Double Discovery Helps Bring Midnight’s Children to
BY JONATHAN LEMIRE '01
When the Columbia area becomes the “Great White Way North”
upon the arrival of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s
Children at the end of this month, the production’s impact
will not be limited to those who purchase a ticket to the show.
Due to the work of the Double
Discovery Center (DDC), one of campus’s leading community
outreach programs, hundreds of underprivileged neighborhood high
school students will not only go to a free performance of the play
but also will attend lectures and presentations about the work,
all in an effort to expose them to aspects of culture that they
would not normally experience.
“President Lee C. Bollinger and Dean Austin Quigley asked
us to be involved with the production when it came to New York,
and we jumped at the chance,” said Olger Twyner, executive
director of the Double Discovery Program. “This is an amazing
opportunity for the students we work with to be involved with something
that normally would not be available to them.”
The DDC, founded in 1965 by a group of College students dedicated
to working with Harlem’s youth, is a not-for-profit service
agency for low-income middle and high school students. The DDC targets
those students who, by all statistical indicators, are at risk of
not completing high school or ever entering college and offers academic,
career, college, financial aid and personal development services
year-round with the goal of increasing those students’ rates
of high school graduation, college entrance and college completion.
Almost all of the students would be the first in their families
to attend college.
Of the approximately 1,000 students currently participating in
the DDC, Twyner estimated that nearly 75 percent of them live below
the nation’s poverty line. The average DDC student lives north
of 96th Street in Manhattan and attends a high school that graduates
only 34 percent of its freshman class, Twyner added.
“The DDC reaches out to the students who need it the most
while giving about 100 Columbia students a year an opportunity to
be more involved with their community,” Twyner said. “We’re
helping these young people to achieve their dreams.”
For the past 35 years, the DDC has helped students graduate from
high school and college at a rate significantly higher than the
national average. The DDC has two major outreach initiatives: the
Talent Search Program, which provides academic and career preparation,
and the Upward Bound Program, which assists high school students
in severe financial difficulty and was one of the initial projects
in President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty.”
Counseling, tutoring, retreats and computer courses are staples
of the DDC’s program. With Midnight’s Children,
said Twyner — who has been with the DDC for five years —
there is another chance to further the DDC’s reach. “It
was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up,” he emphasized.
Columbia and the University of Michigan commissioned the Royal
Shakespeare Company to bring Midnight’s Children to
the United States for the first time this month, after the play
was initially presented in London in January and February. It will
run in Ann Arbor from March 12–16, and the production will
make its New York debut at Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theater
on 125th Street from March 21–30.
The DDC’s involvement is part of an initiative by Bollinger
making the time the play is in New York a celebration of Columbia’s
presence in the arts and in the community. In addition to the performances
at the Apollo, there will be a Humanities Festival featuring talks
with Rushdie and the play’s cast, faculty from Columbia and
elsewhere, and other dignitaries.
The March 25 performance of Midnight’s Children will
be available exclusively for DDC students, but the DDC’s involvement
is not limited to a single performance. Indeed, its students and
volunteers also will attend several workshops run by Columbia teachers
and artists to help connect them to the play.
The students also will be able to sign up for panels on creative
writing and the theatrical process as well as for discussions that
will prepare them for the March 25 performance. The lectures and
workshops will draw upon a four-way partnership among the education
department of the Royal Shakespeare Company, students and alumni
of the School
of the Arts, graduate students who teach Core
Curriculum classes and the DDC staff.
“It will be a tremendous opportunity for the DDC students
to learn from teachers who are completely involved in the arts and
in this play in particular,” Twyner said. “We are hoping
that this experience will have a profound impact on these kids.”
In addition to obvious benefits to local students, the Midnight’s
Children programs sponsored by the DDC will pay dividends to
the organization itself.
“Being involved with the production will provide greater
exposure for the Double Discovery Center, which I believe is not
as well known off campus as it should be, considering what a terrific
program it is,” said Gerald Sherwin ’55, chairman of
the DDC’s Board of Friends and president emeritus of the Columbia
College Alumni Association.
“Being involved with a production of this magnitude, especially
at a place like the Apollo Theater and with an organization like
the Royal Shakespeare Company, will bring great publicity and recognition
for the DDC in the greater Columbia area,” Sherwin added.
“More people will become aware of what the DDC offers.”
Sherwin believes that the added exposure will help DDC with its
fund-raising efforts, something that can only benefit Columbia and
“When you’re looking for funds, something like this
is awfully impressive to have on your resume,” Sherwin said.
“I anticipate that we’ll seen an increase in grants
to the DDC, and that will allow it to continue — and further
— its mission.”
Jonathan Lemire ’01 is a frequent contributor to Columbia
College Today and a staff writer for The New York Daily