The Marsh San Francisco is proud to present Safiya Martinez’s new solo show, SO YOU CAN HEAR ME, a love letter to New York and voices from its public schools. The show is based on her experience as a young twenty-three year old who, flashing hubris like a 9mm pistol, signed up to teach special education classes to middle and high school students in the South Bronx public schools after only three weeks of formal training. Her parents, who lived in the Lower East Side projects, were struggling artists. Her father was an African-American jazz musician and her mother, a modern dancer, was part Puerto-Rican, part Russian Jew. Martinez loved them dearly—as she puts it, “there was Tolstoy in the house” —but given the artistic nature of her family, when compared to the hard-boiled working class neighborhood in which they moved, surrounded by drug addicts and the homeless, she was sometimes a little unclear about her place in the jigsaw puzzle. At the same time, she felt rooted in what she calls “a lot of sweetness and community” (her mother was a third-generation Lower East Sider) and her family reveled in the diverse, counter-cultural, politically engaged and often radical atmosphere.
One thing was certain, however; she wanted to earn enough money to rent her own place and live better than her parents did. So, after graduating from school, when she saw a poster advertising a special-ed teaching opportunity, she jumped at it, seduced by the $40,000 salary…with benefits…combined with the chance to do some good in the world. She considered herself a super-smart tough girl, a born and bred New Yorker, who could take the best the City had to throw at her. Piece of cake she thought.
The show, a world premiere directed by David Ford, plays on Thursday and Friday at 8:00 pm and Saturday at 5:00 pm from May 23 through July 20, 2013 on The Marsh MainStage, 1062 Valencia Street in San Francisco. For tickets, the public may visit www.themarsh.org or call 415-282-3055.
In the show, Martinez tells the stories of nine kids, first from her point of view, and then from theirs, in a series of inter-connected narratives. Her students were in special ed for a wide range of reasons, from rampant ADD to autism to multiple sclerosis to mild cases of dyslexia—meaning there was little rhyme or reason to the wildly disparate abilities and energies of the class. Her characters speak with urgency, swagger, vulnerability as Martinez struggles through a series of sometimes funny, sometimes scary, often moving interactions with them. Frequently, they gain the upper hand and leave her unable to impose even a semblance of order and discipline. This upsets her sense of her own abilities. Taken aback, she has to move beyond her tough-girl hubris, which clearly isn’t working, and dig for more effective solutions, both pedagogical and personal.
Safiya Martinez is a playwright, performer, poet and educator. She began her career as a dancer, and was a soloist in the Obie-nominated site-specific work entitled “Demeter’s Daughter” in New York City . She studied Vagonova Ballet technique from Madame Darvash at Broadway Dance Center, and Horton and Graham modern technique at Alvin Ailey School of Dance. Her poetry has been published in Generations Literary Magazine. She has a BA in Anthropology from the New School, has completed the New York City Teaching Fellows Program and received an M.S. in Urban Education from Mercy College in New York. She has also recently received an MFA in Creative Writing at San Francisco State. Currently she works as an Arts Integration Specialist for Community Works, Inc, an organization engaging youth and adults in arts, education and restorative justice programs aimed at interrupting the far-reaching impact of incarceration and violence. She has conducted acting workshops at the San Francisco Juvenile Justice Center.
Martinez developed SO YOU CAN HEAR ME at Tell it on Tuesdays and Monday Night Marsh and has performed it as part of Stanford University’s Live Shorts storytelling program. Her Marsh Rising performance earlier this year was greeted with amazement and stunned emotion. Many of the audience were in tears, not because the show is sad (it’s not—it’s actually more funny than sad) but because of its overall impact—it packs a punch. Stephanie Weisman, Artistic Director, was so thrilled she booked the show that very evening and is proud and excited to present Martinez’s work on The Marsh stage.