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Lines In The Dust

By Gary Wien

This article was originally designed to be read in the October 2014 issue of
New Jersey Stage magazine. To read it in its original format, click here

How hard would you fight to ensure your child received the best education he or she could have?

Would you be willing to move to a different part of the state?

Are you willing to break the law?

As the country remembers the 60th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, Nikkole Salter revisits the idea of segregation in "Lines In The Dust," a new play running at Luna Stage in West Orange now through November 9. While the decision was supposed to end segregation, Salter believes we are very much still segregated today. In some ways, she believes we are even more so than ever before.

The play revolves around a mother from Newark who is trying to prevent her daughter from repeating the same steps she did as a child. While she was a successful student, she believed that the high grades earned at her Newark school failed to prepare her as well as the kids from richer school districts.

"She wasn't able to go and have the life she had bragged to everyone that she would have," explained Salter. "Her late realization of that broke her spirit a bit. Now she finds herself with a daughter and living in a similar community to the one she grew up in. The idea that her daughter would face the same fate bothers her immensely."

She does what she thinks is best for her child. She lies. She commits school residency fraud by using a fake address in Millburn so her daughter can go to school there. All is well with her plan until the school launches an enrollment audit.

"When I write plays, I always start from a place of fire," explained Salter. "A place where I have a distinct opinion or something I want to say. Usually, if I'm doing it right, by the time I've come up with the characters and the situations there's something that gives me problems. And it gives me problems because I haven't extended my empathy to it. But the moment I try to figure out what's really driving it and assume that what's driving him or her is also in me somewhere is the moment I start to understand where it's coming from.

"There's a racist character in Lines In The Dust and I wanted very much for him to not be a racist caricature," continued Salter. "I wanted to talk about the kind of racism that's insidious, not the kind where people are running around with white hoods. This is the kind of racism that doesn't prevent you from talking to people of color, but where you start to stand up for the rules and laws in the community in which you live that prevent them from coming. It's where you still make assumptions about them and make special exceptions for any friends of color that are in your life. This isn't exclusive to white people, I think all of America is prejudiced. Racism is a different thing because it implies power to deny access or to permit access. This is the type of prejudice when you say things like, 'this is my white friend' or 'this is my black friend.' If you have to explain your friend's presence, it shows you how segregated we still are."

The play was commissioned by Luna because Robert Lee Carter, a civil rights activist from Essex County, was instrumental in the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Every 3 years, Luna commissions a play from a NJ-based playwright that focuses on a historical figure, event, or issue of importance to New Jersey and our communities.

Salter says that the architects of the legal strategy of the NAACP thought they were reaching their goal with the decision, but they were misguided in one major aspect: changing a law doesn't change hearts.

"If you haven't changed the hearts of people, the law that you create may provide a temporary solve for the issue at hand, but what is actually driving the problem will just manifest itself in new ways," said Salter. "I think they underestimated how much people believed in staying away from black people. They thought it was the right thing for them and their families."

While doing research for the play, Salter quickly learned that people thought differently when children were involved. Having children meant having to think about where the children should grow up, what kind of school systems should they have access to, and what kind of environment should they be surrounded by. As much as people wanted to believe they didn't have a problem with poor people or black people, when it came time to making decisions for their children they would show a different side. She met people who absolutely hated where they were living, but chose to live there solely to benefit their children — to provide them with the best chance for success in life.

The research also opened Salter's eyes to just how big of a problem this is. "I think it's interesting that charter schools and parental vouchers are always sold as parental choice," said Salter. "But these programs are only sold to poor people. Rich kids don't have charter schools, they just go to their public schools and the schools are fine. Charter schools are not the national trend they make them out to be."

Lines In The Dust is Salter's second world premiere at Luna Stage, a place she's proud to call one of her home theatres. Originally from Los Angeles, Salter now lives in Bloomfield, about ten minutes from Luna.

"I was one of those reluctant movers to New Jersey," admitted Salter. "I spent the first 3 years spending every day in New York City and I didn't do anything in New Jersey. At one point, I just thought this is ridiculous, there has to be some great things to do in Jersey. And, as soon as I started to open my eyes, I found a lot of things to do and one was Luna Stage. I emailed them and said I live in town, I'm a playwright, and you would be my local theatre. I said I'd love to be involved, here's a play of mine. I'll volunteer and I'll come check out your shows and I got a response - an actual response from an actual person! They read my play and it was love at first email..."

Salter hopes audience members leave the theatre and take a look at their own hometowns. Do all of their neighbors look the same? Was this something done on purpose? Do they care that there isn't diversity? Do they think it's wrong somehow? Segregation is very much alive and well today. Questioning how and why it remains may be the first step towards truly eliminating it.

