Barrington school play debated — what do you think?

Hampden Meadows School students take a bow after a recent performance of "Broadway Rules." Hampden Meadows School students take a bow after a recent performance of "Broadway Rules."

Hampden Meadows School students take a bow after a recent performance of "Broadway Rules."

Hampden Meadows School students take a bow after a recent performance of “Broadway Rules.”

A Barrington parent has raised concerns about the appropriateness of a recent elementary school play.

Paul Crosby penned a letter to the editor earlier this week, calling portions of Arts Alive!’s production “Broadway Rules” oversexualized, scandalous and unfortunate. Mr. Crosby, who has three young daughters, said he watched three performances of the show last weekend and felt compelled to write the letter to the editor.

“While the Broadway Review theme brought opportunity to provide numerous roles to would-be performers, a number of the scores were entirely inappropriate for such young children. The Little Shop of Horrors number had fourth-graders portraying street-corner hookers on Skid Row. Replete with slinky dresses and provocative posing… The Hairspray song includes lyrics around putting away toys to play with teenage boys and entreaties for a mother to ‘not have a cow’ over a hickey. Not to mention arguing against motherly advice,” Mr. Crosby wrote.

“The introductory segues seemed simply a venue to have 10 year olds dress up like hyper-sexualized characters from both past and present pop-culture. How can we expect the young girls of Barrington to grow up with a sense of self-esteem and self-respect when they’re reduced to playing caricatures of sexualized women in theatrical productions?”

Dena Davis, co-founder of Arts Alive! and director of the play which featured fourth- and fifth-graders from Hampden Meadows School, did not agree with Mr. Crosby’s opinion of the show. She said content of the productions was edited and costumes altered in an effort to make “Broadway Rules” more age-appropriate. For example, she said play producers edited the word “hickey” out of the Hairspray song.

Mr. Crosby said he bought the CD which his daughter needed in order to rehearse and the word hickey is still very much part of the lyrics. He also said he had to field difficult questions from one of his daughters that appeared to be a direct result of her participation in “Broadway Rules.” He said his 10-year-old daughter asked him what a hooker was.

“This is what has fueled some of this,” Mr. Crosby said.

Ms. Davis said the girls Mr. Crosby is referring to in his letter when he talks about street walkers were, in fact, portraying The Supremes.

Mr. Crosby’s response during a recent interview: “Ten-year-olds dressed like The Supremes? That’s not appropriate for a 10-year-old. … This is not something we need to encourage.”

Ms. Davis said many steps were taken to make Broadway Rules age-appropriate. She said changes were made to the scripts and some costumes were altered. She said Arts Alive!’s Kimberly Durkin added three inches of material to the bottom of some dresses she found to be too short. Other times, girls wore black shirts or leggings underneath costumes.

“Parents were involved in the costume fittings,” Ms. Davis said, adding that parents had ample opportunities to suggest further changes. “We tried to capture the essence of the plays. … The principal (Hampden Meadows’ Tracey McGee) was actually in the play, as were three other teachers. I think she would have said something if she thought it was inappropriate.”

Mr. Crosby said he had no problems with the costumes worn by his daughters, but, after watching three performances of “slinky outfits” and “provocative poses” felt he needed to share his thoughts.

“I sat on this for a day or two,” he said. “But no one had the temerity to say ‘No, it wasn’t great.’ It was inappropriate. I would challenge these parents to rebut what I’m saying. This is something that’s not appropriate for 10-year-olds. … My goal is to empower them (the girls) as individuals, not as sexual objects.”

Some local parents have done that, writing comments to the bottom of his letter, which was posted to barringtonri.com earlier this week. Larson Gunness wrote: “I attended all three performances with family members (grandparents, children, spouse). I must have spoken with between forty and fifty other parents about the shows. Not one of these people mentioned anything, nothing, that in any way resembles the Mr Crosby’s reaction.”

Tracey Orchard wrote: “My impressionable daughter was indeed empowered. She was empowered by the tremendous example set by Dena Davis and her staff. My daughter saw strong, succesful women with high standards. She saw diligence, perseverance, kindness, patience, creativity, ingenuity, cooperation, acceptance and open mindedness. We are blessed to have this program in our town and I will encourage, and pay for, my
impressionable daughter to take every opportunity to learn from these women.”

