Blindspot Collective is a theatre dedicated itself to bringing theatre into the educational setting to help students of all ages to empower students and discuss topics like advocacy, education, communication, and context for working out conflicts. When schools went virtual, Blindspot Collective proved the adage “the show must go on” to be true, by successfully adapting their show SAFA’S STORY into a virtual format. Catherine Hannah Schrock, the Director of Community Development, along with some teachers and performers, discuss the impact of this show on students and how it was important for this program to continue in a virtual form.
SAFA’S STORY started as a live school touring show and is based on the true story of a Zimbabwean-American 5th-grade girl from San Diego. Now the show continues on virtually with the same interactive goals to create a dialogue about cultural sensitivity, diversity, and speaking up for yourself and others. The program is centered around an interactive type of performance called Forum Theatre that empowers students to stand up for themselves and their peers when they experience discrimination or bullying.
Catherine Hanna Schrock says the work this play does allows the students to learn tools and how to utilize them so that they can continue to develop them and use them in the future.
Our work as a society to cultivate allyship and advocacy around racial justice is an ongoing effort and needs to happen at an early age. Theatre offers students the opportunity to examine these dynamics through stories. SAFA’S STORY engages students through conversation, culturally responsive education, and most importantly role-play–giving them the chance to practice things that could be said and done to protect themselves and each other in moments of bullying and bias. We believe this intensive creative process sparks empathy and equips them with what to do when faced with similar moments in their lives.
Interaction is key to this piece, so Schrock had to revise the existing piece which was a pre-show workshop followed by the interactive show, into a virtual piece that included the teaching, the play, and the role-playing into something that would also work in a zoom based environment. Though it was a challenge, Schrock says the results have been incredibly positive.
It was challenging to revise the layout for the program. We have been blown away by its impact and success so far. Just this week I received a letter from a 5th-grade student who took part in the virtual program who wrote to Safa saying, “You taught us that we shouldn’t judge people by how they look. I think that everyone should be treated the same. I got a boost in confidence and I will make sure to stand up to bullies.”
Catherine says she has facilitated the virtual program at least 50 times since January, along with nine other teaching artists who work on this program. This piece is a welcome opportunity for students to engage in conversation and feel comfortable asking questions about issues that they or someone they know might be experiencing.
After students watch the show we administer a poll asking them if they either related to the story or have seen a situation like this play out in someone else’s life. The poll results show that well over half the students say yes to both questions every time. The emotional responses to the play itself and rich discoveries along the way testify to ongoing impact and even a hunger for safe and brave spaces to sort these issues out.
Just this week during a program with 8th-grade students, several students sent me private messages sharing moments when they too felt stereotyped and put down because of their race or culture. Many of them told me not to share it out loud. I do think it’s a tender and very personal topic for BIPOC children, and children who have been bullied for being different for any reason. It seems there are not many chances for them to be able to share about this topic. I feel humbled that our company can create that space with them.
As part of our process, we sometimes refer back to the events of last spring with the murder of multiple Black Americans. Unfortunately, the topic of Black Lives Matter has incurred political freight, and from time to time we find an adult in the space to be resistant to our work with students. We believe that resistance is to be expected in this work and that this is a program for all people regardless of race or political affiliations. We invite both teachers and students into a restorative justice mindset that aims to humanize and uplift all the characters involved.
Margot Fitzsimmons and Emily Struver are teachers who have had this play as part of their classroom experience and say that this piece has proven to be a very positive experience.
Teacher Margot Fitzsimmons says the prep work before and the discussions after have proven to be a valuable reference even well into the school year.
Prior to the performance we did prep the students concerning the sensitive material about bullying and reflected on certain vocabulary words that would be covered in the workshop like racism, diversity, upstander, and bystander. After the production, we reflected on the show and talked about how this work applies to our school culture. It is important to reference it throughout the school year so the students can put the work into practice.
They would also have opportunities to discuss with their peers in breakout rooms their thoughts and opinions concerning the action in the story. After the performance students felt free to share their own experiences of bullying and how they can create a positive culture within their school environment.
Teacher Emily Stuver agrees that this program provides an excellent communication foundation for the students to build upon.
By role-playing and being part of the process in real-time, the students were able to process the information on a gut level which seemed to have a much greater impact than if/when we went over the ideas and vocabulary surrounding bullying, racism, and friendship. They became part of the solutions thereby allowing them to take ownership of the story and agency (hopefully) in the future. If/when issues arise in real life, the students all have context from which to work through conflict: “remember when Safa felt…”
Both teachers agree that theatre is an important teaching tool. Margot Fitzsimmons says the interactive nature is a key component for the students.
Interactive theater is impactful because it gives students the opportunity to literally step into another person’s shoes. Theater builds empathy by allowing us to take another person’s perspective and asking questions that help students think critically. This experience also allowed students to offer up different suggestions for different outcomes of the story in a safe environment.
Emily Stuver says the virtual adaption is a success because she can see the student’s engagement, even when they are each in their own virtual space.
I will never forget the looks on the faces of my students watching the show. Because we were on zoom, I could see how rapt and engaged they were with the play. I saw empathy and caring on their faces. Some were tearing up, some upset but in an involved and connected way. The students were eager to discuss the play and seemed to come together as a group more than before. They felt heard because of the discussions and chat feature and looked forward to the next day’s performance.
The performers involved in the production say the engagement and interaction can be nerve-wracking but ultimately is incredibly powerful for them to experience with the students.
The student interactions are my favorite part, it is truly what makes the program so powerful. As a result of their responses, I not only better understand them but I learn new things every program as well. In the beginning, I would be nervous about pivoting based on their response and how random that could be, but with time you realize just being fully present is enough to carry you through the process. -Kayla Morales
It can definitely be nerve-wracking, we never really know what students are going to say. As they learn how to be upstanders in their own communities, it’s always really beautiful to see different groups of students take the performance and lesson in different directions. -Shellina Hefner
I love watching the audience stop the story and change it from something negative and hurtful to something that changes the course of Safa’s life. The intentions of the audience are pure and comforting. The conversations that happen during this moment are important. -Vanessa Duron
For more information or to watch a promo on SAFA’S STORY, learn more about Blindspot Collective, or if you have any questions on this program you can go to the website https://www.blindspotcollective.org/safas-story
Blindspot Collective SAFA’S STORY is available as a virtual program for schools and communities anywhere in the United States.
SAFA’S STORY Blindspot Collective cast and crew:
Written & Directed by Catherine Hanna Schrock
Produced for Video by Blake McCarty
With Music by Derek Rice & Shayla James
Stage Manager: Bianca Jennings
Assistant Stage Manager: Shawdi Sani
Film Crew: Joe Kao, Jack Mason-Brase & Peter Schrock
Featuring Jaeonnie Davis-Crawford, Kandace Crystal, Shellina Hefner, Jack Holdeman, Monique Gaffney, Wilfred Paloma, Derek Rice, Catherine Hanna Schrock, Andrew Walters & Sofia Zaragoza
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