Sunday's 'American Son' symposium focuses on success of young people of color


PITTSFIELD >> After a free public symposium series brought hundreds of people to Barrington Stage Company over the Fourth of July weekend to talk about issues of race and discrimination, the theater group knew that the conversation couldn't just stop there.

Sunday, from 2 to 3:30 p.m., the dialogue will continue with another "Race, Bias and Culture in Present-day America" panel presentation on the Boyd-Quinson Mainstage at 30 Union St. The theme is "Community-based strategies to help young people of color create a roadmap for success," and it will be moderated by Pittsfield Mayor Linda M. Tyer.

The creation of the series was inspired by subjects brought up in the company's world premiere production of Christopher Demos-Brown's "American Son," which ran June 22 through July 9 on the Mainstage. The contemporary story seems nearly ripped from the headlines, as an interracial couple gets called in to a Miami police station, awaiting to hear about the whereabouts of their 18-year-old son, whose abandoned car was found during a traffic stop "incident." While waiting, the couple and police they interact with bring up issues of racial profiling, privilege and parenting, among other subjects.

Barrington Stage Founding Artistic Director Julianne Boyd said the company's "unbelievably thrilled" to bring back an encore presentation of the production and the symposium. The show re-opened on Sept. 14 and will run through Sept. 25.

"With 'American Son' it was very surprising to find such an overwhelmingly positive reaction from people. We worked with our partners for six months to get the community involved" through school matinees and the symposium, Boyd said.

"We want to create a dialogue in the community," she said. "And these are issues in our community."

This summer's symposia included three presentations: "The Struggle of Growing Up Biracial — Caught In the Middle," "Driving While Black (DWB)," and "Institutional Racism: Academic, Political & Legal." About a dozen community leaders and members, from area colleges, to the Pittsfield Police Department, Berkshire NAACP Chapter, local youth organizations and the Pittsfield Public Schools participated.

Today's panel, "Community-based strategies to help young people of color create a roadmap for success," includes presenters Jon Bile, a Pittsfield High School student; Shirley Edgerton, cultural proficiency adviser to Pittsfield Public Schools; the Rev. Sheila Sholes-Ross, senior pastor for First Baptist Church of Pittsfield; Warren C. Dews, community leader and vice president of audience development for New England Newspapers Inc.; and Lawrence Carrier the new dean of students for the city's Morningside Community School.

Boyd said several sponsors have come forward to support this symposium and other initiatives related to the return of "American Son."

Mass Humanities and The Eagle's Newspapers in Education program are sponsoring the symposium, while various Barrington Stage Co. board members have helped underwrite four student matinee performances of "American Son," which will bring in some 1,500 students from Pittsfield, Taconic, Lee and Wahconah Regional high schools, with additional seats for schools available on Sept. 23 at 10:30 a.m. Interested schools should contact the box office to participate.

"If you're going to have a theater company in Pittsfield, then we have to serve the entire community," said Boyd, "and a large part of community is youth. You can't wait until they're 25 to 35 years old to do corrective action. You have to give them structure and understanding and a creative outlet early, then it makes our jobs easier."

If you go ...

What: "Race, Bias and Culture in Present-day America Symposium: Community-based strategies to help young people of color create a roadmap for success," a community discussion panel moderated by Pittsfield Mayor Linda M. Tyer.

When: Today at 2 p.m.

Where: Boyd-Quinson Mainstage at Barrington Stage Company, 30 Union St., Pittsfield.

Info: While the symposium is free, reservations are suggested and can be made by calling the Barrington Stage Box Office at 413-236-8888. Learn more at


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