Updated: Jan 12
My show will make its Southern debut in Nashville the weekend of February 10-12th, 2023. If you know anyone in the Nashville area, please forward this their way.
This show was booked a year ago, and now it's the focus of my daily work as I've been meeting with theater staff over zoom to approve the cover of the Playbill (above picture, love how they framed it), sort travel details, set rehearsal schedules, and arrange press interviews. And then, there are revisions to the script and starting to learn the new sections.
As part of my preparation, I’ve been learning about the Tennessee law to ban so-called CRT (Critical Race Theory) from public schools. There is a scene in this iteration of my play that addresses this subject. Critical Race Theory is an academic approach to examining racial bias which was developed by legal scholars over 30 years ago and which is taught at the law school and university levels. Florida, Texas, and Tennessee were the first states to pass laws last year to ban the teaching of “divisive concepts” related to race and sex in schools.
In Florida, this law is popularly known as the Don’t Say Gay Bill but is much broader than issues related to the LGBT community. These laws seek to remove content from the curriculum, along with books from school libraries, that pertain to our nation’s history of discrimination based on race, national origin, or sex. As we well know, all these forms of discrimination existed for centuries under the laws of the United States, and it wasn’t until the Civil Rights Laws of the 1960s that these laws were struck down. Today, we are still passing laws at the federal and state level to address ongoing discrimination against people from these groups.
It is an undeniable fact that this type of discrimination was a key component of our legal system. The laws required separate and inferior schools for Black and Mexican-American students. With the exception of a few Black colleges established as segregated institutions, there was no access to higher education for Blacks and most people of color. Women were denied the right to attend certain colleges, were barred from working in certain professions and could be fired when we became pregnant or had children.
After George Floyd's murder in 2020, there was widespread support for expanding diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Some school districts were eager to adopt material from the award-winning 1619 Project. The work of many authors (principally people of color and members of the LGBT community) about their lived experiences in this country was much sought after as part of classroom instruction and making it available as resource materials in school libraries. A ferocious backlash under the guise of banning CRT was spearheaded by Fox News and Republican elected officials. Orchestrated and well-funded efforts organized white parents around the country, and they began showing up at school board meetings demanding the banning of CRT. The Anti-CRT laws they proposed and which have been adopted in many states, are intended to shut down any classroom discussions about racism, sexism, and homophobia under the notion that to speak about our nation’s shortcomings is teaching children to hate the United States. Read more about this in an excellent article from Education Week, titled, The Evolution of the Anti-CRT Movement: A Timeline.
Tennessee’s anti-CRT law (which never mentions CRT) prohibits the teaching of anything that could cause a student to feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex.”
The first complaint filed with Tennessee's Department of Education under this law was brought by Moms for Liberty, a conservative parents group. Among the books they challenged were these four books for lower elementary grade students: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the March on Washington, Ruby Bridges Goes To School, The Story of Ruby Bridges, and Separate Is Never Equal.
The parents' group claimed that the books and teacher manuals "implies to second-grade children that people of color continue to be oppressed by an oppressive 'angry, vicious, scary, mean, loud, violent, [rude], and [hateful]' white population."
I purchased and read (and greatly enjoyed) all four books, and nowhere does any book suggest this. Here are two sample pages from Ruby Bridges Goes to School that present positive images of Ruby and her classmates. When the court first ordered Ruby's admission into the segregated school, white parents quit sending their children to school. Ruby sat alone in the classroom with her teacher for several months. Eventually, the parents got tired of having their children at home, and the children trickled back into their classroom. There, they discovered (surprise surprise) that they all got along just fine.
The Complaint against these books and other material was dismissed by Tennessee's Department of Education last month without investigation on the basis that it challenged classroom instruction that occurred the previous school year before the law was passed. You can be confident that new complaints will be forthcoming.
But back to my show in Nashville. next month at TPAC. Tickets are now on sale for three shows: February 10 and 11 (Friday and Saturday) at 8 pm. The Sunday matinee at 2 pm. Click here for tickets. TPAC is a beautiful venue in Downtown Nashville, and it has three theaters within the complex. One for Symphony and Opera, another for visiting Broadway Productions, and the third smaller theater for productions such as Why Would I Mispronounce My Own Name?
Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC)
505 Deaderick Street
Nashville TN 37243
Closer to home, in fact, right in your home, you can see a snippet of my play along with that of other performers doing monologues and songs (under 5 minutes each) on YouTube this coming Sunday, January 15th at 5 pm Pacific, and it’s FREE, gratis. My selection is part of Play Café’s 25th Anniversary Celebration of New Work. Use the CR Code to link to YouTube. Hope to see you there.
I wish you good health and much joy in 2023. Thanks for reading my newsletter. If you enjoy it, pass it on to a friend.