For more by this author, click here

Holmdel Theatre Company Presents 'ART'
(HOLMDEL, NJ) – The Holmdel Theatre Company (HTC) will present 6 performances of Yasmina Reza’s ‘ART’  from December 7th through December 16th. Translated from French by Christopher Hampton, the play tells the story of what happens when Serge buys an expensive painting, and the reactions of his two closest friends, Marc and Yvan, to his purchase. As what begins as a discussion about the quality of the painting that Serge has purchased quickly devolves into petty jabs and personal attacks, the three men border on destroying their friendships.
Pebble Players Presents "Heathers, the Musical: High School Edition"
(SUMMIT, NJ) -- Celebrating their 10th season, Pebble Players has been entertaining Summit residents and audiences from surrounding towns with sophisticated Off-Broadway quality performances. The 2018 Season opens with "Heathers The Musical: High School Edition," directed by Jayne Myers and choreographed by Jaimie Woodruff.  Performances are Friday, November 16 and Saturday, November 17 at 7:30pm and Sunday, November 18 at 2:00pm. 
NJPAC Presents Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies
(NEWARK, NJ) -- New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) presents Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies from Thursday, March 21, 2019 - Saturday, March 23, 2019. The high-style music of “The Duke” is the heart and soul of this 1981 Tony-winning Broadway hit, directed with dazzle by André De Shields (The Wiz). Mercedes Ellington, granddaughter of Duke Ellington, re-creates the original show’s elegant dancing and tapping as choreographer.
Princeton Chinese Theatre in collaboration with the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater present Teahouse by Lao She
(PRINCETON, NJ) --Princeton Chinese Theatre in collaboration with the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater at Princeton University will present Teahouse by Lao She on November 16, 17 and 18 at 8:00pm and November 17 at 2:00pm in the Donald G. Drapkin Studio at the Lewis Arts complex on the Princeton campus. Teahouse is considered a masterpiece of contemporary Chinese theater, spanning 50 years in modern Chinese history from the collapse of the Qing dynasty and the Republican Revolution to the birth of the People’s Republic, bringing together over sixty characters who represent all walks of life. The production is directed by senior Changshuo Liu.
Axelrod's Rising Stars Youth Performing Arts Program Presents "Peter Pan"
(OCEAN TOWNSHIP, NJ) --  A family musical that’s perfect for the holiday season, “Peter Pan” is flying onto the Axelrod stage December 8-16. Axelrod’s award-winning Rising Stars Youth Performing Arts program presents one of Broadway’s timeless classics in a fully staged production directed by Lisa Goldfarb with musical direction by Randy Hurst and choreography by Wendy Roman.  

Broadway’s Next H!T Musical LIVE! at Toms River’s Grunin Center
It’s Friday, October 26, 2018, and the Broadway’s Next H!T Musical cast is just about ready to take the stage at the Jay and Linda Grunin Center for the Arts, located on the campus of Ocean County College in Toms River, NJ.
The Last Apple Pie: "Apples In Winter" Opens At Centenary Stage
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See Andrea McArdle LIVE! in Annie at Deal Park’s Axelrod PAC!
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The five-time Tony award-nominated Broadway musical, Rock of Ages, returns to the stage with a 10th Anniversary Tour at Atlantic City’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino! Performed in the venue’s ultra-modern Sound Waves theater, Rock of Ages runs from now until November 4, 2018.
There's One In Every Family: "Charley's Aunt" at The Shakespeare Theatre
On stage now through November 18 at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, “Charley’s Aunt” is described as “part Oscar Wilde, part ‘Fawlty Towers,’ with a dash of South American spice!” This side-splitting British farce from 1892 has drag, mistaken identity, romance and plenty of physical comedy. Join Jesse and Dave at rehearsals in Florham Park to hear from the cast and director what makes this such a hilarious and enduring show.

Event calendar
Thursday, Nov 15, 2018


New Politics @ House of Independents, Asbury Park - 8:00pm

THE REPUTATIONS @ The Saint, Asbury Park - 7:30pm

TOTO @ Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Morristown - 8:00pm


An Actor's Carol @ Cape May Stage, Cape May - 7:30pm

ANNIE, The Musical @ Axelrod Performing Arts Center, Deal Park - 8:00pm

Apples In Winter @ Centenary Stage Company - Kutz Theater of the Lackland Center, Hackettstown - 7:30pm

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat @ The Levoy Theatre, Millville - 7:30pm

Spring Awakening: The Rock Musical @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 8:00pm


PARSONS DANCE @ State Theatre New Jersey, New Brunswick - 8:00pm


Crybaby Matinee: March of the Penguins @ Hopewell Theater, Hopewell - 11:00am

View all events

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