XIIIs Play: Behind The Curtains

The XIIIs’ play has been an annual tradition where XIIIs leave their mark on C&C before they move on to highschool. The XIIIs’ plays for the past few years have revolved around an original idea having to do with social issues, although it has not always been that way. In the past, XIIIs’ plays focused on events from American History, not leaving much room for interpretation. Recurrent problems with plays include choosing a theme, developing a process that works efficiently and receiving mixed feedback from the community.

Before 2015, the annual plays performed by the XIIIs reflected their American history curriculum. From 1999 until 2005, the XIIIs mainly focused on the gilded age. Plays were inspired by the topics of immigration, the history of labor and industrialization. Increasingly the plays focused on issues of race and class. Then, from 2006 to 2011, the XIIIs curriculum revolved around the Civil War, its antecedents and its legacy. Play topics had to do with the battles of Vicksburg and Shiloh and the Assassination of Lincoln.

The themes of the XIIIs play really began to change in 2015, when the XIIIs watched a lot of political satire on Saturday Night Live. That year, they performed skits inspired by what they saw on SNL. Since then, XIIIs have turned away from historical topics and began to form original ideas or ones that connected to modern issues currently happening.

The XIIIs play location and date has also changed throughout the years. XIIIs’ plays were previously performed in the Rhythms Room or in the Yard. However, group sizes began to increase from around 15 students to 23, so the plays were moved to 201 where the XIIIs have more space to act.

Traditionally, the plays were presented during graduation, but now the XIIIs play takes place one week before graduation. This is because the graduation ceremonies would become too long if the play was included.

“I truly believe that the past few years of [the XIIIs play] not being on graduation helps. There is too much to do. People are worried about singing and dancing. Then, they have to do a 45-minute play in the heat,” said Gee Roldan, Director of Specials Programs and Integration.

It is easy to develop a play based on a book or historical event, but this year’s XIIIs wanted to do something original and unprecedented.

“The XIIIs year is a lot about social justice. I think that was a possibility in the play because there was desire to bring openness, collaboration and social change,” said Zelda Gay, Rhythms teacher.

When the XIIIs began to brainstorm themes, we went through several ideas before ultimately settling on the subject of our play. A few XIIIs wanted to do a play about previous historical events such as the Holocaust, the Atom Bomb, or the 2016 election. Those ideas were later rejected because of the sensitivity around such topics.

“We could not have a play about these things, at least not easily. There is great discomfort watching kids portray certain things,” said Ann Roberts, XIIIs Co-teacher.

Our first idea was a play that takes place in an alternate universe where C&C is its opposite. ll students would wear uniforms, teachers would be extremely strict, and there would be letter grades. Many XIIIs loved this idea, however, it quickly fell apart since there was no plot holding it together; it was merely a bunch of skits that did not quite connect.

“I liked it but we were going nowhere with the plot and the whole thing was super anticlimactic so it wouldn't have produced a very good play,” said Gitana Savage, XIIIs.

After discussing visions for the play with Zelda, a second idea was formed: to portray the XIIIs as an animal kingdom where there would be different classes of power symbolized by wild creatures. As inspiration for this theme, the XIIIs read Animal Farm, a dystopian novel by George Orwell. However, the idea was not loved by the majority of the XIIIs because it did not feel personally meaningful to them.

“I did not like it at all. I did not want to have my last play at C&C be us acting like animals,” said Hanna Kenyatta, XIIIs.

The XIIIs continued to brainstorm ideas and thus, High Stakes and Frosted Flakes was born. Our play was a comedic satire about our Newspaper, Roof Yard Rattler, which gave a glimpse into what happens behind the scenes in order to produce the paper. This idea also highlighted the ways in which our community can sometimes seem to be sensitive about certain topics. We also provided examples of how people in the School react to the Newspaper. In a way, we did form a play around our curriculum because the newspaper is part of it.

