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Growing trend: students take on controversial theatre

Posted By Denebola On December 17, 2008 @ 12:00 am In Arts and Entertainment | Comments Disabled

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By Dan Friedman

Growing up, my mother would drag me from my house, screaming, to Newton South to see the latest South Stage production. Because my sister felt so passionately about theatre, my mother felt it was my duty as the younger brother to attend these productions and to support her.

Though I saw many high school productions before my time at South, the one performance that stands out most is one of the first I saw: West Side Story.

Ironically, my sister was not even in it, but both she and my mother agreed that I should be exposed to good high school theatre. Though I do not remember much about the production, what I do remember were numerous provocative and intense moments.

I recall, for example, one kissing scene in which one of the main boy actors slobbered all over the face of one of the lead girls. The other image I recall is of the bar scene, when Maria tries to talk to Tony, and ends up being abused by the Jets. I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, maybe high school theatre isn’t so bad after all.

Young as I was, I sensed there was more to plays than I had initially thought, or could even understand. Beneath the action was conflict, beneath the conflict was emotion. Plays that were controversial provoked not only feeling, but also thought.

In recent years, Newton South and other high schools across the nation have increasingly been taking controversial issues to the stage. While West Side Story was the first provocative musical I had seen, little did I know there would be many more in both South’s future and in that of other high schools.

When I was a freshman, South Stage took on The Laramie Project, which tells the true story of Matthew Sheppard, a teenager from Wyoming, who was brutally murdered because he was gay. A hate group run by the Westboro Baptist Church threatened to descend upon South and protest the play. South made an important step in performing this moving piece; accepting The Laramie Project meant accepting controversial issues, and, in effect coming down on the side of tolerance, acceptance, and an unwavering insistence on equality.

Ithaca College freshman and former South student Max Lorn-Krause played Sergeant Hing, Greg Pierotti, and Rob Dubree in Laramie. He believes that “the controversy is as [important] a part of the art as dialogue, lights, [or] set.

“The story was told in response to a hate crime, he said. “That foundation will have two sides automatically and not everyone is going to agree. The beauty of the show, however, is not to condemn or support anything, really. It is to state a fact: this boy died and here’s why.

For Lorn-Krause, “Laramie remains the most personal show I have ever done. He also feels “the best thing a high school can do is take on controversial theatre. To him, “nothing is too risky or intense. Problems involving sex and drugs “happen, especially in high school. Everyone knows theatre has the power to do many things, including changing people’s perceptions.

Durfee High School in Fall River recently put on Rent: School Edition, a slightly altered version of the award-winning Broadway musical created in order to offer high schools a chance to put on the production with less sexual innuendo. The original script, which ran both on Broadway and on tour before being made into a film, addresses issues of drug abuse and homosexuality. According Durfee High School theatre director Jane Bigelow, “the production team purchased the license to do Rent as soon as it became available last May. Whatever those feelings were that we may have had back then, Rent – the Durfee school edition ‘€ has taken on a profound meaning and has transformed us as artists and as people.

In 2007, South theatre teacher David Blume directed the Newton Summer Stage performance of Parade, which dealt with issues of “anti-Semitism, racism, and the Industrial Revolution’s effect on the lower classes. Nicholas Sufaro and Tess Primack, who graduated from Framingham High School and Newton South, respectively, in 2007, portrayed the main characters. Parade follows the infamous story of Leo Frank, a Southern Jewish factory owner accused of raping a 13-year-old girl in the pre-WWI era.

“I wouldn’t use the world ‘Ëœcontroversial,’ he said when asked about the recent trend in high school theatre’s tackling of contemporary social and political issues.

“I like to present material that is meaningful and makes an impact. I’ve directed productions that use harsh language like the N-word or that talk about societal issues that need to be addressed. In Parade, we even depicted a lynching on stage.

Blume, however, says he does not support “theatre for controversy.

“It’s supposed to make people think and present different parts of humanity, he said. “I’ve been lucky to work on meaningful material.

Senior Bill Humphrey feels “controversy for the sake of controversy is just unnecessary, but creating controversy to illustrate some broader point is probably a proper role.

Overall, high school actors across Massachusetts and the nation are taking on more and more complex social and political issues through theatre.

In spite of what some critics may say, Lorn-Krause supports high school productions tackling these complex issues. “If school is about learning and expanding points of view, then reaching out in all directions with theatre is the way to go, he said.

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URL to article: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2008/12/17/growing-trend-students-take-on-controversial-theatre/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: http://www.sandbox.denebolaonline.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/arts2.jpg

[2] Art Focus: Rebecca Fleisher: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2009/11/25/art-focus-rebecca-fleisher/

[3] Swan Lake Ballet Theatre: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2009/12/23/swan-lake-ballet-theatre/

[4] Art Focus: Madeline Schulman: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/09/30/art-focus-madeline-schulman/

[5] Managing Editor Emeritus reflects on South and Denebola: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2009/06/11/managing-editor-emeritus-reflects-on-time-at-south/

[6] South Stage may swap productions: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2007/10/25/south-stage-may-swap-productions/

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