At least one person supported Mr. Crosby’s perspective. A poster who did not include their name wrote: “I wonder if any other parents brought this up during rehearsals. I did not attend the play so I cannot speak up about this – but this sounds wrong for such young children. However, I think other parents would be hesitant to speak up though as we know that only the favorites get the coveted main parts – so maybe that’s why nobody spoke up?”

Ms. Davis said “Broadway Rules” included a record number of performers for an Arts Alive! production — 155. She said she felt that the show was well-done, wonderfully performed and left the young actors feeling more confident and empowered than previous to the experience.

“What frustrates me more than anything is that I have never seen a group of children more empowered,” she said. “Some were very shy in the beginning. By the end they were smiling and happy. They couldn’t be any more empowered.”

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18 Comments

  1. Marina Peterson said:

    Please, please, please let our children be children! This is a very good example of “Give me your children,” the Obama-Hitler-Molech connection. Why do parents think it is “cute” for their children to portray “hookers” in a play? What does that say?

    • DMChasmail said:

      Obama’s fault. Yep. Oh brother. There’s always someone who has to bring politics and his/her crazy political reasoning into anything. If it was raining on a day that’s planned for a picnic, Obama would be blamed for the rain.

  2. onward73 said:

    I just knew this was Obama’s fault. Marina Peterson, please explain where any children portrayed hookers in this production. Be specific. I presume that since you see fit to criticize the parents of the kids in this production, that you must be familiar with the musicals and must have attended the performance in question.

  3. Stephanie Widman said:

    It is a shame that this parent did not voice his concerns before the production or in a private way after. Calling their character into question in an open forum without even wondering what editorial process was in place is irresponsible and troubling to me. If members of the community have not worked with or seen the productions they may shy away. This would be unfortunate. I did not get to see the play in question but our family went to our daughter’s event and we sought out 2 other Arts Alive productions this year. I think the Art Alive team does an amazing job helping our children put on TERRIFIC productions. Our daughter thrived during her Primrose play experience. She tends to be shy and flourished under the direction of Ms. Davis. I can’t wait for her to participate next year and have full trust in the experience. This from a mom who does not at all support “princess culture” or pushing a child to be grown up. I support that Mr. Crosby wants to protect his girls. Being a parent in today’s sometimes trashy culture is increasingly difficult. I just wanted to counter with what we experienced working with Arts Alive I just hope this “scandal” does not impede their mission of bringing the arts to Barrington. We are so lucky to have access to the arts, many communities are not so fortunate.

  4. rigfmom said:

    As an involved parent, I really wish this story had been balanced and fair. There were three teachers and the principal of HMS in the show. It was co-sponsored by the PTO- all of whom reviewed the show and approved it specifically because of all the work done to make it appropriate for 4th and 5th grade performers. Many parents and staff were involved in rehearsals throughout.
    I think Arts Alive deserves an apology from the Times as do the families of the children singled out.
    Publishing “rumors” and “opinions” as facts, reduces the Times to the level of an online blog. As I have stated before, as a parent, I received multiple emails from the start of the show explaining that lyrics were changed, that children should use the script to practice so they would learn the lyrics correctly, that the practice CD had the original lyrics on it b/c there was no way to change it (and children need to hear music to learn it).
    It’s been hard enough to explain to my children why people are criticizing the show, and they weren’t the ones targeted. We teach our children to ask questions, to speak up for those being bullied and not to believe or spread rumors- unfortunately the Times doesn’t seem to know or practice these lessons. How sad and destructive.

