Sidwell Student’s Play Emphasizes Acting On Inspiration


Directed and written by senior Elson Bankoff, “If The Bells Would Ring” examines the forces fighting for and against climate action. Photo: Maddie Mohamadi ’23.

Written and directed by senior Elson Bankoff, “If The Bells Would Ring” is a two-act play that examines the forces fighting for and against climate action. The production will have three performances on Sept. 16 and 17 at The Tank, a nonprofit performance venue in New York City.

Touching on themes of greed and resilience, “If The Bells Would Ring” follows a fictional senator named Bill Corley and his activist daughter, Juliet. As Bill filibusters a piece of crucial climate legislation, Juliet increasingly resists her father’s corrupt policies.

“At its heart, [the play] is about change and influence,” Bankoff said. “The play traces power from a handshake to a hurricane,” she added.

Other characters include Bill’s wife and son, Juliet’s friend, a conservative talk show host, a lobbyist and The Cry, an interpretive figure that symbolizes warning.

Though Bankoff began directing the play this past summer, she initially wrote “If The Bells Would Ring” as a screenplay in 2020. Inspired by poems and other performances, however, she decided to rewrite the production as a play that fall, incorporating poetry into the script.

“The writing process was wild, but it was so cool to explore different mediums,” she said.

Rehearsals began early this summer after actors were hired through, a casting website.

Stage manager and producer Kevin Rabinovich described the play’s cast as “collaborative” and “generous.”

“Everyone feels like they’re part of the design process for the show,” Rabinovich said. “It’s not Elson’s show, it’s not my show — it’s really everyone’s,” he continued.

Though Rabinovich has helped produce other plays, he appreciates the curiosity the “If The Bells Would Ring” cast brings to each rehearsal.

“Everyone here wants to learn more,” Bankoff said.

According to Bankoff and Rabinovich, a major challenge has been funding, as the play is not being produced under a single grant. Though the production has received donations and smaller grants, costs for props and costumes have been cut to pay the cast.

To overcome this hurdle, cast members have had to work with accessible items, such as platforms provided by The Tank.

“It’s really about adapting and being creative, specifically pooling all of our talents together,” Bankoff said.

“We’re forced to be flexible, but it also results in really beautiful collaboration,” Rabinovich added.

Through the writing and directing processes, Bankoff has also learned a great deal about herself.

“There’s something very particular about young people and how we do things,” Bankoff said. “We really believe in the reasoning behind why we’re doing things, and we see different ways to get there,” she added.

Highlighting the play’s intersectionality in terms of politics, family, science and activism, Bankoff hopes the production will educate and inspire an eclectic group of viewers.

“Most importantly, I want people to act on their inspiration,” she said, emphasizing the importance of voting. Bankoff wants the show to not only entertain, as theater typically does, but also inspire tangible action and a new wave of activists.