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Posted on Sun, Feb 5, 2012 : 5:08 a.m.

EMU theater department aims to educate audiences with 'No Child'

By Jenn McKee


Jahmeel Powers and Brittney Wright in EMU's production of "No Child."

Photo courtesy of EMU Theatre

Thanks to George W. Bush’s controversial education legislation, the title of Nilaja Sun’s one-woman play—now being staged with 7 actors at Eastern Michigan University—needed only the words “No Child” to call up two more thematically significant ghost words: “left behind.”

For Sun, after teaching in New York City public schools, was inspired to depict how marginalized kids are responding to America’s broken education system. In the play, Sun plays not only the role of several students, but also that of a teacher who’s coaxing those students to closely examine and discuss the play “Our Country’s Good”—a play about a real-life lieutenant who led a group of 18th century Australian convicts in staging a George Farquhar comedy.

In “No Child,” the parallel between prisoners and inner city students gives the teacher pause.

“But as she talks about this with the students, they tell her about how they feel like convicts,” said director Wallace Bridges. “Just to get into the school, they have to go through metal detectors, and in class, they’re constantly told to sit down and be quiet.”


”No Child”

  • Who: Eastern Michigan University theater department.
  • What: Nilaja Sun’s one woman play (adapted for a cast of seven), inspired by her experience teaching drama to disadvantaged high school kids in the New York City public school system.
  • Where: Sponberg Theatre on EMU’s campus, near Best Hall and East Circle Dr. in Ypsilanti.
  • When: Feb. 9-10 and 17-18 at 7 p.m., and Feb. 11 and 19 at 2 p.m.
  • How much: $15 ($12 for students, $7 for children 12 and under). 734-487-2282 or
Bridges is always on the lookout for Afro-centric plays with small casts, so when he came across “No Child” early last year, and discovered that others had staged the play with multiple actors, he decided to take it on.

“It actually dealt with an issue that’s important to me—namely, the problems in our educational system,” said Bridges.

The play’s challenges have largely been logistic in nature, since Bridges has had to make adjustments for multiple actors and, consequently, stage directions.

“Plus there was the question of, how far do we go in terms of props and set pieces when it’s based on a one-woman show that’s pretty much done with one chair on a stage,” said Bridges. “But we’ve kept it simple.”

Even though EMU's production has a cast of 7, most performers involved play at least 2 roles each, so the student actors are learning how to use body language and vocal inflection to achieve distinctions between characters.

“They’re excited about stepping up to that challenge, and the ensemble is really working well together,” said Bridges. “Everybody definitely feels like the show has a message that needs to be heard.”

Jenn McKee is the entertainment digital journalist for Reach her at or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.