Friday, August 01, 2014

"Gidion's Knot" by Johnna Adams at Forum Theater in Silver Spring, MD: troubling story about kids' writings and cyberbullying


Gidion’s Knot” is a two-actress play, currently (through this weekend) at the Forum Theater next to the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, MD (link).  It was authored by Johnna Adams, and the performance is directed by Cristina Alicea, and is presented by the NextStop Theater Company (Facebook site ).
  
The setting is an expansive Fifth Grade school classroom in a Chicago suburb.  The contents on the blackboard suggest a geography class (although don’t grade school students have the same teacher all day?)  Some cursive student essays hang on a wall.
  
As the 75-minute play opens, teacher Heather Clark (Kary Carkuff) is doing her lesson planning after school, and breaks into tears.  She has an appointment with a parent Corryn Fell (Caroline Stefanie Clay), and African-American woman and single mother whom we later learn teaches English and Welsh old literature at a local university.  She expected the appointment to be broken, or at least the school principal to show up with her.  A few days before, Fell’s son, Gidion, had posted a violent and threatening story online and apparently passed it around to students, and then, after being harassed and cyberbullied on Facebook, committed suicide. And Ms. Clark had already suspended Gideon after learning of the story.
  
During the interchange, we learn that the “bully” had been another kid, Jake, just 12.  So there is a maze is to what had really happened, and how the grownups should have intervened. Why would a kid this young commit this kind of abuse and then call someone else an abuser?  
  

About fifty minutes into the play, Heather reads the entire transcript of the story.  It is extremely graphic as to bodily injury, but Corryn finds her late son’s writing brilliant, because some of the imagery actually comes from ancient literature (like “Beowulf”).  The tone reminded me of Elliot Rodger’s “manifesto” before he went on a rampage in California, but the author here is just 11. 

After the play, we had a round robin discussion.  The leader divided us into pairs, and we were supposed to report what the pair partner thought, not just what “I” thought.   The idea of working in pairs was that it is supposed to build a new kind of community consensus.  The group did not follow that sort of discipline for the whole period.  There was a general impression that social media has made kids much more aware of inequality in many areas of life, to the point of getting dangerous.   In the discussion, I did mention my own incident when I was subbing, at West Potomac High School in Fairfax County in late 2005. 

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