New York State Literary Center
Dale Davis's Plays
There is a theatrical role that has recently emerged as useful for the success of performances, a role that crosses old boundaries and creates new responsibilities and relationships among all the people involved in a production. This role is that of the dramaturg. A dramaturg assists in any way possible or useful and works with all of the parties involved in the development of a performance. Ideally, he or she works with everyone from the producers, writers, directors, actors to the set designers, lighting technicians, costumers, and stagehands to enhance their information and knowledge and provide critical feedback about the current state of the production. The goal is not to judge or evaluate the performance but to help things succeed. I am comfortable doing that kind of thing in education, especially with new schools and new educational ideas.
I thought it might be possible, in the context of building new public schools in New York and transforming schools elsewhere across the country, to craft a role for myself as educational dramaturg. That meant being a critic and a resource in service of the school; a researcher at the service of teachers; a friend and counselor; a provocateur who scares up new and unusual educational ideas; a listener and friendly observer who helps develop resources for the school, focuses on danger points, praises strengths, notes progress and process, and at times teaches as well. That last was essential.
Herbert Kohl. The Discipline of Hope: Learning From a Lifetime of Teaching. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.
My work with theater began with "like we call It home," a play, where I no longer separated my research and writing from the teaching I was doing in schools, grades 4 through 12.
"like we call it home." 1990. (Performed at Fairport High School and at the 22nd Annual Arts In Education Conference, Skidmore College)
My main approach throughout "like we call it home" was to illuminate, throughout the architectural structure of the play, presences in the lives of the students: the world of the school corridor as students pass from class to class; employment while attending school (the students with whom I worked worked an average of twenty-five hours per week); the world of visual culture, how and what students see when they look (the video); the anchor of adult perceptions (screen device and voice overs); and the throbbing rock rhythm world of the students' pleas for love, acceptance, and understanding (the music). Each world spins on its own axis while the play questions:
Whose world, or mine or theirs
or is it of none?
Ezra Pound, Canto LXXXI
I Hear America Singing. 1992. (Performed at Cobbles Elementary School, Penfield Central School District)
Childhood has changed. We live in an age where children in the fifth grade know first-hand the effects of divorce, unemployment, drugs and alcohol, violence, the pressure of school, and AIDS. We live in an age that is a revolution in the way information reaches us, part Hollywood, part t.v. movie, part pop music, mixed with popular culture, celebrity magazines, tabloid telecasts, cable, and home videos. How does this influence children's language, their ideas, their views of themselves.
Working in schools today, I hear America singing. I wrote the play to provide children with theater as a voice and a vehicle to actively reach out with their ideas to a larger world of which they are a part, and to provide the audience with a context to experience the concerns of today's generation.
A Couple of Lessons Left. 2003. (Performed at Industry School, Office of Children and Family Services)
I wanted to create a play that would take over the theater and truly reflect the community it served. Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam on Broadway and the New York City Hip Hop Theater Festival spoke to me. I knew what I wanted to do in my ten-day residency at Industry School, ten days to generate writing for a play. I wanted to create a theater piece that rode the tide of hip-hop, the most important influence in American youth culture today, with the artistic elements of rap and break dancing and with themes that reflected a generation raised on hip-hop.
I began with hip-hop, poetry, and rhyme books. There were no funds for sets or costumes. I also began aware the play would be performed on a minimally dressed set by young men most of whom had never read a play or seen a play, never mind help write or perform in one. Given our time constraints, I knew the play would have to build accidentally, not in a linear fashion. This is why I chose to work within a tradition that forged style from spare parts. We had no money for costumes or sets and ten days. We had teenagers with rhyme books whose ears were penned to rap, imagination, our ten days, and the orange jumpsuits adjudicated youth wear when they are transported from one facility to another.
Homer, who in The Odyssey told the story of a time in verse, while employing the rhythm of the time. The opening of The Odyssey, read in ancient Greek, is the sound of the ocean. My intention was a story of our time in verse, while employing the rhythm of the time with the sounds of the time.
I created the A Couple of Lessons Left for the young men to communicate their lives, their worlds, and their thoughts on the system that locked them up in their own language, so that together we all might begin a dialogue.
Def Poetry Jam at Industry. 2004. (Performed at Industry School, Office of Children and Family Services)
I conceived the play as a vehicle for young men from throughout New York State in a residential facility in the Juvenile Justice System to communicate their lives, their worlds, and their thoughts on the system that locked them up in their own language, so that together we all might begin a dialogue.
Everybody wants the American Dream,
big house, nice car, nice family,
but in the hood all we have to look up to
is money in our pockets and a good meal for the day.
There aren't many choices for us young people
in the hood.
We hustle to feed our families.
If there were better jobs for young people
and better schools
maybe this wouldn't happen.
Maybe this would not have happened to me.
All I want to know is
why is there money to build prisons
and not money for good schools
or to bring jobs into our neighborhoods?
From the script, Def Poetry Jam at Industry
Where Is Tomorrow Coming From? 2008. (Performed by Incarcerated Youth at Monroe County Jail)
A dream of a city on the banks of a river,
the 1803 dream.
Dreams of fame, attention, and money are whose dreams,
yours, mine, or are they all of our dreams?
Sam Patch dreamed.
He wanted to be famous.
He wanted attention.
He wanted money.
On September 30,1827 Sam Patch
jumped off the seventy-foot Passaic Falls in New Jersey.
