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Zero Tolerance and other plays by Tara Goldstein

Zero Tolerance and Other Plays: Disrupting Racism, Xenophobia and Homophobia in School by Tara Goldstein
Photo contributed by Tara Goldstein

Title: Zero Tolerance and Other Plays: Disrupting Racism, Xenophobia and Homophobia in School
Author: Tara Goldstein
Publisher: Sense Publishers
Publish Date: November 2013
ISBN: 9789462094505

Tell us a little bit about your writing and educational background

Tara: I am a professor and playwright in the Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning at the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. I am also the Founding Director of Gailey Road Productions, a Canadian independent theatre company that produces research-informed theatre on social and political issues that affect us all. I graduated from the MFA Playwriting Program at Spalding University, Louisville, Kentucky, in November 2006 and have written 10 research-informed theatre scripts on issues ranging from to the experiences of immigrant youth in schools (Hong Kong, Canada); violence and sexual harassment in schools (Zero Tolerance) and the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) youth and families in schools (Snakes and Ladders, Harriet’s House and Ana’s Shadow).

What is your book about?

Tara: Zero Tolerance and Other Plays: Disrupting Racism, Xenophobia and Homophobia in School is an anthology of three of my plays: Zero Tolerance; Lost Daughter and Ana’s Shadow that can be used by teachers, teacher educators and others who work with youth in schools.
Zero Tolerance, which was written in 2008, tells the story of how 15-year old high school student Jordan Manners was shot and killed in the hallway of his Toronto school and the results and recommendations of the investigation into school safety that was conducted by Toronto District School Board. I wrote the play because I believed that Jordan Manners’ death needed to be made real for teachers who are responsible for working towards making Toronto schools safer. In the play five new teachers tell the story of how Jordan was shot and add their responses to the telling of the horrific story. I also added the imagined responses of the high school students who went to school with Jordan.

The play ends with a monologue that asks the question, “How can we do our part to work against another shooting at a Toronto school?” Each of the five new teachers repeats the same question asking, “How can we do our part?” The call to action for teachers to do their part was intended to inspire readers to learn more about safe school issues and safe school practices. Such a call is typical of research-informed theatre, which strives to promote dialogue and cultivate new understandings around important social issues.

Lost Daughter (2008) is a historical drama that is based on interviews, photos and written documentation about racial/ethnic tensions between Jews and non-Jews in Toronto, Canada, during the summer 1933. It was a summer of intense heat and widespread unemployment. It was also a summer when Gentile youth wore swastika badges to keep the city’s Jews out of Toronto’s public parks and off its beaches.

Imagined as a kind of a sequel to Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, a play that is taught in English-speaking secondary schools worldwide, Lost Daughter explores what happens to Shylock’s daughter, Jessica after Shakespeare’s play has ended. I had wanted to write Lost Daughter ever since I was a high school student myself, in another Canadian city, the city of Montreal. The Merchant of Venice was required reading in our grade nine English class and I was chosen to read aloud the part of Shylock. The year was 1971, and the majority of the students in the English class, like me, were of Jewish background. Yet, the binary of Christian forgiveness (most explicitly expressed by Portia’s “quality of mercy” speech) and Jewish revenge (most explicitly symbolized by Shylock’s desire for a pound of flesh) in the play was never discussed. At the end of our play reading, the Jewish students in the class were left with the uncomfortable suggestion that Christians were merciful, and Jews, who were vengeful, needed to be punished.

This message contradicted everything I had learned about the deep, rich tradition of Jewish forgiveness, good deeds, and repentance. It also reproduced the kind of anti-Semitism that had been used to justify the extermination of six million Jews in Europe during the Second World War. In our grade nine English class, there were children of Holocaust survivors. What we all needed to learn was how to critique Shakespeare’s binary of Christian mercy and Jewish revenge, and how to respond to the xenophobic and anti-Semitic ideas and anti-Semitic talk in The Merchant of Venice.

Almost 30 years later, I began writing Lost Daughter, which not only engages with the themes of Canadian xenophobia and anti-Semitism in the summer of 1933, but also portrays the rich tradition of forgiveness in Jewish thought and culture. I imagine it being read along side The Merchant of Venice as a response to Shakespeare’s representation of Christian mercy and Jewish revenge.

