“A love story between the students and teachers amidst the turmoil that happens everyday” is how performance poet, educator, spoken word artist, activist and author Reenah Golden describes the one-woman play “No Child” that she has slept, ate and breathed for the past three years.

ONE-WOMAN PLAY—Reenah Golden plays 16 characters in the one-woman play “No Child.” (Photos by J.L. Martello)

“No Child” is set in the tough Malcolm X high school in the Bronx and tells the efforts of a young, optimistic teacher who works hard to engage a group of the school’s most challenging and underachieving sophomore students to put on a play. It celebrates the positive difference that one passionate, patient and caring person can make in the lives of uninspired kids in a dark and troubling world.

The characters in the production range from teenagers to seasoned adults with reflections of culture from Russian to Jamaican.

“No Child” was written by Nilaja Sun who spent eight years as a teaching artist in the New York City Public School System, dividing her time in the last few years, between Martin Luther King, Jr. High School in Manhattan and the Bronx High School for Writing and Communication Arts.

“When I read the script I said ‘how did this woman get my life?’ This is my story as well as it is the playwrights,” said Golden, 39, who has worked as a teaching artist in the New York school system for more than 15 years. “I said how do you play 16 different characters and they’re all reacting to and interacting with each other? I believe in this story because we all have come through some school system.”

The result is a magical cast of real, down-to-earth characters that the audience immediately identifies with and ultimately roots for their success in school and beyond.

“The story and characters lend themselves to universality. We have urban, rural, and suburban school systems and even though different things happen in each of these schools, we all have to remember that there is an education happening that is not a part of the curriculum: violence, tardiness, skipping classes, metal detectors, student’s going through several teachers throughout the year. At the end of the day it’s all about the relationships and the environments that we create for the kids,” Golden said.

The multi-talented performer brought her version of the award-winning 70-minute production to the Kelly Strayhorn Theater as a part of the theater’s continuing East Liberty LIVE! Series, which encourages those who live and work in East Liberty by providing exciting, accessible and low-cost events that helps contribute to the city’s continual revitalization and to fill the void often left when arts programming slows during summer months.

“We’re committed to bringing arts all year long. Reenah is outstanding and she plays 16 characters extremely well. The play resonates with folks today because it is set in an urban setting like Pittsburgh and everyday schools are being closed down and teachers are quitting or being furloughed,” said Joseph Hall, Kelly Strayhorn Theater’s programming director.

Reenah’s brother, Adam Golden who was instrumental in bringing “No Child” to Pittsburgh, felt his sister’s powerful performance would speak to all who attended.

“It’s important to bring these issues to a broader community because it affects us all and this can lead to solutions to fix the problems,” said Adam Golden who graduated from Allderdice High School and serves on the board of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater.

Following her time at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, Golden will be performing “No Child” in various schools across the country including schools in Gary, Ind.

She has performed the production in Syracuse, NY and has done portions of it as a workshop in Spain and the Netherlands.

Golden hopes that her performance of “No Child” spurs conversations between educators and students to bring about solutions to the problems that both face in the educational system on a daily basis.

“It’s necessary for the teacher to draw some kind of positive energy from the students and the classroom. Kids are there for more waking hours than they are at home,” Golden said.

“No Child” has won numerous awards including an Obie Award, two Outer Critics Circle Awards and a Theatre World Award.

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