Hidden Voices, the INDY Week Indies Arts Award-winning collective of activist theater and multimedia artists, is laying hands on a social dilemma of our time. Its current project, None of the Above, consists of a staged reading and an associated gallery exhibition. In it, the group caps three years of research across 21 counties in North Carolina with a series of conclusions—and questions—about the intersection of race, poverty educational policies and incarceration that has become known in recent years as the "school-to-prison pipeline."
Phillip Bernard Smith plays a genial radio talk show host who convenes a panel of 10 characters who represent stakeholders looking at the issues of lingering racial inequality in educational opportunities—decades after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision.
As always with Hidden Voices, the words spoken were direct quotes culled from hours of interviews and workshops with teachers, judges, students, lawyers, parents—and detractors and naysayers as well.
But at the end of this intermission-less two-hour presentation, audiences were left with a sobering insight. Playwright and editor Lynden Harris' subjects had presented a number of useful alternatives to the social cul-de-sac in which we've ended up. Disciplinary policies that increasingly criminalize minor misbehavior need to be reversed; zero-tolerance policies have handcuffed administrators who could use more latitude in dealing with a broad spectrum of behavior.
But in this state's current political climate, the chances of such reform seem slim. Will this work be seen by legislators and officials in the state's department of education—the audience that most needs it? And if they did, would it make a difference?
This article appeared in print with the headline "Absurd unbelief."