Posts Tagged ‘debate’


Photo: Nina Westervelt for the New York Times
Thursday Williams and Rosdely Ciprian on the last day of Broadway performances for
What the Constitution Means to Me.

Imagine getting an opportunity as a teenager to be in a Broadway show — and not because you’re you’re especially good at theater! In this instance, two girls were chosen because of their experience on debate teams.

Elizabeth A. Harris writes at the New York Times, “Sitting in the balcony of the Helen Hayes Theater on Saturday evening, two teenagers munched on Welch’s Fruit Snacks and said goodbye to their Broadway show, ‘What the Constitution Means to Me.’

“Rosdely Ciprian, 14, and Thursday Williams, 18, make up half the cast of ‘Constitution,’ a play by Heidi Schreck that was extended three times Off Broadway and played five months at the Hayes, a longer and more life-changing commitment than they had ever expected.

“In the play, Ms. Schreck revisited her personal history of giving presentations about the Constitution as a high school student. Ms. Ciprian or Ms. Williams appeared toward the end of the show — they alternated performances — for a formal debate with the playwright over whether the founding document, with its history of enshrined inequities, should be abolished.

“The young women, who were cast because of their involvement in debate at their respective New York City schools, embodied the future generations who would face down the country’s unmet promises. …

“They sat down to talk about their experience, and what comes next. Ms. Ciprian will continue with the show for its 11-day run at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., while Ms. Williams goes off to college. The conversation has been edited and condensed.

“HARRIS How are you feeling?

“WILLIAMS I’m sad, I’m happy. I’m sad that this is the end — you know, I’ve been on the show for one year and I have so much fun onstage. So I’m going to miss that part. But I’m happy I get to start a new chapter of my life. … I’m going to Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.

“CIPRIAN Lucky you! Going to college! I’ve always wanted to act. But this gave me more of an intense feeling of what it’s like to act. So I would love to do that, but I would also like to go into the medical field. I don’t know if I can do both. But I’ve been bit by the theater bug. All the lights! All the people watching me! I love that.

“WILLIAMS Before I started this show, I wanted to be a lawyer, and now I want to run for office. I’ve had the opportunity to meet senators and politicians. It was a real eye opener. …

“HARRIS How did you balance Broadway with being a student?

“CIPRIAN Broadway and high school — that was weird. I would have to leave at 12 o’clock for some matinees and have to email my teachers to do my work and take tests online, and submit them. …

“WILLIAMS When I got this part, kids in my school were like, ‘What do you know about Broadway?’ And I’m like, ‘Absolutely nothing — but I’m on it!’ …

“HARRIS Who has come backstage to say hello?

“CIPRIAN Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Barbra Streisand.

“WILLIAMS I [had done] the Sonia and Celina Sotomayor judicial internship program. I met Sonia Sotomayor for five seconds at the elevator, and when they snatched her away from me, I said, ‘I’ll see you soon!’ not knowing when I was going to see her or how I was going to see her. But this show gave me the opportunity.

“HARRIS What happened when you saw her at the theater?

“WILLIAMS She looked me in my eyes and she goes, ‘I’m really happy that you chose college.’ … Sonia Sotomayor came from the Bronx, R.B.G. came from Brooklyn, I’m coming from Queens. Seeing these people say ‘I love you and I’m so proud of you’ really makes me think I can get to their level.

CIPRIAN We’re kind of obsessed with three things: R.B.G., unicorns and doughnuts. Those three things are our vibe.

“We have a life-size poster of R.B.G. in our green room. When she came, everybody was freaking out. And I think the audience members knew she was here, because the show brings up R.B.G. multiple times. …

“WILLIAMS She said, ‘Sonia and I have been talking about you.’ It’s so like — I just really want to go college and I want to get my 3.9 G.P.A. and I want to go to Columbia Law School and I want to be a lawyer — right now! I want to start tomorrow.”

One of my brothers took our sister and her husband to this show in August, a month before she died. I thought that was great because she had talked about it a lot, convincing me to read the interesting New Yorker review. Apparently, it was a play that really got audiences thinking about some of the things that are problematic in that much-revered document.

More at the New York Times, here.

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Giving prisoners something constructive to do with their empty time has long been a goal of reform activists and prisoners themselves. The upstate New York prisoners mentioned in a recent Talking Points Memo article really got into formal debating — to the point that they beat a storied Harvard team.

Colin Binkley writes, “Months after winning a national title, Harvard’s debate team has fallen to a group of New York inmates.

“The showdown took place at the Eastern New York Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison where convicts can take courses taught by faculty from nearby Bard College, and where inmates have formed a popular debate club. Last month, they invited the Ivy League undergraduates and this year’s national debate champions over for a friendly competition. …

” ‘Students in the prison are held to the exact same standards, levels of rigor and expectation as students on Bard’s main campus,’ said Max Kenner, executive director of the Bard Prison Initiative.” …

” ‘There are few teams we are prouder of having lost a debate to than the phenomenally intelligent and articulate team we faced this weekend,’ [the Harvard team] wrote. ‘And we are incredibly thankful to Bard and the Eastern New York Correctional Facility for the work they do and for organizing this event.’

“Against Harvard, the inmates were tasked with defending a position they opposed: They had to argue that public schools should be allowed to turn away students whose parents entered the U.S. illegally. The inmates brought up arguments that the Harvard team hadn’t considered.  …

“While in prison, they learn without the help of the Internet, relying instead on resources provided by the college.”

More here.

Photo: Acroterion
Eastern Correctional Facility

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