A Pre-K to Grade 12 Independent Quaker Day School Serving the Greater Durham-Chapel Hill Area

Celebrating the first production in our new Performing Arts Center
Celebrating the first production in our new Performing Arts Center

Update: Please read the below letter to the community from Head of School Karen Cumberbatch:

"I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being."
-Oscar Wilde

"The truth is rarely pure and never simple"
-Oscar Wilde

Presentation of the Upper School Play, The Foreigner, will not take place this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday as originally scheduled. The cast and crew have worked extraordinarily hard for many months to pull together a fantastic performance of this award-winning play. The set created by Dylan and his classes looks wonderful and students' performances were well-crafted and powerful. The show is prepared and yet, we are not prepared to move forward. We are pushing the pause button so that we can take the time to reflect on the play, its timing, and its impact on the community.

This year's intended Upper School drama, The Foreigner, explores the themes of self-awareness and the creation of the self in opposition to 'the other' (hence the title) as its primary focus, with attendant focus on racism, prejudice, and bigotry. The play, a comedy, has been performed successfully by many community and school groups since 1984. There are truly great comedic moments mixed with moments of horrific, racist vitriol espoused by several KKK characters.

It is those moments featuring the KKK near the end of the production, including several characters in white robes and pointy hats, that are the most provocative. It is meant to be jarring and unsettling and in most situations, it would also be a provocation for discussion about issues we want our students and our community to confront. Indeed that was the intention of playwright and our own CFS theater teacher, and the cast of students.

The two Oscar Wilde quotes above seem to frame perfectly the value and complexity of theatrical productions. Art in all its forms are meant to provoke a response - laughter, outrage, empathy, sadness. They are designed to push us out of our comfort zone into a zone of discomfort where we can challenge ourselves to think differently and experience something new. Because it is a place of powerful imagery and live provocation, the dramatic arts, in particular, provide a powerful opportunity to engage with challenging issues and initiate conversations that might not otherwise happen.

Operating in this zone of discomfort can be transformative, healthy, and educational. This is where learning happens. Sometimes, without malice or ill intent, however, the theater can push its audience too far beyond productive discomfort into a zone of alarm, danger, and fear. When that happens, despite the best of intentions, the result can leave the audience feeling paralyzed and overwhelmed. Our goal is to live in the zone of discomfort to promote growth and learning.

In choosing the play, the director and cast, hoped to provide an opportunity for us to collectively explore issues and deepen our understanding, squarely in the discomfort zone. The cast is now coming to the realization that their goal may not be achieved in presenting the play as they envisioned it. In the context of the events that have happened throughout this fall at CFS, as well as those that continue to happen in our country, including the most recent spate of highly publicized hate crimes, for many, images of the KKK up-close and personal have proven more volatile than intended.

In a climate of increasing unsettledness and legitimate questions about emotional and physical safety, to produce this play now, feels like it may push some into the danger zone, triggered by what they see and/or questioning the choice of the play rather than interrogating the content. The potential for polarization seems greater than the potential for powerful conversation and we could be contributing to inflaming our discussion around racism and bias rather than creating a safer space for deep discourse.

As we take this moment to reflect deeply, we will do so collectively with the cast, crew, and the Upper School to determine how we can best honor the phenomenal, hard work put into the production while also ensuring that we are operating in an appropriate zone of discomfort where we can move forward together. The cast is currently exploring avenues for making their process visible, including grappling with the content of the play, their respective roles, and ultimately, their awareness of their audience. Their exploration remains grounded in a commitment to confronting and rooting out social injustice wherever it appears. We will continue to update the community as we complete this work, ever-seeking deeper understanding, empathy, and unity.

I want to offer deep gratitude and appreciation for Austin and the cast for their hard work and willingness to wrestle with this material. It is a rare group of students, indeed, who in reflection can set aside attachment to a well-rehearsed performance in the interest of the well-being of their community.

In Peace,