The cast of Financial Slavery: The College Debt Sentence is made up of students facing generations biggest political, social, economic crisis
Debt-laden students dont often make it to the theater in New York City, but this time, they are on stage. And the plays author is hoping her work will help highlight one of the hottest issues of the 2016 election.
The cast of Financial Slavery: The College Debt Sentence, an independent play that has been selected as one of the plays for this years New York City fringe festival, is not made up of professional actors. Some have just graduated high school; others are in college. The one thing they all have in common: they have all been affected by the surging price of college education. And they are talking about it the decision to attend cheaper public colleges, dropping out due to lack of money, being thousands of dollars in debt.
Each performance of Financial Slavery is followed by an unscripted 30-minute conversation with the audience about student debt and its impact on students and their parents.
Alyea Pierce, who wrote the play, herself owes $47,000 in student loans for her undergraduate degree. Does she see herself paying it off anytime soon? In the next 20 to 30 years, she told the Guardian. She is 24.
Its one of the reasons why she ended up writing Financial Slavery. While in college, she was asked to write a poem about debt and ended up writing about it as a form of slavery. The poem remains at the core of the play. In it, Pierce describes student debt as the twenty-first century slave ship and the people issuing loans as the new slave masters.
She recited the poem: [The slave master] is always saying how we on this ship, because we special, that we financial slaves going to the new world and there no cotton-picking fields no more. These are dollar-picking fields, where all we gotta do is go to college with our ankles chained to our wrists for four years and bam! we will be free.
Yet instead of being free, college graduates tend to end up thousands of dollars in debt that can take decades to pay off.
Does she feel that equating slavery and student debt is too much? Pierce says she wants to start a dialogue. I can understand how audience members may say that the comparison is too far. When researching and receiving stories from people about their student loan journey, the language used were feelings of feeling trapped, locked in chains, heavy, and too much weight, she says.
With those feelings used as inspiration and my belief that the student loan debt system is used as a 21st-century oppressive tool in a patriarchal society, and it involves socioeconomic status, race, et cetera, that this connection makes sense. This connection has a lot of weight, and when it takes a 24-year-old 30 years to pay off their student loan debt, that individual is in chains.
Ashley Krushinski, one of the actors, is about to begin her second year at a private university. She finished her freshman year with $22,000 in student loan debt. For her sophomore year, she had to take out another $25,000 loan slightly higher than last years since her tuition went up by 2.59% this year.
We are in chains. Dont you get it? We are never going to break free, one character says in the play.
To make their case, Pierce and the cast use various statistics and numbers throughout the performance. But it is the stories of the characters and the actors themselves that connect with the audience.
Over the past couple of years, Pierce has taken her play around some college campuses and high schools and asked the audience how they felt after watching the play. The most common responses were depressed and sad. As a result, Pierce said that the crew workshopped it to make it less painful and to evoke a sense of solidarity.
They actually say that they have hope. That they feel a type of solidarity, that they are not alone, she told the Guardian. Too often we feel like that because its such a hush-hush issue. Its a taboo to talk about your student loan debt.
On Sunday, after the first performance of Financial Slavery during its run at the Fringe festival, members of the audience said the play made them feel sad, anxious, enlightened and swindled.
One attendee was a young woman who had just finished law school with $110,000 in student debt. I dont regret it, but dont know how I am going to pay for it, she told everyone in the theatre.
There was a mother with three kids in college, who cosigned on a total of $160,000 worth of loans. My name is on there, she said.
There was a dad who said: Bernie Sanders tried to get us to wake up on this issue. And then there was a single mother who said that if she was able to figure it out, others should be able to as well.
The play does not shy away from stirring up a caldron of complicated thoughts and feelings. Yes, education is important, but should going to college result in mountains of debt? Should tuition keep going up? Who is responsible for knowing exactly what the interest will amount to? Should we talk about the cost of books, meal plans and housing that often add thousands of dollars on top of tuition? Would people be willing to pay more in taxes if tuition were free?
At one point of the play, a clip from Hillary Clintons convention speech played for the audience.
Bernie Sanders and I will work together to make college tuition-free for the middle class and debt-free for all, Clinton says in the clip. We will also liberate millions of people who already have student debt.
According to Pierce, this election has already helped bring the issue of student loan debt to the forefront.
This is the biggest political, social, economic crisis and issue for our generation, said Pierce. So if you really want to tap into our generation, our vote, you have to hit something we are passionate about, and thats student loan debt.
As part of FringeNYC, Financial Slavery will have four more performances from 23 to 27 August at the Flamboyan Theatre in downtown Manhattan.
Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us