Sunday, February 27, 2011

What I Learned From a Former Student: Ernie Silva One Man Show Rocks - Today is Your Last Chance

Ernie Silva (center) with Mendez (left) and Mark-Viverito
Friday night I went back to see R. Ernie Silva's one man show, "Heavy Like the Weight of a Flame" at LATEA for the 5th time since last April (Ernie lives in Los Angeles and returns periodically) and it gets better and better. I was pleasantly surprised to see two City Councilwomen in the audience, Rosie Mendez and Melissa Mark-Viverito. (I've seen Ms. Mendez at various charter school co-loco hearings on the lower East Side and she has been a rock.)

Ernie will be performing for a month at the upcoming Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Every time I see Ernie, who was in my 4th grade class in the early 80s (he's around 39 now - oy!) I learn something new. (It was also nice to see Dino, another former student from the same class who is a former NYC teacher. Dino is always there to support Ernie.)

His performance gets better as he hones his story (the first of an upcoming trilogy). His characters get sharper and more distinct, reminding me of the great Nilaga Sun who wowed people with her one woman show, "No Child Left." - see video here. And he keeps adding topical material. And there and more interaction with the audience. I know this bothers some theater people. I went to see Ernie perform with my acting teacher during the summer and his only criticism was this breaking of the "4th wall" because he feels it took Ernie out of character and into stand-up comedy territory. Ernie as a former stand-up comedian falls naturally into this role and it works for me.

There were a some ladies in the audience who grew up in the same projects as Ernie (and still live there) and totally identified with Ernie's life. One, in tears, thanked him so much for making the connections. I spoke with Rosie Mendez after the show and she is also is a Williamsburg gal, going to an elementary and middle school not far from the Bushwick projects.

Most important for me was the lessons for educators (I wish every teacher gets to see their students grow up and interact with them - there's a better chance if you remain in one school and neighborhood.) I wrote about it before:
I've been telling teachers that this is a special show for them. How Ernie was disparaged for reading too much and told his fate was drugs. How he lost 8 of his friends to aids, drugs and murder by the time he was 17. I feel this show lays lies to so much of the ed deform crap - Ernie was a good student yet still had to go through so much shit. Unless we as a society figure out how to help tackle the shit kids have to go through we will be pedaling backwards.
Every ed deformer who says that education through the right teaching/teacher will override all the outside stuff should hear Ernie's story, which is focused on his family - two brothers were involved in drugs - both died very young. Ernie and his friends were accosted by cops - just for walking as a group in the streets. I wonder if the "scholars" at Harlem Success Academy will be defended by Eva Moskowitz when they are teens hassled by cops for being black?

Ernie is so articulate and well educated. It showed especially during the post-show Q&A talk back where the audience got to ask him questions. People were congratulating me for my supposed role in  Ernie's education. I laughed. I had nothing to do with it. Ernie was in one of the two "One" - top- classes I had and could read years above level when he came into my class. And his dead brothers probably were good readers too - good readers tend to run in families. Ernie graduated from Murry Bergtraum HS and went onto college, eventually getting a scholarship to grad school at the USC acting program.

Read this description about "Heavy Like the Weight of a Flame."
A product of the Bushwick projects in Brooklyn, New York R. Ernie Silva honed his talents while sleeping on odd couches, in random hostels and homeless shelters, and while riding freight trains around the country. The story of this journey, Heavy Like the Weight of a Flame, has won the NYC’s One Festival; been nominated by LA Weekly for Best Solo Performance and most recently won the Hola Award for Best Solo Performance. Ernie’s story and performance was described by the LA Times as “inspiring.”
In the talk back, when asked how he escaped his brothers' fate, he said show business was another side of the hustle his brothers went through in the drug world. Actually, he shared some wonderful insights - wish I had a tape.

You can see Ernie on video:
  Promo 3 min: "Heavy Like the Weight of a Flame

Weight of a Flame" is a critically acclaimed one-man show starring R. Ernie Silva

Really, if you are in the city today check it out - I'm just not sure if it is a matinee or evening performance. Best 20 bucks you can spend. Here are the links.

at the CSV Cultural and Educational Center
107 Suffolk St New York New York 10002
Click below to purchase tickets

Check out Norms Notes for a variety of articles of interest: And make sure to check out the side panel on right for news bits.


  1. Mr. Scott,

    This review brought me to tear. As our fourth grade teacher (yes, we are all about 39 now YIKES) you were probably THE most influential teacher we had. You grace and love for each of us still lives in our hearts today. It's ok to take pride in all our successes... you are a piece in our past that shaped our future! Thank you from your 39 year-old student.

    Diane P.
    class of 81-82

  2. Thanks Diane. Your kind words mean a great deal. Having great students like you makes any teacher look good.


Comments are welcome. Irrelevant and abusive comments will be deleted, as will all commercial links. Comment moderation is on, so if your comment does not appear it is because I have not been at my computer (I do not do cell phone moderating). Or because your comment is irrelevant or idiotic.