Students Talk Back at NO CHILD…

image_nochildReenah Golden, performer of No Child…, plays 16 different characters in the 65-minute show, and 8 of them are high school students. Yesterday morning, 100 actual students from the Rochester City School District watched her bring all those characters to life at a student matinee. After the show, they got the chance to say what they thought about the play – and about their fictional peers.

A few students shared their favorite parts of the play. To some, it was the hopeful aspects that stuck out: the powerful moment when one student recites the opening monologue to the play the class is studying, or the way all the characters make mistakes but keep trying. Others said they could relate to having a teacher quit mid-year, or a classmate killed by gang violence.

The most popular character? Shondrika, a strong and talented young woman whose respect isn’t easy to earn. The audience had so much to say about her that the character had to make a special post-show appearance to explain some of her distinctive mannerisms. (Shondrika says she doesn’t mean anything by them, they’re just habits she picked up from her family, but she knows sometimes people get the wrong impression about her attitude.)

Reenah also answered some questions in her own voice. One student (perhaps an aspiring thespian) asked how long it took her to learn all her lines, another whether the characters sometimes come out in her everyday life (a resounding yes). Reenah also cleared up some confusion about the authorship of the play – she didn’t write it. In fact, the author and original performer of No Child, Nilaja Sun, probably never expected anyone else to do it, but Reenah’s own experience as a teaching artist helped her connect so strongly with the play that she was motivated to try it herself.

But Reenah has done plenty of her own writing, and as a final treat, she shared this poem with the audience. It’s a call-and-response piece, and the audience enthusiastically delivered their repeated line, “you know it!”

The Poets by Reenah L. Golden

You are the poets
[you know it]

You are the know-ers and see-ers
who will count and be counted amongst
the keepers of time
of history
of life
of knowledge
of truth
You are the poets
[you know it]

You are the ones who will
write the new stories and
re-tell the old ones with
new twists and curves,
shape the tomorrow promises
and blend the today memories
into clay
into mortar
into flint
into stone

You are the poets
[you know it]

You are the ones who will
sing the windsong and break through
the foggy mist that hides
the lies
the slander
the snickering cowards
You will slay them with your fearless observations
and carefully paraphrased quotations
meant for believers only.

You are the poets
[you know it]

the last b-boys and b-girls
the last painters and sculptures
the last warriors and queen mothers
the last orators and griots
the last originals
the last idealists
the last realists
the last sayers
the last players
you are the last

so write with visible ink
erase nothing
make permanent and clearly identifiable your marks
pass the plate around and contribute your most valuable jewels
dance wildly and shake lose the Words
sleep with a pen in hand and
remember your dreams, record them and
read them before sunrise
memorize your thoughts
carry your journal always
and write even when you don’t
read everything and rearrange the words often
case your world and find your stage
leave nothing off of your page
eat well balanced meals
feed your mind with love, light and beauty
because that
and never, ever, forget
that you are the poets
and you
are what life
is made of.


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