The XIIIs worked to exaggerate the newspaper process for a satirical effect, while including serious conversations about the future of our school. In other words, this play not only made our audience laugh, but we hoped it also made everyone think about the reality of our school. The play conveyed the XIIIs’ true feelings about the Newspaper. It showed that both a lack of communication among various members of the community and a failure to respect differences in opinion can weaken our school as a whole.

“I really liked this idea because the newspaper is a big part of our lives so we incorporated this in our play,” said Parker Sproule, XIIIs.

Several XIIIs were worried about the community’s reactions: Will they be offended? Will they like it? They were anxious because in previous years, the XIIIs had received mixed feedback from their audiences. Last year, some people took offense and cried after watching the Class of 2018’s play about social issues. Their play portrayed their 20-year reunion, where the XIIIs “looked back” at their school year, which was full of debate and serious conversations.

Our community is so used to watching other groups perform plays based on their curriculum. The VIIIs do a play about the Lenape tribe and the XIs do a play about the Renaissance. For the XIIIs, it is different. Instead of tying our play to a historical or literary component of the curriculum, the XIIIs have used the play as a vehicle to explore social issues and convey a message to the C&C community.

About last year’s play, Ann said, “It was not a message people in the community wanted to hear.”.

Some may say that the XIIIs started their play process late, since it took awhile for us to come up with an idea that appealed to all; however, the XIIIs efficiently wrote an entire 24-page script together and memorized all of our lines in only two weeks.

To prepare for our play, the XIIIs rehearsed lines and ran scenes in the Rhythms Room and 201. At first, in order to structure our play, Ann suggested that the XIIIs do improvisation. She said that she wanted kids to have their own ideas without too much input from teachers, so she believed that improv was the way to do this. However, a lot of XIIIs did not like this idea because they felt that it was better to come up with a plot and an overall idea first.

“I am kind of in between on this. Sometimes it actually is more efficient, but other times, it is a bit of a mess,” said Marco Fennell, XIIIs.

Parents, students, and faculty went to watch the Class of 2019’s play on Friday, May 24th. The XIIIs were met with a standing ovation and positive feedback from the community.

“It explored a complex issue with honesty and persuasive examples. Strong communities aren’t afraid to examine themselves, make space for different viewpoints and encourage speaking truth to power. [This is a] powerful and important message because silence and shallow connections make our community weak,” said Veronica Savage, Chairwoman of the Diversity Committee and Trustee.

“I thought it was the best XIIIs Play I've seen since 2013 not only because it was so tightly staged and brilliantly performed, but because it pushed on important, relevant questions that we face, as a school. I thought the humor was gentle but pointed at the same time. Just right. Max's ‘beard’ was genius, and Felix as Tray,” said Sarah Whittier, XIIsS teacher.

Ayesha Long, future Middle School Director watched our play and received insight into C&C’s community: “As a future member of the City and Country community, I enjoyed being able to see the school through the lens of soon-to-be alumni. The critical, yet humorous, examination of students' journey to complete and advertise the Newspaper left me with an appreciation of the Jobs Program, and it made space to question what are some potential ways we can ensure every group feels their job is acknowledged and cherished.”

Our XIIIs play also had the potential to kindle effective discussion among the C&C community and to bring about change for the future. With this play, our community may look at our contributions in the newspaper differently because now they know how important it is to us.

“I hope this [play] sparks] fruitful conversations, not only among students, but faculty to proactively think about the newspaper for next year,” said Gee.

The XIIIs play has evolved from being a showing of American history to an exploration of social issues. Since it is our last year at C&C, the XIIIs wanted to use a compelling performance to inspire members of the community to consider its willingness to handle tough topics openly and honestly, and that is exactly what we did.

“This play made me realize that the XIIIs are totally ready for high school. You have taken the education you received and used it to become insightful, humorous and decent people. The play served as a great celebration of that fact,” said Melissa Beyer, XIIIs parent.

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