Noteworthy Performance: School to prison pipeline explained from left stage


Playbill from the ‘Notes From The Field’ performance at the 2nd Stage Theater in New York City on December 1, 2016.

The biggest issue with schooling was ripped from its shadows and was tossed on stage: the school-to-prison pipeline. Notes From The Field, written and performed by Anna Deavere Smith at the 2nd Stage Theater in New York City until December 18, captured every emotion that high school students and their parents deal with when they are caught in this pipeline and created one overarching story to explain the issues with the current schooling system.

The school to prison pipeline refers to the staggering numbers of students who end up in direct contact with both the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems, and the zero-tolerance policies that schools implement that pushes students on this track. The play provides modern examples of the police brutality and the repercussions of the ‘zero-tolerance’ rule, such as the recent story of a girl violently being thrown from her desk by a police officer at the South Carolina High School.

Anna Deavere Smith interviewed 250 people and gave them a voice by choosing only nineteen characters to tell their story. Smith’s performance of each character was beyond any form of live acting than I have ever seen. Everything from her demeanor, to the emotions in her voice, and in her eyes changed drastically to fit those she was playing and gave me chills multiple times throughout her performance and really showed the audience the many types of people she can be. I personally loved the characters that were easier for me to connect to and those that made me laugh. True, this is a serious subject and some monologues were set to have a rather serious tone, but between the acts, I loved the characters that used humor to tell their story.

The play is split up into two acts with the second act being my personal favorite. In this act, Ms. Smith portrays five characters, with Stephanie Williams being the most enjoyable character to listen to. Williams talked about her experience as an emotional support teacher at schools in Philadelphia and the different events that occurred as she began to come across students of different natures. The monologue was by far the funniest as Williams describes her duty to stop violence and to keep everyone calm while at the same time, feeling excitement and an adrenaline rush from the drama at hand.

This two hour journey blends nineteen different stories across America to tell their stories of how the judicial system and the schooling system have worked hand in hand to move students to incarceration with the blink of an eye. Accompanied by a bassist providing the perfect ambiance, video clips of real events, and the portrayal of these individuals from Ms. Smith, Notes gives the audience a better understanding about the issues that are at hand.

I did not know a whole lot about the school-to-prison pipeline, and this play gave me more than a general concept, it gave me real stories where I learned just how intense and important this pipeline is. I loved how this work has given me an insight and lets me see the schooling systems at another angle and while it isn’t going to be played in theaters much longer, I hope that anyone who has seen it or who is going to see will take its message to heart like I have. I hope that they will see how many issues have a domino affect on each other and I hope that they will be as serious as I was when I went to see it. The play is not entertainment. It’s a cry for help that us as Americans have to respond to. We have to stop this pipeline before the pipeline stops us.



For more information about the school-to-prison pipeline and to get involved, visit Anna Deavere Smith’s website dedicated to this topic.