BU Today feature: Pop Quiz for the Parents Council – What Does Progressive Mean?

This article was originally published in BU Today on July 17, 2019. By Joel Brown

BU Today - Greater Good, written by Kirsten Greenidge

Things aren’t going so great, financially or otherwise, at Gleason Street, the fictional private alternative school in Boston that’s the setting of Kirsten Greenidge’s new play, Greater Good. The school’s progressive mission and possibly its very existence are in jeopardy. And nobody wants to talk about what happened at last spring’s Parents Council meeting.

Running through August 17 at the Commonwealth School in the Back Bay, Greater Good moves backward in time toward the meeting, along the way digging deep into issues of access to education, governance, gender, race, and class, examining how well we live up to our ambitions to do the right thing, in public and behind closed doors. Intimate scenes between teachers and a secret encounter between the head of school and a member of the Parents Council eventually take us back to that fateful council meeting.

“I like secrets. I think many of us do. And I think when large decisions happen, we like to be privy to the thought processes we think are behind them,” says Greenidge, a College of Fine Arts assistant professor of playwriting and theater arts, who won an Obie Award for her drama Milk Like Sugar (2011). “And sometimes the process is policy and dry as toast. But there is personal wrapped up in that policy, too. It’s naive to think implicit bias does not exist.”

Company One Theatre (C1) is staging the world premiere of the play in collaboration with the American Repertory Theater, with an ensemble cast. Dev Blair (CFA’19), Dominic Carter, Blyss Cleveland, Rachel Cognata, Shahjehan Khan, Becca A. Lewis, Raijene Murchison, Christine Power, and Brooks Reeves play parents, teachers, and the head of school, who bicker and bond and challenge one another’s conceptions of what they’re doing there and why.

“I believe in the tenets of progressive education, wholeheartedly,” says Greenidge, who credits progressive education with making her who she is today. “I do believe there is more work to be done, especially in our Northeastern corner of the world, where we love to point fingers, we love to ‘call out,’ but rarely do we ‘call in,’ which in social justice terms is a much more empathetic way to address behavior that proves to be racist, homophobic, inequitable, or otherwise problematic.”

Why the play’s regressive timeline? “Why it needed to be so, aside from me just wanting to try stuff, is that I often like to think we are moving forward in history, that the world will be better when my grandchildren inherit it,” the playwright says. “Right now, I am not sure that will be so, and it is the first time in my life I feel this way.”

The characters talk about moving forward, but instead go backward, a contradiction Greenidge compares to the 2016 election and the pundits basically Monday morning quarterbacking, asking, “How did we get here?” This is a way for that examination to happen, she says.

Around the same time, Greenidge “began to really get interested in democracy and the different spaces we occupy, in our homes, but also at work and the spaces we choose to occupy that keep our lives running—local governments, church groups,” she says. “At one point when I’d take my kids to the public library, I’d sit and read the trustee minutes from month to month and year to year, and so the play began to grow from moments like those.”

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