  5. Kimberly Santos said:

    I didn’t see the show, and I’m not familiar with the original play either, but I did observe a snipit of a rehearsal out on the front lawn a week or two ago… and just hearing the one or two songs that they were singing, and the bit of acting/posturing/etc that they were doing in conjunction with the songs did give me pause. I’m no prude, but I questioned whether it was age appropriate, just on that small exposure – and without seeing any costumes. I wasn’t outraged by it, but I’m not surprised to hear that someone had this response. What I question is why this dad didn’t address the issue immediately upon having to answer the “what’s a hooker?” question, or hearing the lyrics on the practice CD. If I had the strong feelings that he apparently did about it, related to my own daughter, I’d consider it my responsibility to advocate for her a bit more proactively. I don’t think that criticism after the fact is effective. To the dad who is understandably frustrated by the questions that he had to answer: I hope you can consider it good practice, because with a 10 year old your hands, sir, the questions that are coming won’t be getting any easier. Encourage your child to continue to feel comfortable asking you these hard questions, or else she’ll seek her answers from sources which you might not prefer.

    • Pete Bilderback said:

      Can we just be clear about one thing? There were NO “hookers” in this play. I agree with you that it is reasonable to ask questions about the age appropriateness of material and that the time to raise those questions is during the rehearsal period, not after the production is complete. To do so after the fact is unproductive and does nothing more than cause hurt feelings.

      But the contention that 10 and 11 year old girls were asked to portray prostitutes in this play is nothing more than a figment of someone’s sick imagination. I’m sorry to have to put it that way, but it appears that some who did not see the play and have only read about it after the fact are taking this scurrilous and unfounded accusation as “fact,” and the record should be put straight. Nothing could be further from the truth.

      I was a parent of a child who participated in the play and who had a background role in the supposedly “scandalous” Little Shop of Horrors production number. I read the script. I attended rehearsals. I saw the play. I would have been the FIRST person to object if I saw any indication (even by insinuation) that elementary school girls were being asked to portray prostitutes. It would have been outrageous, sick and wrong. It would have offended me to my core. I would have pulled my son from the production on the spot and contacted the principal and possibly the police. Fortunately, it never happened, and it never would happen in an Arts Alive! play.

      With 155 children participating in the play, we can assume there were nearly 300 parents involved in some capacity as well (reading scripts, helping to memorize lines, checking costumes at fittings, volunteering at rehearsals, helping to sew outfits, donating props, creating artwork, etc.). Additionally three teachers and the principal of Hampden Meadows School participated in the play. To the best of my knowledge NOT ONE of these adults–including the author of the accusatory letter–raised any objections about the age appropriateness of the dialog, songs, costumes or performance style of the play during the rehearsal and production period.

      Broadway Rules! was such a positive experience for my son and my whole family. My mother flew up from Maryland and watched all three performances. She comes from a more conservative time and place and saw nothing that even raised an eyebrow in the play. Neither did I.

      It’s very hurtful to us that some are now casting aspersions on such a wonderful production that so many in the community (myself included) put their hearts and souls into making the best possible experience for the children of this town. I can only imagine how the wonderful women at Arts Alive! who worked many long hours on the play, sacrificing time with their own families so that the children of Barrington could have a first-rate theater experience must feel.

      I’ve honestly never seen people who work as hard on behalf of children as Dena Davis and Kimberly Durkin. We are so lucky to have such talented and dedicated professionals working with the children of this town. The educational and emotional benefits of their work is overwhelming. I’ve seen my son grow immensely both intellectually and emotionally as a direct result of his involvement in Arts Alive! productions. I only hope they know that the vast majority of parents and children who have participated in Arts Alive! productions appreciate their hard work and talent.

      • Kimberly Santos said:

        I’m not claiming that this play had anything to do with hookers… but for whatever reason, this dad believes that his daughter questioned the word based on her exposure to this experience (possibly from the practice cd material?).

        I have no doubt that everyone worked very hard on it, and they should be able to enjoy the accollades which come from a successful production.

        My point was simply that, with the mere half hour of exposure that I had during that one rehearsal, I did (briefly and inwardly) question it’s appropriateness. It was not such an overt offense that I felt it needed addressing, and I didn’t make a decision that it was decidedly INappropriate. My statement is just that I can see how one could question it. The fact that many people didn’t see a problem with it doesn’t mean that this dad’s opinion and concerns should be ridiculed or minimized. His approach in dealing with his concerns, however, does deserve some scrutiny.

