This summer, school is in session at Lincoln Center Theater.
“Pipeline” explores the relationship between an NYC public school teacher and her only son. When Omari, an African-American teen, is sent to an upstate private school, he confronts racism in the privileged environment, as well as his own anger issues and, after an altercation with a teacher, possible expulsion.
Playwright Dominique Morisseau drew on her own teaching experience for the play. The Detroit native, who now lives in Los Angeles, had spent most of her career as a teacher in NYC, including working with CUNY’s Creative Arts Team, which inspires youth through drama.
“Pipeline” is set in New York but is inspired by events in Chicago and Detroit, too, for a “multi-city collage.”
“I’m looking at two different ways that education can fail a person — one is structurally, which is what we’re seeing in the public school. And one is culturally, which is what we’re seeing through the private school,” Morisseau said. “Both of those things are just as damaging to young people — there has to be a way to first make education more equal.”
The title refers to the school-to-prison pipeline, wherein students of color are disproportionately pushed out of school and end up in the criminal justice system. According to the ACLU, black students are three times more likely than white students to be suspended and expelled, and students who are suspended or expelled for a discretionary violation are nearly three times more likely to be in contact with the juvenile justice system the next year.
One issue is a school system that doesn’t look at students as “whole people,” Morisseau said. “We can’t educate them because we’re not seeing all of the things that they need to succeed. When we can look at them, we can cater education to everyone’s different cultural and environmental needs.”
Morisseau hopes to encourage students themselves to attend the play this summer. Through the theater’s Send A Student initiative, summer programs can request free tickets.
“If students want to come, we will make sure that they can,” Morisseau said.