Finally, Ana’s Shadow (2012), the last play in the anthology is a contemporary drama about the everyday experiences of transnational/transracial adoptive LGBTQ families. It is a sequel to my play Harriet’s House (2010). While Harriet’s House tells the story of Harriet’s daughter Luisa, and her return to Bogotá to find her birth mother and connect with her Colombian linguistic and cultural heritage, Ana’s Shadow features the story of Luisa’s sister, Ana, a singer-songwriter who has no interest in speaking Spanish with her sister or in returning to her birth country.

Why should readers read your book?

Tara: The readers who will enjoy reading my anthology of plays are readers who like reading plays, either silently or aloud, and haven’t had the opportunity to learn much about the causes and impact of gun violence in schools and issues of racism, anti-semitism, and transnational adoption. The plays give them an opportunity to learn about these subjects through three compelling stories that are based on current social science research.

Is this the first book you have ever had published? If not, please share with us what other books you have previously had published.

Tara: As a playwright who is also a researcher trained in the anthropological method of critical ethnography I have published two critical ethnographies and one critical autoethnography of how I learned to research, write and produce research-informed theatre. These books are:

Two Languages at Work: Bilingual Life on the Production Floor

Teaching and Learning in a Multilingual School: Choices, Risks and Dilemmas

Staging Harriet’s House: Writing and Producing Research-Informed Theatre

Are you working on any projects right now? Tell us about your upcoming book.

Tara: I am currently adapting my play Harriet’s House into a Young Adult novel and plan to adapt its sequel Ana’s Shadow into a Young Adult novel as well. Because writing a Young Adult novel is very different than writing a play, I have enrolled in a Young Adult writing course and have begun to attend Young Adult writing conferences.

What is your advice for writers wanting to turn authors out there?

Tara: It’s important to learn how to craft the story you want to tell within the genre you want to tell it. So if you want to write a play, you need to learn how to craft a play. If you want to learn how to craft a Young Adult novel, then you need to learn about novel writing for youth. There are many face-to-face and online courses available at local universities and community colleges that can provide writers with the foundational skills they need to tell their stories in compelling ways. I’ve taken many courses through the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto.

Then once you have a compelling story to share with the world, you need to learn about the industry you’re trying to publish in. Professional conferences and journals about the theatre industry (both independent and commercial) or the Youth Adult publishing industry can help writers learn about the industry they want to become a part of. I am currently a member of the Playwrights’ Guild of Canada and of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and am going to the national SCBWI conference in New York later this month. At the conference I will be attending a workshop on writing historical fiction so that I can think about adapting Lost Daughter into a Young Adult novel and a workshop on finding an agent so that I can think about whether or not I want to hire an agent to break into the mainstream Young Adult publishing industry or if I want to publish my work with a smaller independent publisher.

Who is your favorite author and why?

Tara: In the Young Adult novel course I’m currently taking, my instructor asked us “What was your favorite YA book?” “Is it the same book that was your favorite book as a teen?” Is the book apart of your inspiration for writing Young Adult fiction?” I answered that one of my favorite books as a child was Sydney Taylor's series All of a Kind Family which was about five sisters living in a Jewish immigrant family in New York on the Lower East Side in 1912. I read these books in the 1960s and they were the only books I read that featured characters that were Jewish girls around my age. Later, I loved the book Sarah by Margueritte Harmon Bro, which told story of a little girl named Sarah who lost her father in a car accident and what happened to her as she grew into to a young woman who became a concert pianist.

Although I hadn't thought about it before, there are connections between these two books and the kinds of plays and Young Adult novel I'm working on right now. Harriet's House tells the story of three sisters growing up in a transnationally adopted same-sex family and features the story of the eldest sister, Luisa, who at the age of 17 returns to Bogotá, Colombia, the country she was adopted from, to find out what happened to her birth mother. I have written a novel about sisters whose lives are not very well represented in mainstream novels like the sisters in the All of a Kind Family books I read a girl and I have written a coming of age story like Sarah.

Where can we find you?

Tara: You can find me and work in in two places. The first is at my theatre website: At the Gailey Road website you’ll be able to download digital recordings and Discussion Guides that can be used with Harriet’s House and Ana’s Shadow. The second place to find me is at T-Space, the University of Toronto online repository: There you’ll find some of my traditional academic writing as well as my research-informed playwriting. My work is also available for sell on Amazon:

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