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Resource Guide

for Choir Boy
Special thanks to Kamilah Bush, PCS Literary Manager
Choir Boy 2223 1200X628

Student Matinee Curriculum

Portland Center Stage’s Student Matinee Program seeks to provide all young people with opportunities to experience and directly participate in the art of high-quality, professional theater in a context that supports their education. The following is designed to help students explore themes found in our production of Choir Boy. We encourage you to choose the most appropriate activities for your group and adapt as needed.


“Blessed Assurance”:  A hymn reportedly written by Fanny Crosby and published in 1873.

“Case of the mums”: Mum is a Middle English word meaning “silent” and may be derived from the mummer who acts without speaking.

“Drop it low, pick it up slow”: Though the phrase existed long before, it is possibly a reference to the 2004 Christina Milian song “Dip it Low.” The chorus is: Dip it low Pick it up slow Roll it all around Poke it out, Let your back roll Pop t'pop t'pop that thang Imma show you how to make your man say "Ohh"

“Keep Your Eyes on the Prize”: A song popular for its use during the Civil Rights Movement, derived from the spiritual “Gospel Plow” or “Hold On”. It is believed to have been written in the 1800s but it first appears in written form in 1917. The earliest recording is from 1930 under the title of "Keep Yo' Hand on the Plow, Hold On" by the Hall Johnson Negro Choir. The version in the play is attributed to Alice Wine from Johns Island, South Carolina.

“Keep your hand on the plow”: The spiritual “Gospel Plow” or “Hold On.” It is believed to have been written in the 1800s but it first appears in written form in 1917. The earliest recording is from 1930 under the title of "Keep Yo' Hand on the Plow, Hold On" by the Hall Johnson Negro Choir.

“Laissez le bon temps rouler”: A Cajun French phrase which translates to “let the good times roll.” 

“Let's see a rhythm of the hands”: A section of the children’s song and hand game “Down Down Baby.” Though the origins are unclear, one of the first recorded versions of the song was by Little Anthony and the Imperials in their song "Shimmy Shimmy Ko-Ko Bop” released in the 1960s.

“Love Ballad”: "Love Ballad" is a song by R&B/Funk band L.T.D. Jeffrey Osborne is the lead singer. Released from their album Love to the World, it spent two weeks at number one on the R&B singles chart in November 1976.

“Quo vadis”: Quo Vadis is a Latin term that was commonly used in barber shops for what we now know as a wave cut, regular, or ceasar. In translation, this phrase also means “Where are you going?”

“Rainbow tied round my shoulder”: An African American work song of uncertain origin. “Rockin’ Jerusalem”: An African American spiritual with unknown origin.

“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child”: "Motherless Child" is a traditional spiritual. It dates back to the era of slavery in the United States. An early performance of the song was in the 1870s by the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Commonly heard during the civil rights movement in the United States, it has many variations and has been recorded widely.

“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”: Originating in early oral and musical African-American traditions, the date it was composed is unknown. Performances by the Hampton Singers and the Fisk Jubilee Singers brought the song to the attention of wider audiences in the late 19th century. J. B. T. Marsh includes an early version of text and tune in his 1876 publication, The Story of the Jubilee Singers, with their Songs. The earliest known recording of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" was recorded in 1894, by the Standard Quartette.

“The Old Rugged Cross”: In the Bible, Jesus is crucified (nailed to a wooden cross). This particular quote is in reference to the hymn written in 1912 by American evangelist and song-leader George Bennard.

“Trust and Obey”: A hymn attributed to John H. Sammis and Daniel B. Towner, written in 1887 — derived from the scripture found in Proverbs 16:20: He who heeds the word wisely will find good, And whoever trusts in the Lord, happy is he.

“Wade in the Water”: An African American jubilee song, created and first sung by enslaved Africans. The lyrics to "Wade in the Water" were first co-published in 1901 in New Jubilee Songs as Sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers by Frederick J. Work and his brother, John Wesley Work Jr., an educator at the historically black college in Nashville, Tennessee, Fisk University.

“We are fearfully and marvelously made”: A section of Psalm 139 which reads at verse 13: For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful.

“Yes we can”: The campaign slogan for President Obama’s first presidential run in the 2008 election. The slogan is shared with the United Farm Workers and associated with its founder Dolores Huerta, and is well known amongst Latinos in its Spanish form, “sí se puede.”

