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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

American Girl Live: An Interview With Laila E. Drew and Shelby Miguel
Please note: Due to the potential of a major winter storm on Saturday, both performances of American Girl Live at Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown have been postponed and rescheduled for President’s Day, Monday, February 18 at 2 pm and 5:30 pm. All tickets will be honored on that date. If you cannot attend the new date, please contact the box office at 973-539-8008.
"Kinky Boots" Comes To Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City
(ATLANTIC CITY, NJ) -- Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City in conjunction with TROIKA Entertainment is will present KINKY BOOTS, the smash-hit musical that brings together four-time Tony® Award-winner Harvey Fierstein (Book) and Grammy® Award-winning rock icon Cyndi Lauper (Tony Award-winner for Best Score for KINKY BOOTS), at Sound Waves in Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City from April 30 until May 5 with two performances on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets starting at $35.00.
The Panto Company Presents "Beauty and the Beast" at The Newton Theatre
(NEWTON, NJ) -- When you think of a dying rose and a clock, candlestick andteapot who talk... you are thinking Beauty and the Beast. One of this season's spellbinding family shows from The Panto Company USA stars Dame Dotty Potty, Loopy Louie, Gaston, Belle and of course The Beast!  The company brings their show to The Newton Theatre on Sunday, March 3 at 3:00pm.
La Strada Ensemble Theater Presents "La Bella Familia" by Edwin Sanchez
(OCEAN GROVE, NJ) -- La Strada Ensemble Theater presents La Bella Familia by Edwin Sanchez from January 18-20.  The play deals with a Puerto Rican hit woman and the gentlest man in the world move next door to the neighbors from hell and everyone learns, the hard way, that family comes first.
Art House Productions Presents "The Passion Project" by Reid Farrington
(JERSEY CITY, NJ) -- Art House Productions presents the unique theatrical experience that is Reid Farrington’s The Passion Project performed by Laura K. Nicoll.  Eight performances will take place from February 21st to March 3rd. The Passion Project is a 30 minute vibration between performance, film, and installation. Carl Th.Dreyer’s 1928 immortal masterpiece, “The Passion of Joan of Arc” is the main narrative along with the history behind the making of the film, a discussion with a Danish archivist, the story of making this project, as well as Joan’s own story –– her trial, torture, and execution. The Passion Project explodes the film into the three dimensions; placing the audience inside the film, sitting next to Joan, subjecting them to the relentless rhythm of 35 mm film projection.

It's "Apple Season" at NJ Rep
Every family has stories. Some are funny. Some are sweet. Some are sad. And some are never shared. Those are often the most powerful.
Rise of the Goatman
Theater For The New City presents Beltsville/Rockville, Part 1: Rise of the Goatman, an original play by Englewood resident Matt Okin (Artistic Director of Black Box Studios), from December 27 through January 13. In this pseudo-Southern Gothic dark comedy, a vibrant group of teens from two very different suburban neighborhoods clash over class differences, drugs, and sex - and the existence of the legendary ‘Goatman’ in 1986. Cut to 2013, and the adolescent kids of those very same teens are struggling to make sense of their family histories - and the same “mythological” creature - that could be holding them back in life.
PHOTOS from "The Winter's Tale" at Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey
(MADISON, NJ) -- The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s concludes its 56th season with its sixth and final Main Stage production, The Winter's Tale. Last seen at The Shakespeare Theatre in 2008, Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte directs this production of Shakespeare’s tragicomedic romance. Veteran company members Jacqueline Antaramian, Jon Barker, Erin Partin, John Keabler, Raphael Nash Thompson,Seamus Mulcahy, Patrick Toon, and Ames Adamson are among a cast of 20 actors. Performances run now through December 30. 
REVIEW: "It's A Wonderful Life" At Mile Square Theatre
Nestled in a corner of Hoboken, on the second floor, lies the studios of radio station WMST.  It’s a wonderful art deco studio, replete with fine wooden walls, embedded with colorful lights an applause sign.  On stage, we’ve got a few chairs, several microphones and a whole corner wedged with all the necessary props – piano, men’s shoes, sheet metal – to create the audio effects for the production of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Betsy Aidem Puts A Woman's Touch On George Street Playhouse's "A Doll's House, Part 2"
Betsy Aidem is a veteran actress you might have seen on Broadway. Or maybe on an episode of “Law & Order: SVU.” Or maybe on the big screen last year in “The Greatest Showman.” But over the next few weeks in New Brunswick, Aidem is adding a brand-new section to her résumé — by helming a sequel (of sorts) to a classic play that’s more than 100 years old.

Event calendar
Friday, Jan 18, 2019


John Forster at the Minstrel @ Morristown Unitarian Fellowship, Morristown - 7:30pm

David Massengill - Folk Concert @ Christ Congregation Church, Princeton - 8:00pm

SAL "THE VOICE" VALENTINETTI @ Mainstage @ Union County Performing Arts Center (UCPAC), Rahway - 8:00pm

The Elvis Birthday Bash @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 7:30pm


"Apple Season" by E.M. Lewis @ New Jersey Repertory Company, Long Branch - 8:00pm

Annie Jr. @ The Oakes Center, Summit - 7:30pm

Some Girl(s) @ Studio Playhouse Upper Montclair, Upper Montclair - 8:00pm


Big Apple Comedy Club @ The Newton Theatre, Newton - 8:00pm


The Jason Bishop Show to Benefit CASA @ Pfleeger Concert Hall, Rowan University, Glassboro - 7:00pm

View all events

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