Nilaja Sun finds hope, humor in classroom
ASPEN However you look at it, school tends not to be a laughing matter. Think back on school days past, and the memories are of forgotten homework, ninth-inning kickball gaffes during recess, and episodes of mockery and bullying. It doesnt necessarily help to flash forward to the contemporary state of public schools, with the disheartening reports of crumbling infrastructure, drained budgets and the array of weapons with which children arm themselves to do battle with the school day. Nilaja Sun has seen todays schools from the inside. The 32-year-old actress and educator spent eight years as a teaching artist in the public schools in her native New York. And the report she delivers in her one-person show, No Child …, is that things arent quite so awful. Id love the world to get a sense of what its like to be a teaching artist, said Sun, who performs No Child … Friday at 5 p.m., and Saturday at 7 p.m., both at the Wheeler Opera House. I want the audience to get a sense of hope. Nowadays when people think of public schools, they think of a crumbling system. And though that is true, I want people to see that in the outside forces kids face, and in the school systems, theres hope and tenderness and a lot of life. No Child … follows a teaching artist, Timberlake Wertenbaker, teaching the play Our Countrys Good in a public school. Suns fictitious creation leans toward the dramatic, rather than the comedic end of theater. But Sun says that in truth there is humor. Lots of teachers who come to the show end up screaming and cracking up, said Sun, who began performing her show in April at the Beckett Theater, on 42nd Street, and has moved downtown to the Barrow St. Theatre in Greenwich Village. But it can become an emotional roller coaster. Theres a lot of dramatic truth. The comedy also comes from the actresss background. Sun has long worked as a comedic actress. She has also created a string of her own plays: Gray Sun examined the parallels between herself and the late monologuist Spalding Gray; another, Due to the Tragic Events of …, was her response to 9/11; a third, Insufficient Fare, was about her learning that a friend had been killed in a car accident. Not exactly light material. But Sun says there is a comic element to all her work because a humorous take on the world is in her bones. Raised on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, she is half African-American, half Puerto Rican. She went to college at Franklin & Marshall, a predominantly white school located near the center of Pennsylvanias Amish country. I think being a New Yorker thats what gave me my sense of humor, said Sun, who explored her origins in her first one-person show, La Nubia Latina, written during her senior year of college. And going to Catholic school for 13 years. And being a black Puerto Rican gives you a sense of humor, because the aesthetics of being a Latina girl theres a lot of weight placed on being a beauty. And if youre not the princess, you tend toward focusing on humor.