BWW Review: Eric Coble's SWAGGER Mesmerizes Young Audiences

BWW Review: Eric Coble's SWAGGER Mesmerizes Young Audiences

Photo: Ariana Lobo as Leela, Stephan Pineda as Jordan, and Robert Richards, Jr. as Daniel. Photo Credit: Sean Bohne

Eric Coble's new play "Swagger", developed by Palm Beach Dramaworks as part of the One Humanity Tour, captivated the sixth grade students at Watson B. Duncan Middle School. The piece and accompanying talk back served to strengthen the bond between young citizens and their local police officers by generating discussion and providing resources without taking a side on what is today a hot topic issue. "Swagger" delivers the same event from three points of view in a direct address format focusing on story and character relationships.

Leela, a single mom with big dreams, described her love of fashion and made the young audience giggle when she struggled to find the right words to talk to Officer Daniel. Daniel voiced his observation that his uniform changes the way others look at him and how his responsibilities to his community are his first priority. Jordan, the character the students most connected with, illustrated his dilemma of wanting the most perfect jacket he has ever seen but being unable to afford it. The sixth graders held their breath as the backstory of the incident recorded on video unfolded before their eyes.

Equally as important as the play, the One Humanity Tour (generously funded by a grant from Impact the Palm Beaches) involves the community to humanize the project. After the performance, the sixth graders were asked to honestly answer questions about their feelings of safety and view of police officers. School safety is on everyone's minds. Next, the school police officer Mike Waites was interviewed by the cast about his family and the reasons why he became an officer. The students were cheering. The cast also brought up Officer Dave Howell from the PBG Police Department who answered personal questions met with thunderous applause. Palm Beach Dramaworks' Director of Education and Community Outreach Gary Cadwallader also invited Chief Clint Shannon, Assistant Chief James Stormes and Officer Bethany O'Dell from the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department to the presentation and they reportedly LOVED the show.

The One Humanity Tour is offered free of charge to Palm Beach County middle schools who want to connect with their communities on the topic of safety and police.

According to Gary Cadwallader:

We learned a lot after performing this at 18 schools last year, and went into rehearsals with changes in mind in terms of fine-tuning the performances. This script is cleverly written, and the characters are richly drawn to ensure that responsibility for what happens at the climax is deep and multifaceted. All the characters are responsible for what happens. It's a clever script, and this year we did quite a bit of table work to uncover the layers in motivation and subtext. Eric Coble wrote this play as a direct address reflection by the characters of the incidents that led to the conflict, showing that everyone has a unique perspective about what led to the conflict. We defined direct address for the actors, and who they were talking to in each moment of the play. We also seriously addressed the climax and pulled back from making it realistic in any way. The dialogue leading to the climax is past tense, so we created tension and told the story by physically taking the audience through the climax but not showing them the action. We approached it as if the characters were telling their version of the event to a person in charge of an inquest into what led to the conflict. It really clicked for the actors.

"Swagger" addresses the following Social and Emotional Learning standards...

· Making responsible decisions

· Demonstrating empathy and awareness

· Considering multiple perspectives

· Demonstrating self-discipline

· Delaying self-gratification

· Demonstrating effective coping skills when confronting a problem

· Creating relationships with adults/authority figures that are respectful

· Showing cause and effect

The school's guidance counselor, Michelle McConahay, was interviewed by the cast as well, immediately becoming a friendly face that the students could turn to if they needed to discuss the issues of the play or any other problem they might need some help with. Through the One Humanity Tour, students got a lot more than an opportunity to see "Swagger"; they also got reassurance that their Palm Beach Gardens police officers care about them as people and that they are not alone. "Empathy" was the word of the day.

For more information about the One Humanity Tour, please contact Palm Beach Dramaworks' Director of Education, Gary Cadwallader at 561-514-4042, ext. 123 or email gcadwallader@palmbeachdramaworks.org.

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From This Author Courtney Hess

Courtney Hess is an educational theatre consultant and theatre teacher in Palm Beach County, Florida. Most of her time is spent directing student work and (read more...)

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