Cirque du CCSD

November 2, 2021 4:59 am

The Fool/Tantrum 2-Year-Old had stormed off stage. The Quiet One sat dejected. And The General, stung by the cruel ad hominem attack against her, seemed to sink into her seat. And most of the audience left. (Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay)

The Clark County School District’s latest environmental performance piece Thursday was one of the best theatrical spectacles I have ever had the pleasure of attending.

It was funny. It was infuriating. It had unexpected plot twists. It had suspense. A lot of suspense. It was incredibly interactive. And, ultimately, it came to a resolution. A few resolutions.

The performance was part scripted and part improvisational. In this case, the script was called “the agenda” and the improv was designed to distract from the script. That provided a great deal of tension. You never knew who was going to take over the story or where they were going to take it.

The entire performance – including improvisation – took eight hours, though most of the drama was resolved within five.

The Man

Act I elicited the most audience interaction. It revolved around the decision to remove The Man from his position as the superintendent of the district.

This was interesting to me. One of the later acts was a discussion of the anti-racism policy. Naturally, all of the pro-racists showed up to counter the anti-racism policy. But in this act, the pro-racists and anti-racists came together. They all, it seemed, wanted to see The Man go, if for different reasons.

As I wrote last week, this act was added to the script when the Bad Ass Negotiator – let’s call her Fikisha Miller – told the players that The Man tried to undercut her in her job and created an untenable ethical situation with regard to contract negotiations. She also told the players in no uncertain terms that The Man was a raging bully, whose two leadership tools were micromanagement and retaliation.

This act took three hours to complete. And this is where I have a bit of a niggle with the structure of this performance piece. The players had already made up their minds. Yet audience member after audience member trudged up to the mic to say the same thing.

This did help to build suspense. Then, just when we were at the edge of our seats and the vote finally looked like it was about to happen, one of the players threw in a bit of improvisation. The General  – Lola Brooks -who was the previous director of the troupe, asked that the vote be tabled until January of 2023. That happens to be exactly when The Man’s contract runs out. How strangely convenient. But The General was undercut by Cassandra – Danielle Ford -who used The General’s parliamentary tactics to call for the vote on The Man’s contract before The General could call for a table.

Confusing? Absolutely. Also as riveting as a sword fight in The Three Musketeers. 

In the end, The General’s motion to table was denied 4-3, with The Enigmatic One – Irene Cepeda, who twice previously had voted to keep The Man – voting with the majority. But how would The Enigmatic One vote on the actual item? Could she have voted not to table so she could decisively thwart the players who wanted The Man gone? Or was she going to vote to terminate The Man?

I could say that this back and forth over motions took another three hours. It felt like three days. Three gut-wrenching, teeth-grinding, suspenseful days. Actually, it only took about 20 minutes. And, ultimately, the vote was 4-3 to end The Man’s contract. The audience cheered, as it does when the villain is vanquished.

Enter the Fools

The entrée acts are, of course, the most fun part of a circus. And the clowns provided some much needed breathing space.

Just as Act 2 was getting started, one frequent clown character – Jesus Guy – vaunted into the main theatre draped in a confederate flag, parading in front of the two Black women who are behind the anti-racism policy. The Power Moms – better known as Akiko Cooks and J’Shauntae Marshall – weren’t having that, and ultimately, after a problematic interaction with a CCSD cop about whether the flag was hate speech, private security got the permission from the current leader of the troupe – Patience – Linda Cavazos – and escorted Jesus Guy and his flag out of the building.

Then came the second clown act, when the player who usually plays The Fool – Katie Williams – walked back in. The Fool and two of the other players had hastily scurried after The Man as he exited after Act I. The Fool reentered stage right just as one of the pro-racists ended a rant about mask suffocation and then hurled an inexcusable attack at The General. The entire room erupted.

The Fool is normally a hero of the pro-racist/anti-maskers, but she voted to keep The Man, and she had to do something to get them back in her corner. So she took off her mask. When Patience asked her to put it back on The Fool said over and over, “I don’t work for you, I don’t work for you, I don’t work for you, I don’t work for you.” And I realized that she was trying a new character out – Tantrum 2-Year-Old.

Patience truly lived up to her name in the face of the erstwhile Fool turned Tantrum 2-Year-Old, who then got up and left the rest of the performance.

Yes, the player who had just lost threw a tantrum and stormed out of the room.

Then Act 2 finally got underway: whether to remove Patience from her role as leader of the troupe. This act was a last-minute addition to the script, which is telling. Normally, players have to scale tall buildings in a single bound in order to get an addition to the script. The act to fire The Man took a week to get through all of the gauntlets. Somehow, though, the act to strip the leader of the troupe from her leadership position took less than an hour to make part of the script.

This act also elicited quite a bit of audience interaction, though the sides pretty much went back to their corners. The pro-racists wanted Patience gone, too. Because she had figured out how to keep them in line at other performances, and they didn’t like being kept in line. The pro-racists also spent the evening hurling insults at Patience’s husband and children, who were sitting in the middle of the room.

I could talk about how The Quiet One – Evelyn Garcia-Morales – almost cried as she lamented The Man’s fate, and made the motion to remove Patience from her position. But you can watch that. You can also watch The General’s ad hominem attack, which can be summarized by, “You didn’t do what I wanted you to do, so you are wrong and evil.” Everything The General said was either plainly inaccurate or a twist to make her look good. You can watch Patience’s reaction to that, too. 

The end of Act 2 was a bit of a letdown. Another motion to table left Patience the leader of the troupe. But because it wasn’t a decisive vote, one of the players can still try to displace Patience in the two months remaining on her tenure.

Then… A Miracle Happens

Let’s reorient ourselves. The Fool/Tantrum 2-Year-Old had stormed off stage. The Quiet One sat dejected. And The General, stung by the cruel ad hominem attack against her, seemed to sink into her seat.

And most of the audience left. As did the entire senior leadership team.

This seemed strange, since the anti-racism policy was still to come in the script, and someone from the leadership team was supposed to present.

The remaining players improvised and, oddly, it went quite well. Turns out, the players had been briefed on the anti-racism policy and many of the people still in the audience had read it, too, so they didn’t need anyone to walk the audience through it. The players had a fruitful and respectful conversation. And the anti-racism policy passed.

Maybe it was my imagination, but I thought I heard Twilight Zone music.

The anti-racism policy will have to pass one more time before it is implemented, and I expect that show to be tumultuous. But in that moment, I realized for all the chaos and all the headlines that were going to be out the next day, this was an incredibly successful show. The players – the CCSD Board of Trustees – made a decision to find different leadership, which could lead to an important discussion of what leadership looks like and what we want for our district. They passed an anti-racism policy. They threw out the clowns. And Patience, under tremendous pressure, also created a new character: Grace.

All in all, I’d say it was a successful night at the theatre.

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Carrie Kaufman
Carrie Kaufman

Broadcast, digital and print journalist Carrie Kaufman has covered the Clark County School District for public radio and The Nevada Voice since 2015.