3/5s a person: The Three-Fifths Compromise was reached among state delegates during the 1787 Constitutional Convention. It determined that three out of every five slaves was counted when determining a state's total population for legislative representation and taxation.

Aggressive: A term most often used in Black and Brown gay circles to mean a “stud” or “butch” lesbian woman.

Andis: Andis (Pronounced AND-ISS) Company, Inc., is a leading designer and manufacturer of electric clippers and other tools for professional barbers and hair stylists founded in 1922. Their clippers can go from $30 to several hundred dollars.

Battle of Tours: A holy war fought in 732 AD between empires in current day France and the Iberian peninsula. The Christian factions of the opposing parties won the battle and are credited for stopping the spread of Islam in western Europe.

Boca: A south Florida city about 45 miles outside of Miami. The city is more than 70% White and about 6% Black. The median income is upwards of $88,000 a year.

Booker T. Washington: A formerly enslaved man born in 1856, Booker T. Washington went on to be one of the most influential Black activists in our history. He called for black progress through education — particularly trade and industrial educations — and entrepreneurship, rather than directly challenging the Jim Crow segregation and the disenfranchisement of Black voters in the South. Washington believed that African Americans should "concentrate all their energies on industrial education, and accumulation of wealth, and the conciliation of the South." His beliefs put him into a notable feud with W.E.B Du Bois who would go on to found the NAACP.

Called: In the biblical definition, it could refer to the concept of being “saved” though most people use it to refer to a particular feeling of “destiny” to a certain vocation, behavior, identity, or ministry.

Capitalism: Capitalism is an economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit.

Cease and Desist: A written notice demanding that the recipient immediately stop an illegal or allegedly illegal activity. It may be an order or injunction issued by a court or government agency or a letter from an attorney.

Columbo: An American television show centering a blue collar homicide detective named Columbo, played by Peter Faulk, which aired between 1971 and 1978.

CPT: An American expression referring to African Americans as frequently being late — most often stated in a joking manner by Black people. It may have first been used in 1914 by The Chicago Defender newspaper.

Den of Thieves Jesus: Another reference to Jesus turning up in the temple.

Domestic Comedy: Sometimes known as the family sit-com, domestic comedy is a television genre that focuses on a group of relatives.

Double-Oh-7 (OO7): Refers to spy and secret agent Commander James Bond, CMG RNVR, a character created by the British journalist and novelist Ian Fleming in 1953. He is the protagonist of the James Bond series of novels, films, comics, and video games. Fleming wrote twelve Bond novels and two short story collections.

Free Market: An economic system in which prices are determined by unrestricted competition between privately owned businesses.

Free Trade: Free trade is a trade policy that does not restrict imports or exports. In government, free trade is predominantly advocated by political parties that hold economically liberal positions, while economic nationalist and left-wing political parties generally support protectionism, the opposite of free trade.

Good Book: A euphemism or nickname for the Bible.

Harriet Tubman: An American abolitionist and social activist. Born into enslavement, Tubman escaped and subsequently made some 13 missions to rescue approximately 70 similarly enslaved people, including family and friends, by using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. During the American Civil War, she served as an armed scout and spy for the Union Army. In her later years, Tubman was an activist in the movement for women's suffrage.

Homecoming: The tradition of welcoming back alumni or other former members of an organization to celebrate the organization's existence. It is a tradition in many high schools, colleges, and churches in the United States.

Honey in the rock: A biblical concept found in many verses but most notably in Psalm 81 which reads in part: “Oh, that My people would listen to Me, That Israel would walk in My ways! I would soon subdue their enemies, And turn My hand against their adversaries. The haters of the Lord would pretend submission to Him, But their fate would endure forever.  He would have fed them also with the finest of wheat; And with honey from the rock I would have satisfied you.

In my Father’s House: A phrase from the Bible found in John 14:2 — My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? The central idea being that there are rewards, including riches and mansions, awaiting the children of God when they reach heaven.

King David: According to the Hebrew Bible, King Davis is the third king of the United Kingdom of Israel. David is described as a young shepherd and harpist who gains fame by killing Goliath. He becomes a favorite of Saul, the first king of Israel, but is forced to go into hiding when Saul becomes paranoid that David is trying to take his throne. After Saul and his son Jonathan are killed in battle, David is anointed king by the tribe of Judah and eventually all the tribes of Israel. He is known to be a great king, but a slightly messy person who is led by his emotions. It is sometimes also interpreted that David and Saul’s son, Jonathan, had a romantic/intimate relationship, though Christian scholars categorize their story as a great testament to Godly friendship.

