Exploring Education at WIS
On September 27, the entire Upper School student body attended a special performance of Word Becomes Flesh, a spoken-word play by Marc Bamuthi Joseph and performed by an ensemble from Theater Alliance, a professional theater company whose home is the Anacostia Playhouse. A description from the Theater Alliance website:
“Using spoken word, stylized movement, tableau, and music, an ensemble of performers delivers a series of letters from a man to his unborn son, documenting his range of emotions, fears, and expectations. Theater Alliance’s “Word Becomes Flesh” critically, lyrically, and choreographically examines masculinity and responsibility from a young, expectant father’s perspective within the constructs of hip-hop culture.”
After the performance, students were given the opportunity to have a question-and-answer session with the actors and director. Below is one student’s response to this powerful performance.
"I have to admit that I was a little weirded out about seeing a play at 8:00 AM on a Wednesday morning, especially a play with a title that I found to be vague and relatively ambiguous. It wasn’t until Word Becomes Flesh had started that things clicked into place, along with my intrigued grin that I couldn’t seem to control. I watched the play intently and at times I cried, I frowned, I laughed. Sometimes I was so overwhelmed with emotion there was nothing I could do but lean forward and stare.
What I think is important to understand about Word Becomes Flesh is that this is a play about an aspect of Black livelihood that resonates with everyone in the community. Black fatherhood is a topic that is ongoing and the story of the absentee father is a story that seems to be as old as time. Nevertheless, it’s just as painful seeing it on the stage as it is experiencing it in real life.
I remember vividly what stuck out to me was the characterization of Black women as portrayed by Black men. While the play was overall uplifting about the reality of Black fatherhood, I did find myself wishing that they had portrayed the opposite sex in a light that was more than just physical. Yet, I didn’t mind, because in my opinion almost everything that was presented was a true representation of various situations that for some, I’m sure, is left slightly open to interpretation. Yes, it was sad, as a Black woman, to watch as they figuratively objectified the “imaginary” woman who walked across the stage. But, I realized that this is nothing new. In fact, the objectification and fetishization of Black women is something that I not only worked on in my Extended Essay, but also in my IB Art Higher Level pieces. As a result, this concept was not foreign to me, but this was only a fraction of what the play had to offer.
My absolute favorite part of the play was the “Negro Mentality” because of its unique portrayal, something I had never seen before but loved. This is where the creative direction in the play completely took me by surprise and had me hooked from my neck.
Visually, it was stunning.
The way the actors moved together and used each other to actively create this darker entity, because of its sheer size and the look on all of their faces, it was clear this was a much darker being. For some reason, in my gut, I knew what we were getting into, but I didn’t know the extent to which they would dive and unpack exactly what the “Negro Mentality” was and exactly where it came from for those in the audience who didn’t know. That whole moment gave me chills from the nape of my neck down my spine. When the female representation of Capitalism appeared and coerced Racism into creating a system that came in a nice package and benefitted both of them, I nearly burst out in tears for the second time— not out of sadness (although I’m sure somewhere that played a role), but rather due to the emotional rollercoaster that whole scene portrayed.
Now, I’m sure for those whose knowledge of Black culture only extends so far as new age Hip Hop and R&B, what is at the root of this play is relatively hard to understand. What I can tell you is that this is a play about the plight of the Black father as well as the Black son. And what this play does is give a voice to the fears of every generation—that you will bring someone into a world that is built on institutionalized racism. This play isn’t meant to necessarily make light of stereotypes; rather, it gives a perspective that we’ve never really seen before. What I love about this play the most is that it’s finally a representation of Black men as vulnerable, soft, caring, concerned, confused, and lost, and not the typical angry and aggressive portrayal that we see in popular media. If there is anything to be taken away from this play, it is that there are two sides to every story and that to be Black in a country that seems to be against you rather than with you is one of the most calamitous circumstances one can ever experience."
-Jessica J, Grade 12
"La escenografía en Don Juan Tenorio fue muy impresionante. Creo que una de mis partes favoritas fue al principio con el carnaval. Fue una parte muy vibrante y cautivante de la obra. Me gustaron los trajes que se pusieron para el carnaval y las máscaras que se pusieron durante el curso de la obra. Yo creo que los trajes que me impresionaron más fueron los de Brígida y de Ciutti. Ellos fueron los personajes que agregaron un poquito de comedia a la obra. Yo creo que lo interesante de los trajes fueron que tenían un toque moderno.
