A free performance of the documentary-style East Ramapo play by local playwright Mark Judelson is planned Wednesday, Oct. 22 from 7 to 9 p.m.
A conversation about the issues surrounding the troubled school district will precede the performance. The conversation will be facilitated by Roberta Wall. Using the principles of Nonviolent Communication, Roberta will guide participants “in a model of conversation and small group processes that are meant to create connection around each point of view and the humanity of each speaker. This model will lay the basis for continuing a new type of conversation and connection among all of us,” organizers said.
The event will be held at Threefold Auditorium at 260 Hungry Hollow Road, Chestnut Ridge. For more information, contact Abigail Dancey at ABIGAIL@THREEFOLD.ORG or (845) 352-5020, ext. 25.
For background, here’s a story about Judelson’s play when he rolled it out in March. Text is below.
March 31, 2014
‘East Ramapo’ play aims to help ease friction in district
SPRING VALLEY — A documentary-style play that confronts the tense relationships between different stakeholders in the conflict-ridden East Ramapo school district is coming to a stage near you.
A slate of free performances that feature East Ramapo high school students and other members of the community will be held at libraries and civic centers in Rockland County this spring. It debuted March 23 at the New City Library.
Playwright Mark Judelson, who lives in Chestnut Ridge, has written, produced and performed documentary-style plays for 15 years, often working with local high school students.
Judelson is the former longtime executive director of the Arts Council of Rockland and is an arborist by trade but considers himself first and foremost a storyteller with a cause.
He said the production, called “East Ramapo,” is an attempt to “put people with different perspectives and different passionately held beliefs” in one place so they might listen to one another.
“This play, I believe, is a way to begin a conversation that is going to lead to a peaceful resolution and provide ways for the community to resolve some of the problems,” Judelson said.
East Ramapo’s public schools have deteriorated over the years and the district has been plagued with financial and legal scandals under the leadership of a school board majority of white Orthodox Jewish and Hasidic men whose children go to private religious schools.
Activists, parents and public school students have repeatedly accused district officials of giving them short shrift — cutting programs, laying off hundreds of teachers — while directing the district’s scant resources toward its large population of yeshiva students. Most of the public-school students are black and Hispanic and allegations of segregation are widespread.
Judelson wove material from his research, interviews with the actors and input from focus groups into an 8,800-word script that details the perspectives and struggles of several East Ramapo “characters” — the student, the activist, the educator, the rabbi and others.
When the “actors” take the stage, on a bare bones set and with scripts in hand, what audiences experience is part dramatic monologue, part personal history of the speaker and part call to action.
In large part, the public-school community is portrayed sympathetically while unflinching criticism is cast on the religious board members’ leadership.
The criticism extends to the Orthodox and Hasidic communities in general — in the sense that their insular, religious lifestyle conflicts with values held by the characters — as in this excerpt delivered by Willie Trotman of the Spring Valley NAACP, who plays himself: “I am angry because, in East Ramapo, people are hiding behind religion. They’re using religion to carry out oppressive agendas. In East Ramapo, ultra-Orthodox Jews are trying to take power from everybody.”
While the production is designed so most cast members belong to the actual ethnic, religious or professional group they represent in the play, none of the Orthodox and Hasidic individuals Judelson approached would participate, so those characters are played by others, he said.
“I worked really hard to create as valid a voice for every character as I could,” he said.