Kith and Kin: Friends and family.

New Edition: An American R&B/Pop group from the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, formed in 1978 by Bobby Brown. Their name is taken to mean a “new edition” of the Jackson 5. The lineup originally consisted of Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Bobby Brown, Ronnie DeVoe, and Ralph Tresvant.

Pandemic vs. Endemic: Pandemic refers to something (typically an infectious disease) that spreads across a large region, for instance multiple continents or worldwide, affecting a substantial number of individuals. Endemic, however, refers to something that is regularly occurring within an area or community or is native and restricted to a certain place.

Paul and Silas: A Bible story from Acts 16. Paul and Silas are thrown into prison after casting an evil spirit out of a young girl. While imprisoned by the Romans, they begin to sing, pray, and convert the prisoners around them. Around midnight, an earthquake breaks them all free of their chains and the prison walls fall, but none of them leave. When the guard realizes this, he falls to his knees and asks Paul and Silas what must he do to be saved/converted like the rest of the prisoners.

PETA: Founded in 1980, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is an American animal rights nonprofit organization based in Norfolk, Virginia.

Promised Land: The land which, according to the Old Testament, God promised and subsequently gave to Abraham and several more times to his descendants. In modern contexts, the phrase "Promised Land" expresses an image and idea which is related to the restored homeland and the concepts of salvation and liberation. For many enslaved African Americans, it is also referred to as heaven or the reward on the other side of death.

Quiet Storm: A radio format and genre of R&B, performed in a smooth, romantic, jazz-influenced style. It was named after the title song on Smokey Robinson's 1975 album “A Quiet Storm.”

Relativity: Relativity is a theorem formulated by Albert Einstein, which states that space and time are relative, and all motion must be relative to a frame of reference. It is a notion that states “laws of physics are the same everywhere.”

Saved: A Christian/biblical concept that refers to the moment a person turns from his sins and trusts in Jesus to be forgiven of his sins (Acts 2:37-41). This person has then passed from spiritual death to spiritual life (John 5:24) and has been declared not guilty in God's court of law (Rom 3:21-26).

Senior-at-arms: An educational equivalent of the “Sergeant-At-Arms” found in military and governmental organizations. As chief law enforcement and protocol officer, the Sergeant-At-Arms enforces all rules of the Senate — its Standing Rules, Standing Orders, Rules for the Regulation of the Senate Wing, and Rules for Impeachment Trials — and coordinates all official events and visits for the Senate.

Seraphim: An angelic being, regarded in traditional Christian angelology as belonging to the highest order of the ninefold celestial hierarchy, associated with light, ardor, and purity. Medieval Christian theology places seraphim in the highest choir of the angelic hierarchy. They are the caretakers of God's throne, continuously singing "holy, holy, holy.”

Stool pigeon: An informer to the authorities, especially one who gives up criminal associates; a snitch.

Systemic violence: Refers to the harm people suffer from the social structure and the institutions sustaining and reproducing it. This type of violence prevents its victims from satisfying their basic needs, and is an avoidable impairment of the fundamental means necessary for human existence.

TED Talk: An American-Canadian media organization that posts international talks online for free distribution under the slogan "ideas worth spreading.” TED was founded by Richard Saul Wurman and Harry Marks in 1984 as a tech conference, in which Mickey Schulhof gave a demo of the compact disc that was invented in October 1982. It has been held annually since 1990. TED covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. To date, more than 13,000 TEDx events have been held in at least 150 countries.

Temple table turning Jesus: A Bible story found in both the books of Matthew and John where Jesus is stated to have visited the Temple in Jerusalem. The courtyard is described as being filled with livestock, merchants, and the tables of the money changers, who changed the standard Greek and Roman money for Jewish and Tyrian shekels. The account found in Matthew 21:12 reads: And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.

Underground Railroad: The Underground Railroad was a network of clandestine routes and safe houses established in the United States during the early to mid-19th century. It was used by enslaved African Americans primarily to escape into free states and Canada.

Voted off the island: A phrase coined by the introduction of the television show Survivor, wherein contestants are put on a remote island, sorted into “tribes” and put through a series of challenges. The losing tribe then has to vote one of their own members to go home and leave the competition.

Willacoochee: A town in South Georgia, about 200 miles from Atlanta. The population is just upwards of 1,200 people and is 40% White and 34% Black. The median household income is roughly $26,000 a year.

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