El otra escena que me impactó fue de la segunda parte cuando todo los muertos están vestidos de blanco. Eso agrego un aspecto un poco de miedo a la obra y también un aspecto más serio. El blanco de los trajes contrastado con la oscuridad del fondo dio un impacto muy poderoso a esas escenas finales." (Juliette, Grade 12)
"Me gustó bastante la obra y me gusto como usaron los recursos teatrales. Durante la obra usaron las luces muy bien y cambiaron el escenario con una mesa. También el uso del antifaz. Los actores hicieron acciones cuando estaban entre un conflicto o enfadados. La escenografía solo cambio con una mesa que podia ser también una tumba. Tenían ideas muy buenas que ayudaron que la obra sea más fácil de entender y más juguetona para la audiencia." (Pablo, Grade 11)
"Me pareció muy interesante el uso de los tonos de luces y otros efectos teatrales como la música, en la primera escena el tono de la obra es más activo y el uso de luces de colores vibrantes ayudan a crear este efecto. Me pareció que el uso del vestuario fue interesante, el incorporar un vestuario moderno a una obra de un tiempo más antiguo ayuda a crearle a la audiencia una buena idea de los rasgos y aspectos más importantes de los personajes. En particular, me pareció muy interesante que el escenario estaba básicamente vacío, de ese modo el enfoque de la audiencia está solemnemente en la obra creada en poesía." (Mario V, Grade 12)
"A mi me encantó la obra ya que no tuvo muchos efectos especiales y aun así logró expresar el cuento de una forma muy efectiva. Esto se hizo a través de recursos como, por ejemplo, los antifaces que los personajes usaron numerosas veces para ocultar sus identidades. Al usar estos accesorios, la audiencia sintió un gran suspenso, pues todos sabían las identidades de los personajes menos ellos mismos. Otro recurso que noté, aunque sea obvio, es el uso de la voces de los actores / las actrices para expresar emociones. Cuando un personaje se sentía feliz, por ejemplo, el actor / la actriz usualmente sonreía o incluso gritaba demostrando alegría para que la audiencia sintiera lo mismo. Finalmente, el uso del escenario también tuvo un gran efecto en la obra. Las estructuras, los accesorios y los personajes siempre estaban posicionados de formas estratégicas dependiendo de la escena. En la última escena, por ejemplo, cuando Don Juan Tenorio y Doña Inés suben al cielo, los personajes estaban parados sobre unas escaleras en un punto alto del escenario y con una luz blanca brillando fuertemente para ilustrar su entrada al cielo. Si el escenario hubiera estado puesto de otra forma, la escena no hubiera impactado la audiencia de la misma forma, con amor y pureza. Por lo tanto, el uso de diferentes recursos hizo la obra bien impactante para la audiencia y por eso valió la pena verla." (Alejo, Grade 10)
"Me gustó mucho la historia, y la manera en que los actores representaron a los personajes - creo que eran muy buenos para sus papeles. Era muy interesante, y los recursos teatrales como el uso de la luz y las sombras dramáticas, el contraste entre la primera y la segunda parte, y como usaron la mesa/tumba/cama en una manera muy creativa para representar muchas cosas diferentes." (Elena, Grade 11)
"Mi parte favorita fue la escena final por muchas razones. Me gustó como caracterizaron a Doña Inés en la escena final porque todavía era pura y inocente en su vestido blanco y cuando era una estatua sus posiciones eran siempre inocentes y puras también y apoyaban a su carácter. También era la salvadora del protagonista entonces era fuerte, poderosa y la encarnación del bueno. Otra cosa que me encantó era los lunes que indicaron el cielo y el infierno. Los lunes rojas cambiaron el escenario por completo y cuando las azules iluminaron las escaleras al cielo el escenario convirtió en un lugar mágico. Cuando Doña Inés y Don Juan paraban en las escaleras con el luz azul detrás de ellos era un climax perfecto para la obra, en mi opinión, y realmente fue mágico." (Stephanie, Grade 10)
This post is the first in an occasional series featuring different #HumansofWIS.
