If my own household is any indication, parents everywhere are struggling to explain anti-Black police violence—and the worldwide protest movement aimed at ending it—to their kids. Here’s something that might help: five short play scripts for children and families to act out themselves, penned by playwright/poet Idris Goodwin, under the title “Free Play: Open Source Scripts Toward an Antiracist Tomorrow.”
The plays, which go up today on the website of Theatre for Young Audiences/USA, are designed for children ranging in age from 6 to 14-plus, and include Water Gun Song, about a parent having to explain to a child why a water gun isn’t simply a toy; Nothing Rhymes With Juneteenth, in which a child and parent compose a rap for a school presentation; Act Free, in which three kids wrestle with the definition of freedom; #Matter, a two-hander in which high schoolers debate matters of life and race; and Black Flag, in which two new college dorm-mates are getting along swimmingly until one decides to decorate their room with a little piece of “Southern pride.”
Goodwin, whose plays include And in This Corner Cassius Clay, How We Got On, and Hype Man: A Break Beat Play, is excited not only about the plays’ content but about the means of distribution. As he told me last week, “My work has been saying Black lives matter for a while now, but within the traditional structure of the theatre machine. There’s always been somewhat of a limitation of how I get that work to people—if you’re not in our city at that time, on that weekend, you’ll miss it.”
He recently contributed a short play to a similar project, Play at Home, designed for families homebound by the pandemic shutdown. And he said his own family, which includes young children, has been reading scripts and stories to each other, in a way that “hearkens back to folks gathering around the piano.” As the conversations have turned to the renewed energy and urgency of the Black Lives Matter movement, he has grown increasingly optimistic, he said.
“I used to be the kind of person who would say, we’re not going to see the end of racism—I’m just doing my part and passing the torch to the next person,” said Goodwin. “But honestly, what I’ve seen in the past few weeks—I’m invigorated, and I’m feeling we have to ensure this is gone in our lifetime. It’s been around far too long, and we know better.” In a more official statement, he put it this way: “Theatre is where we see ourselves and wrestle with our beliefs. Through the stories of others we reflect on our own. Since racism lives at the intersection of misinformation, ego, and unchecked power, the arts must counteract by cultivating personal reflection, learning, conversation, and compassion…Systemic racism must end now and forever. One way of doing so is talking with our children about it. These five plays are meant to serve as sparks for conversation.”
Goodwin is based in Louisville for the moment, where for years he ran StageOne, a children’s theatre company; he recently took the reins of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, though he’s been doing that remotely since the shutdown, and plans to move his family there in a few months.
Meanwhile, three of Goodwin’s “Free Play” offerings will be featured as part of this weeks’ Juneteenth “Arts Break” by New York City children’s theatre the New Victory Theater.