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No Child: Nilaja Sun's Powerful Play

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Born and bred on the upper west side of New York City it was already decided I would attend private school. After all, this is the same private school my Grandmother, aunts and older sister attended. When I wasn't in school my mother made sure I had plenty or cultural education including many trips to the Schonberg, the Studio Museum in Harlem, Aaron Davis Hall; lots of jazz film and sports. We are all well aware of the vast disparity in the quality of education received at public and private schools. The proliferation of charter schools testifies to people growing dissatisfaction with the public school system and their search for more viable alternatives.

Having attended private schools all of my life, I have had the privilege of learning in small classrooms, being taught by great teachers, and receiving my education in well-funded institutions. Although I am familiar with the problems that plague the public school system, I have not experienced them first-hand. Curious as to what the public school experience was like, I recently volunteered at PubliColor.

Publicolor is an organization that paints the insides of schools stimulating colors with an emphasis on encouraging the kids of that particular school to help facilitate the change. Spending my Saturdays at middles schools in Brooklyn, I wanted to understand more about New York City Public Schools. I soon realized, you'll never fully understand unless you are a student, teacher or administrator. That was until I saw No Child .

This past Sunday afternoon I woke up with an email that read 'No Child' in the subject. My friend was expressing how we had to go see it, as it was the last day of the show. It turns out it wasn't the last day but her enthusiasm made me hop out of bed and head to the Barrow Street Theater.

No Child, the one woman show written and preformed by Nilaja Sun, is a tour-de-force exploration of the New York City public school system, in which Sun fearlessly transforms with rapid-fire precision into the teachers, students, parents, janitors, security guards, and administrators who inhabit these schools. Sun's acting was so brilliant that I could picture the entire classroom as she transformed into each character. The performance was so spectacularly fluid and precise that Sun never lost the individual spunk and integrity of the characters. The story lends itself over the period of six weeks as Miss Sun is teaching the 10th grade class a play.

During that time you see the kids transform into "thespians" reluctantly and with plenty of attitude. Miss Sun was a positive role model for these students so as the play progresses you see these kid's attitudes progress through past present and future as one woman struggles to engage and inspire seemingly forgotten students.

The pressing issues that come up throughout the play revolve around classroom management, sex, race, violence, language, self-esteem, and community, along with many others. The rate in which Sun would change her language and dialect was astonishing and yet each character was so connected with the audience. Thinking back on it now as a memory I can hear different voices and see wildly different gestures. It's amazing to me that one woman could provide this much insight into the power that is the classroom. Nilaja Sun's expressive performance was funny, vulnerable, harsh and provoking. I really think anyone who wants to make a positive difference should see this play with an open mind on shaping the future.

No Child

Barrow Street Theater

Running through August 14.

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