Exposing the deficiencies of charter schools was the premise of Lockdown, recently presented at Ashe Cultural Arts Center by Junebug Productions. It should be noted that exposing injustice was always a priority for Free Southern Theater, founded in 1965, a precursor to Junebug.
Lockdown was a spare, ensemble piece about an hour long. It was written and developed by the actors, director Kiyoko McCrae and Keshia "Peaches" Caldwell. Many of the performers are teachers or work in local schools.
Lockdown was less a play than a fugue of monologues and snippets of scenes. It began with Troi Bechet entering through the audience singing "Got My Mind on Lockdown," with the rest of the cast serving as her chorus. The piece posits that charters are privatizing public education and that they will perpetuate the divide between the haves and the have-nots. "They are training our kids for submission," is another charge.
A mixture of personal conflict and abstraction marked the piece. We got to know the teachers and their struggles, but the students who were meant to reveal the flaws in the system were unseen offstage figures. This was a crucial gap in the piece.
McCrae assembled a sterling cast and elicited fascinating performances. The piece had little conventional interaction but never dragged. Though the play was single-minded, the characters were complex and caught in conflict with themselves and others.
Bechet, Michael "Quess?" Moore, Thena Robinson-Mock, Rebecca Mwase and Derek Roguski represented different aspects of the local school system after Hurricane Katrina. Bechet, a veteran teacher of 35 years, said she was one of 4,500 teachers fired or forced to resign. Roguski was a Teach For America newcomer with only one year of teaching experience. Bechet is African-American and Roguski is white, and a racial subtext ran through the play, though at times it was addressed more overtly.
In one section, each of the characters related how they became aware of racial differences, starting with childhood experiences. This couldn't help but stir similar memories in the audience.
I was left with a few questions. How do business interests and think tanks affect charter schools? It seems extreme for a school to call the police about a kid who threw a pencil at a teacher, but we also learned of a kid who hit a teacher in the head with a rock. Some of the discussion about charters reaches beyond school walls.
If theater's social role is to raise questions without providing answers, Lockdown was on target. — DALT WONK