignity have? How much should we, as authority figures, guide the conversation?
The initial conversation was a mixed bag: the students were thoughtful and articulate, but not always able to give each other the benefit of the doubt, or acknowledge the work each group had put into the project. Afterwards, Yuko, Kayla, and I brainstormed additional ways we could have shaped the conversation so that students maintained ownership but were more mindful of their classmates’ perspectives.
Our residency is ongoing: like theatre-making, Restorative Justice is a collaborative process that takes time. I hope the students walk away with a better ability to analyze how conflict develops, and the awareness needed to resolve conflict in their own lives.
Education @ Roundabout, Teaching Artist Tuesday