A legitimate educational experience June 9, 2007Posted by Jeff in "Reality has a well-known liberal bias", "Voices Of Conflict", Drama in Wilton.
A journey that started three months ago with a New York Times article about the town I grew up in, has taken me back to the scene of my childhood for a once-in-a-lifetime evening, the most moving and revelatory theatrical experience I have had in years.
In March of this year, the principal of Wilton High School in Wilton, CT told a group of students that they could not perform Voices In Conflict, a theater piece they were compiling based on letters and essays by Iraq War soldiers. To quote from a March 24 New York Times article that brought international attention to the matter:
The principal, Timothy H. Canty, who has tangled with students before over free speech, said in an interview he was worried the play might hurt Wilton families “who had lost loved ones or who had individuals serving as we speak,” and that there was not enough classroom and rehearsal time to ensure it would provide “a legitimate instructional experience for our students.”
I have been writing about the twists and turns of the Voices In Conflict saga ever since, and last night I finally got to place faces to names as I attended the second public performance of the piece at the Fairfield Theater Company in Fairfield, CT.
I was expecting a moving evening — before the play started I texted a friend that I was already verklempt — but what I don’t think I was at all ready for was what an amazing piece of theater it was. Expanded and streamlined by dramaturg Willy Holtzman from the sketchy notes I posted in March, the piece has grown by leaps and bounds, encompassing music, dance and words to deliver a moving and balanced portrait of the Iraq conflict.
Afterwards, a panel led by Connecticut ACLU chair John Simon (no relation to the critic, I assure you), led a panel that included Bonnie Dickinson, the teacher who directed and led the production, along with students Devon Fontaine, Alton Fleming and James Presson who spoke of the pressures they felt from fellow students after they decided to proceed with developing the production after the cancellation. It was pointed out that no one from the WHS school administration had attended either of the two Connecticut performances.
I was especially moved to once again shake hands with Craig Matheson, the retired co-founder of the Staples Players at Staples High School in Westport, CT. Forty years ago, my parents and I saw the Staples Players production of an anti-Vietnam war play, War And Pieces. As Matheson noted, that controversial play was staged with the full support of the Westport school administration. (I understand the current Staples principal was on the panel after the Wednesday performance, and said he would have approved the production.) So seeing this play last night was the culmination of a long journey both for Mr. Matheson and myself.
We have been instructed by Voices In Conflict, but more importantly we have been educated. Some teachers are only capable of instruction — the one-way dissemination of facts — while others have opened themselves to education, a process in which the teachers leanrs as much as the taught.
Yesterday morning, an Army Reserve officer was sitting in a nearby diner when he read the Fairfield Weekly piece, and called the theater to see if he could get a seat. The performance has long since been sold out, but they got him in to the standing-room area wher he saw the play next to Ms. Dickinson. Afterward, he spoke as the very last commentator at the end of the panel, and said that the students has “abolutely nailed” what the Iraq experience was like for him and his fellow soldiers. I know that for Ms. Dickinson and her Drama Arts II class, that must have been the best review of all.