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Shown, l-r: Brendan Martyn, Aubrey Houle, Damian Garrod, Makayla Stitt, Cory Michael Peeler, Tayler Lenoir
Shown, l-r: Brendan Martyn, Aubrey Houle, Damian Garrod, Makayla Stitt, Cory Michael Peeler, Tayler Lenoir Photo courtesy of UofSC Dept. of Theatre and Dance.

The UofSC Theatre Program, in partnership with the UofSC College of Education, will present “ReformED,” a brand-new play exposing the challenges of being a public school teacher in an ever-changing education landscape, Nov. 11-14 at Longstreet Theatre.

Written and directed by UofSC theatre professor Peter Duffy, “ReformED” is an unflinching portrait of the modern teacher experience based entirely on interviews and surveys conducted with educators across the United States. The play introduces teachers Helen, Theresa, Carter, Dave and others, taking the audience on a journey through their school year. As the challenges of teaching in the age of educational reform come to light, they are faced with the decision of whether or not to remain in the profession. “ReformED” is not just a play for teachers; rather, it is a story for anyone who cares about how we educate the next generation, and an appeal for all of us to consider what it means to educate our children.

Duffy, who heads the Masters in Teaching Theatre track at the University, says the play’s genesis began four years ago as he became frustrated with preparing his students for an increasingly uncertain professional life.

“It started to feel a little unethical to train people to become teachers in a system that was changing so rapidly, and when the numbers of people leaving teaching were staggering,” he says.

To give them a better understanding of life in the modern classroom, he tasked his students with interviewing teachers in the field. Those conversations, along with several years of additional interviews and teacher surveys, formed the basis of this new play.

“We went after it like qualitative research,” says Duffy, “asking, ‘What are the gaps in the research [on the teacher experience] that we’re not getting?’ We had heard all of the hard luck stories, but when it’s given to you as statistical research, it’s hard to understand what it really means to you as an educator. I wanted them to have an understanding of the conditions on the ground, so they could be better prepared to be an open and responsive educator.”

He says there was a sense from the beginning that the information revealed through his and his students’ research could be developed into a play, in essence bringing the research data — and the individual stories behind the statistics — to life.

“Honestly listening to teachers is often left out of the discourse,” he says, “and these are stories that matter. Schooling is one of those topics that everybody thinks they understand because everybody has gone to school. But, unless you’ve spent time in schools in the last ten to fifteen years, you don’t realize that it’s a completely different place.”

Duffy is quick to state that the play isn’t “an hour and 15 minutes of self-loathing and darkness,” instead, it’s simply and honest portrait of life in today’s public school system, with all its highs and lows.

“There’s incredible hope and optimism and joy existing alongside stories from teachers’ and kids’ lives that will just break your heart,” he explains. “All of these things exist side by side, just as they do in the schools.”

For this inaugural workshop production of “ReformED,” Duffy has cast a talented ensemble of UofSC student actors, including Damian Garrod, Marilyn Guy, Aubrey Houle, Tavis Jackson, Tayler Lenoir, Brendan Martyn, Jordan Pontelandolfo, Cory Michael Peeler, and Makayla Stitt. Also featured is professional actor Patti Walker.

“It’s a timely play. Just in the past couple of years there have been teacher strikes in West Virginia and California, and we had the Red for Ed march here last May. It’s particularly important now that state legislators are thinking about more educational reforms for SC to get teacher voices out there saying that increased pay is great, but if that’s the only conversation you’re having, you’re not listening.”

Special to GoColumbia

If you go

What: “ReformED,” presented by the University of SC Theatre Program.

When: 7 p.m. Nov. 11-14, with audience talk-backs hosted after each performance.

The performance on Nov. 13, to which SC legislators have been invited, will feature an expanded panel discussion moderated by UofSC Law Professor Derek Black.

Where: Longstreet Theatre, 1300 Greene St.

Tickets: Free. Tickets can be reserved in advance online at http://bit.ly/reformed_play

More info: Call 803-777-9353 or via email bushk@mailbox.sc.edu