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THE DEFAMATION EXPERIENCE
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THE DEFAMATION EXPERIENCE
The Defamation Experience is a unique interactive diversity program is comprised of three components; the play which explores the highly charged issues of race, religion, gender, class and the law with a twist: the audience is the jury. Through deliberations and post-show discussions, audiences engage in civil discourse that challenges preconceived notions. Playwright Todd Logan says,
“Whether we like it or not, we still have major divides in this country. Most of us still go to bed at night in cities, communities and neighborhoods that are segregated by race, religion, ethnicity and/or class. I wanted to write a play that encourages open, honest conversation that leads to greater understanding and empathy to combat today’s prevailing trends.”
DEFAMATION is an old-fashioned courtroom drama. The premise is a civil suit: A South Side African-American woman sues a Jewish North Shore real estate developer for defamation. The legal issue is whether or not she was falsely accused of stealing his watch and causing her financial harm. The experience begins when the plaintiff and her white male attorney and the defendant and his African-American female attorney walk through the audience and take their seats at their respective tables. Without a word having been spoken, the tableau compels audiences to immediately engage. Moments later, Judge Barnes appears and stares down the audience before announcing ‘we’ve got serious business here, a civil suit. Wade V Golden. ‘ From that moment forward, your venue transforms into a courtroom. What follows is a 70 minute riveting trial that ‘holds the audience’s own prejudices and assumptions under a powerful lens, and does not let go except by the way of an unsettling self-examination.’
After the most dramatic testimony, Judge Barnes tells the audience they are going to decide the matter of Wade v Golden. A first poll is taken. The choices are for the plaintiff, for the defendant, or undecided. The tally is announced. For 15 minutes, the judge leads the deliberation. Jurors stand to explain and advocate their reasons for their vote. Questions are raised by the ‘undecideds.’ Often for clarification, witnesses are asked to repeat key testimony. In a case without a smoking gun jurors are challenged. A challenge more demanding when issues of race, class, religion, and gender are so germane to the case. When a consensus of views have been heard, the judge polls the audience and this final vote decides the outcome of the trial.
THE POST-SHOW DISCUSSION
Immediately following the trial, a seasoned facilitator steps forward and invites the audience to stay for a post-show discussion. The purpose is not to re-litigate the case; the post-show is an opportunity for safe, open, honest and meaningful conversations about race, class, religion, gender and the law.
“Students and community members were compelled to grapple with both emotional and rational responses - learning about self and others in the dialogue. The conversation continued in the classroom and on social media. We return to the themes of the play as they ripple through our thoughts and our lives.”
Claudia Guzman and Warren Scherer, Inclusive Excellence Center, University of Milwaukee - Wisconsin
DEFAMATION, written by Todd Logan, first premiered on November 6th, 2010 at the Unitarian Church of Evanston, IL. Since then it has been performed more than 300 times throughout the United States and seen by more than 50,000 people.
RACE, RELIGION, CLASS AND GENDER
COLLIDE IN THE RIVETING
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