On Tuesday, March 12th, my theatre students and I attended the UDC's Performance Oversight Hearing. This public oversight hearing was held in Room 500 of the John A. Wilson Building. Chairman Phil Mendelson served as the Committee Chairs.
On the agenda were:
Two weeks prior, my theatre students stop me in the hall and showed me a poster alerting students to the Performance Oversight Hearing. I had just seen it earlier that morning and wondered if it might be worth attending. However, I was hesitant ...
We were all still reeling with disappoint after the Town Hall meeting. Two of my students spoke and did a brilliant job. They spoke about how theatre had not only changed their lives, but allowed them to impact the lives others. As inspiring and motivating as their speeches were, we've seen little change.
So, I didn't end up mentioning the Performance Oversight Hearing and was surprised and encouraged when they asked if we could go. I quickly made adjustments to our Theatre of the Black Experience and History of Theatre II schedule, because I knew that our voices should be heard.
On Tuesday morning, we gathered at 9:30AM at the Cosi on 12th and G streets. We were just a handful of more than 100 UDC students, faculty, administrators and staff present. Signs were made. T-shirts and buttons were passed out. Everyone's energy was positive, enthusiastic and hopeful. I had encouraged my students to signed up to testify, but they weren't able to do so in time.
At 10:00am, we were joined by Virginia Spatz, a writer, education advocate, and activist, who interviewed each of the students as part of an article she's writing about me and THE HAMPTON YEARS for East of the River magazine.
It seems that just as Viktor Lowenfeld was fighting to show that Hampton Institute needed an Art Department and that African American students should be allowed to learn how to be artists, I'm fighting for Theatre Arts to remain a part of the UDC's curriculum so that students seeking a degree in theatre at a public institution may be able to do so.
At 10:30am, we finished our breakfast, gathered our belongings and made our way to the Wilson Building. It was a rainy day, but we were determined and in good humor.
Virginia joined us, which was great. She was able to give us a bit of insight into what to expect. For instance, it's going to take a long time. Bring snacks and a water bottle, because the hearing doesn't stop and you will get hungry. Applauding a powerful testimony is not appreciated aka according to the rules and procedures of the hearing. If Marion Barry shows up, and he did, he will get the people riled up and try to take over the hearing. Things will get heated and when that happens, the truth is finally getting out, so lean in and take notes.
It wish it weren't the case, but this was my first time ever participating in anything like this. It seems fitting that it should happen now, because for the past several months, basically since working on Our Man Beverly Snow, I've been thinking a lot about civic action and the role of an artist in a revolution. While, I don't always have 8 hours to give over to something like this, I do look forward to participating in more hearings. More than anything, more than even the results, it's important that we show up and speak on behalf of and in defense of the arts in our community.
As we settled into our chairs in the chamber, we knew that theatre arts would more than likely not make anyone's agenda other than our own, but we wanted to be there to show support. We came to listen to the testimony of some 45 witnesses who believe that UDC is essential to the District of Columbia. We came to learn about the matters at hand: budget management, strategic planning, curriculum development, and attracting a diverse and rigorous student body. What's more we wanted to help overturn the following misconceptions:
And we accomplished what we set out to do. The entire performance hearing was recorded and can be watched here. You'll see me 5:05 and at 6:51 you hear Provost Bain declare that he believes we should have a theatre program. He says it in the midst of some confusion, but he was heard loud and clear. I've heard from so many people who were inspired by my testimony and who want to help. We'll see what, if anything, will happen next. Either way, I'll keep you posted.
I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!