He repeated this jump at least two more times.
The crowds loved him.
In the fall of 1828,
Sam Patch was the first person
to successfully jump into Niagara Falls.
Following Niagara Falls, Sam Patch came to the Roc
to challenge the 99-foot High Falls of the Genesee.
On November 6, 1829 Sam Patch went out onto a rock ledge in the middle of the falls,
threw a pet bear cub over the falls,
and jumped after the bear, successfully.
On Friday, November 13, 1829,
twenty-six years after the purchase of the one-hundred acres,
increased the height of his jump to 125 feet.
Schooners made special runs from Canada and Oswego.
People came from Buffalo, Batavia, and Canandaigua.
Accounts from the eight thousand people present differ on whether he jumped or fell,
but he never surfaced.
His frozen body was found in the ice in Charlotte early the following spring.
He is buried in Charlotte Cemetery.
Why is a tour boat named after him?
What does it mean?
What are we honoring?
We all have similar dreams.
We all want to be noticed,
and we jump, just like Sam,
we jump into the criminal life.
it's the easy way out.
Why wait ten years before there is even a chance for a good job
when it is so easy to buy a gun
and have instant popularity.
Dreams in our city on the Genesee River.
The mind seeks a reference to build upon,
a history for the river of thoughts
as we look at the promise of the potential
that was handed to all of us
who build our lives from the one-hundred-acre tract.
From the script, Where Is Tomorrow Coming From?
And therein lies the "Voice" of this play. The voice of the inner city is simply, "Look, listen and think, ‘what can I do to help?'"
From the program Michael Bianchirom
I Stand Here Before You. 2009. (Performed by Incarcerated Youth at Monroe County Jail)
My approach to I Stand Here Before You was theater as a means for incarcerated adolescents to convince themselves they did exist in the real world, that they are a part of our world and of our community. The play testifies to whom stands before the judge, the teacher, the lawyer, to those who make judgments. I wanted to make the young men visible as more than a charge, a number, and a statistic of African American males in jail. Theater was a vehicle for these young men to think, to express themselves without anger, and to use their voices when they have been rendered silent.
We all worked together. In "I Stand Here Before You," we testified. We used our minds and our voices to speak to you and to say we do exist in the world. We are part of the world and our community.
From the program, Edward Williams
Notes from Four North, When You Fail Part of Me Dies. 2010. (Performed by Incarcerated Youth at Monroe County Jail)
Stop, look, and listen to what this play, to what our notes are about. I am much more than a young man locked up. I want my future to be filled with love and prosperity. I am tired of being handcuffed. I am tired of my life stopping in the blink of an eye.
Do you want to reverse the cycle of lost dreams, broken hearts, broken homes, and fallen victims?
Who do you think is paying attention to the number of youth incarcerated as adults? Who do you think cares? I grow older and the world gets colder. I am weighed down by the pain of being in here.
The only truth of our youth is we grew up with consequences.
What does the world hold for me?
I am setting the scene. I am living in pain with cells all around me. I am a statistic, sixteen and in jail.
These are our notes to the world
From the script, Notes from Four North, When You Fail Part of Me Dies
Born and Raised in The Roc: Timeline 2011. 2011. (Performed by Incarcerated Youth at Monroe County Jail)
The most active tornado outbreak in United States history killed 339 people across the Southeastern United States.
An estimated two billion people watched the wedding of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine Middleton at Westminster Abbey in London
And in Monroe County Jail, a young man wrote:
It is lonely in this darkness,
looking for a friend.
I ask why me?
No one responds.
From the script, Born And Raised In The Roc: Timeline 2011
Recording 2011 Rochester, New York. 2011. (Performed by Incarcerated Youth at Monroe County Jail)
Life was hard in 2011. I remember standing on a street talking to friends about what we were doing. The next day out of the blue someone walked past us, pulled out a gun, and just started shooting at us for nothing. It's crazy. A person doesn't know who will shoot him for just being happy or because he is walking with a girl.
In 2011 when my friend was shot and killed on the street, I thought it was a bad dream. I had just seen him earlier that day. I heard his sister screaming, "Everyone come outside. It's real. He's really dead." It was over some words.
2011 was supposed to be my year. I was going to go to school and start on the football team. I loved school and playing football and going and seeing the places where kids from other schools' football teams played. Now I'm in jail losing my mind. The real me, I'm a good kid who loves being good.
I am never coming back to jail again. My brother told me never to come here. He said he has been living in Hell he's been in prison for seven years. He comes home next year.
From the script, Recording 2011 Rochester, New York
What Do We Do Next? 2013. (Performed by Incarcerated Males at Monroe Correctional Facility)
Who, what, when, where, why, how,
too many questions,
not enough answers.
Is anyone really listening?
Who waits for a question in a monotone?
Do you hear me screaming?
What about the cry for help?
The constant flow of waterfalls from our faces
to the hard concrete.
It thumps into puddles.
How can someone dance in the rain without an umbrella?
Attendees are in line waiting with pay
to fill broken hearts.
All it takes is someone with courageous lion compassion.
What about the man who punished the boy
for being afraid of the dark?
Who is the main character performing for those
who silence themselves, forgetting the lambs?
Who will be nourished by consuming the fruits of labor?
Who will work for food until everyone is full?
Who will borrow wings from eagles that are waiting for us to relieve them?
From the script, What Do We Do Next?