“Voices from the Margin’ focuses on education

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 12, 2015

By Susan Shinn

For The Salisbury Post

Last year, Lee Street’s “Voices from the Margin” show addressed homelessness. Now, the series tackles another tough issue: education.

Performances of “What Do They Need? Monologues by Principals, Teachers, Students from Rowan-Salisbury Schools,” written by Janice Fuller and directed by Robin Tynes, will take place at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19-21 at Lee Street theatre, 329 N. Lee St. Admission is a $15 suggested donation, and all proceeds from the door will be donated to the Impact Fund of Rowan-Salisbury Schools.

Fuller and Justin Dionne, Lee Street’s managing artistic director, spent hours interviewing local principals, teachers and students. Three main themes emerged from the conversations: poverty, technology and community. What makes these topics compelling, the playwright Fuller found, were the stories behind them.

She talked with a principal who got down on the floor with students to discuss how they could use an iPad. She talked to a fifth-grade student who gets five younger siblings ready for school each morning. She talked with a principal who found parents were more interested in hiring a new coach than a new math teacher.

Dionne says the project has no hidden agenda.

“We are holding up a mirror to the community about these issues,” he says. “I learned so much by doing this project. These issues are never that simple. It’s all about taking time to listen to what someone else is going through.”

Dionne and Fuller learned quickly that teachers aren’t in their chosen profession for the pay.

“They don’t do it for pay,” Dionne notes, “but it hurts them when their teacher assistants are taken away.”

“We got some great quotes about why people teach,” Fuller says.

Both Dionne and Fuller are quick to point out that the 45-minute show is not meant to be a comprehensive study of education in Rowan County, but simply a glimpse into the school system.

“This is a small group that we tried to make representative,” Fuller says, adding that she may write a full-length play from the material later on.

She also tried to keep the characters’ voices authentic, she says. “We smoothed some things out, but we tried to keep the sense that this was not a prepared speech these people were making.”

The show is directed by Robin Tynes, a Catawba College graduate who works for Three Bone Theater in Charlotte and the Children’s Theater of Charlotte.

Performers include: Frances Bendert, Ms. Wilkins; Mara Rosenberg, Ms. Rhodes; Anna Kate Hall, Ms. Johnson; Ava Holtzman, Cora; Isabella Almazan, Madison; Justin Davis, Mr. Wilson; Pete Barr, Mr. Mitchell; Ellentinya Dodd, Alicia; Quson Brown, Derrick.

Dionne and Fuller both attended public schools here, and Fuller is a professor of English at Catawba.

“I value this profession so much,” she says. “When you see some of the things people are doing for their students, it makes you proud of your schools, it makes you wish you could do more, and it makes you proud of people who may get overlooked.”

“We hope that all people who think education is important and want to know more about education will want to see this show,” Dionne says.

Dionne was pleased with last year’s production. One performance was done especially for guests of Rowan Helping Ministries.

“They saw their stories on the stage, and it was such a cool moment of empowerment through the art of theater,” he says. “If I can do that with this show, that is mission accomplished.”

“I have found projects that have a service element,” Fuller says, “and I want to do more of that.”

“I love the projects we do that impact the community,” Dionne says. “At Lee Street, our niche is all the variety we offer.”

“Voices from the Margin” is made possible by grants from Rowan Arts Council and the North Carolina Arts Council. For more information about the show, visit www.leestreet.org or call 704-310-5507.

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.