It is quite extraordinary for an elementary school drama program to get a specially adapted play by an Obie Award-winning playwright. Boston native Kirsten Greenidge (Luck of the Irish, Milk Like Sugar, and Our Daughters, Like Pillars), opted to pay it forward to her alma mater, Cambridge Friends School, and adapted her 2015 play, Baltimore, for the eighth-grade drama program.
The original play, Baltimore, was a Big Ten commission to address the problem of gender parity in BFA programs in the US from the University of Iowa. Baltimore is about a college Resident Advisor who encounters a racial incident in her dorm and is neither able to deal with it nor have the language to properly address it and the aftermath. Originally intended to be a conversation about race at the college level, Kirsten adapted the play to retain the same dialogue, but made it age-appropriate for middle-school students.
At the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, Kirsten met with the eighth-grade drama class, and then published dialogue surrounding their conversation. Characters were created for each student that explored an alternative, culturally diverse personality. Reflecting on the play, Kirsten states, “I think it’s wonderful that we have the opportunities to have eighth-graders learn those (drama and empathy) skills in fifth grade, have them develop in sixth and seventh grade, get to exercise them at this level in eighth grade, and then see it work in a play that grapples with these really tough themes… It’s not just the play, but the conversations around the play that you get to see these children engage with that is really amazing.”
Jen Salvucci Bent, CFS drama teacher further adds, “Students are used to such dialogue in a way that many adults are not. Our mission isn’t just words but trying to put them into action, for instance, our white allies or kids of color affinity groups. A play of this magnitude now adapted to be age-appropriate for our middle-schoolers is tremendous. In my eighteen years of teaching drama, I have never done anything like this.”
Despite the mandatory school closure due to COVID-19, and their missed live performance, students continue to rehearse online. This performance is one of many culminating activities to the school year that students and teachers are still grappling with. Thankfully, Kirsten has been incredibly helpful in outlining a recent staged reading that she did with her Boston University students, and the CFS eighth-grade drama program is now working within that outline and tweaking it to work for a virtual Zoom performance on Tuesday, May 18. CFS remains ever grateful for this unique experience.
View an interview about Baltimore with Kirsten Greenidge and Jack Hill, CFS Head of Middle School and Director for External Affairs.