When Design Technology and Art Teacher Mara Wilson was attending Duke Ellington School of the Arts, the WIS Primary School was under construction next door. At the time, she thought, “I want to get into that building some day.” She had no idea that one day she would be teaching at WIS!
Since 2002, Mara had been working in art education in various capacities. When she decided to return to school to earn her Master’s degree in Art Education from the Corcoran College of Art & Design a few years ago, the program required her to student teach. As she considered how she wanted to fulfill this requirement, she thought, “I’ve already worked in public schools, I’ve worked in public charter schools, and I’ve worked in international schools, but I have never done international education in the U.S. So I thought...let me try teaching somewhere that will expand my knowledge.” That’s when she rediscovered WIS! She completed her student teaching at WIS and, after spending a year away, returned to WIS to work in the Middle and Upper School Visual Art Department. This year marks her fourth year at WIS.
Why does she like working here? What makes her stay?
“I’m happy. I’m supported here, especially in regard to professional development. I can actually use my planning periods as they are intended—whether it’s grading, working on tech issues, shadowing another teacher, supporting a child—I can just do my job, and I am actually able to do most of it at work.
Also, the conversations are different here. They are constantly reflective about your practice as a teacher. I have conversations with others about their varied experiences, where we learn from each other about the different places we have lived and traveled. It’s nice when someone knows where you have been, and they don’t need a map. We may have different viewpoints on an issue, because our experiences of it are different. But we approach those differences with respect and interest, not judgment.”
Here are some interesting facts about Ms. Wilson that you may not know…
She will have a piece of her art displayed at the National Art Education Association Museum in Alexandria, starting in October.
“I have a reduction print inspired from a series of South African art works that I am working on. It is a four-color reduction linoleum print of a person grinding corn. It was selected to be displayed at the the NAEA gallery in Alexandria from October–April.
What inspired me to do reduction prints is that I had never done them before. Nancy Totten had been doing them for years, as part of a unit that we do with the Grade 7 students. I had never done it before, so I had to do it alongside my students last year, so that I could teach them. I did a smaller one of corn, as a practice, but teaching them forced me to get it done more quickly.”
She is a returned Peace Corps Volunteer.
“I served in the Peace Corps in South Africa, in Limpopo Province. I was what they called a resource teacher (here they would call it an educational coach). I worked with three primary schools—early childhood up to Grade 8, in all subjects. This year is my 10-year anniversary of returning.” What made her want to join the Peace Corps? “I had so many teachers who helped me get where I am, whether it was working with me during lunch time, or letting me know about other opportunities. I thought, “You know what? I can go away and help other people, and I don’t really need anything from them in return.” To me, it was about just being kind to other human beings.” She found that she really enjoyed teaching, and wanted to continue when she returned to the US.
She has worked at the Holocaust Museum.
“I worked there in the summers during college, and I’ve also worked there the past few summers. The most recent program I’ve worked with is called “Art & Stories.” We work with high school students—we give them a tour of the museum, and then they meet a survivor. They talk to the survivor and then create a painting based on that individual’s story. We help them to tell the story visually.”
She collaborated with the Anacostia Museum this summer.
“People in my community came to what is called an artist’s studio visit. They came into my apartment (because I work at home in the summers). I put out my art work and they could see how a practicing artist does it in the community. It was nice, because as a teacher, I had all the steps and drafts ready to show them. When they had questions, I could provide the answers and the steps I took, and explain all my reasons for why I did something a certain way.”
She is on the WISSIT faculty, and will be presenting her “Migration of Color” workshop from WISSIT at her alma mater, VCU.
Without spoiling it for those who have not attended, this workshop focuses on a specific color—its history, the way it became a status symbol, the way different cultures have used it over time. “I slowly revealed information as the workshop progressed. I might present one fact, or image, that attendees would interpret. Then I would present an article, then the article would reveal the image they were seeing. Then they realized we were talking about this specific color. And so each time I revealed something, I just felt like it was a deeper dialogue. The conversations were much more interesting.”
The next time you see Ms. Wilson in the halls, be sure to ask her about her personal works of art—they are stunning!
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