        I am casting NO aspersions whatsoever… except perhaps on the ineffectual manner with which this dad addressed his concerns. I hardly think that this merits attention as being “scandalous”! I think it’s all quite unfortunate, and I hope that everyone who participated doesn’t allow this to take away from their experience. Not everyone is going to approve uproarious applause, and being able to accept and incorporate negative feedback is a valuable skill, which our children can only benefit from, with proper guidance.

        • Pete Bilderback said:

          To be clear, I was not criticizing you or your reaction to what you saw at rehearsal. You made fair points and are of course entitled to your opinion. “Scandalous” was in reference to what the letter writer–not you–called the play.

          I just want everyone to be clear on the fact that there were no “hookers” in this play and there was no implication of prostitution in the Little Shop of Horrors scene or elsewhere. Neither is there any implication of it on the practice CD. It’s an accusation invented out of thin air and nothing more. There should be no confusion about this.

          Constructive negative feedback is one thing (believe me, the children got plenty of that during the rehearsal process), accusing little girls of acting like prostitutes is quite another. I don’t see how that can do anything but produce deep hurt and shame.

          I agree with you that manner in which this person addressed his concerns is unfortunate.

  6. Erika Sevetson said:

    I’m disappointed that the author of this piece chose to quote commenters (from Mr. Crosby’s original letter) who hadn’t seen the performances, and apparently didn’t have any connection to the school or even know any kids in the performances. Uninformed opinions should not be considered credible sources in the quest to provide “both sides” of the story.

    To Mr. Crosby: I understand that you wouldn’t want your daughter is a seen with “hookers.” However, I saw no one who was playing anything remotely like that–only some sass (and some incredible voices). Are you sure your daughters didn’t ask about that term because of some other kids? I know my own child has come home and asked about things that I wasn’t prepared to discuss because of conversations at school. Unfortunately, that’s part of being a parent in the world.

    Theater is about dressing up and pretending to be something you’re not. When you say that it’s not appropriate for 10 yr olds to act like the Supremes, I wonder: what *would* be okay for 10 yr olds? I can’t think of much more innocuous than the Supremes, given the popular singers and songs of today. I definitely agree that we need to be concerned about the over-sexualization of our kids (girls, especially). But I don’t think that a school Broadway production is one of the things we have to worry about. I’d ask you to take a good look at the music your kids listen to, the TV they watch, and the toys they play (or played) with, and think about the messages that are being bombarded, constantly, through these media. The book “Cinderella Ate My Daughter” is a great resource for discerning what is–and isn’t–appropriate for our kids as they grow.

    I congratulate Ms. Davis, Ms. Durkin, and all the Arts Alive community on a great and inclusive performance. There were a few moments that made me raise my eyebrows, true–and so next time, if my daughter chooses to be in a show, I’ll pay closer attention to the entire script–not just her parts. And maybe I’ll go to a rehearsal or two. And if I have a problem, I’ll raise it with the Arts Alive staff and the school administration.

  7. andyashton@gmail.com said:

    I want to voice my support for Art Alive!, Ms. Davis, Ms. Durkin, and all the kids who put on such a wonderful and invigorating performance. It is undoubtedly difficult to stage a play that engages so many kids of that age – a play which neither talks down to them nor pushes into age-inappropriate areas. In this sense, the production of Broadway Rules was well-balanced and thoughtful. It is unfortunate that a vocal minority raises questions after the fact; questions that could have been raised at any point during the 12+ weeks of pre-production. I know that neither I nor my kids will hesitate to support and participate in future Arts Alive productions, and I hope that the community will likewise acknowledge the value that this experience brings for our town and our children.

  8. Jane Knight said:

    As a mom, volunteer for Arts Alive! and women studies major, I have been somewhat bewildered as this “scandal” unfolded. I am grateful and continually impressed by the way Dena Davis and Kim Durkin (costumes and much more) work with our children.

    I fear I need to reiterate that Josh and others have their facts wrong. THERE WERE NO PROSTITUTES IN LITTLE SHOP OF HORROR perfomance. LYRICS WERE CHANGED IN HAIRSPRAY to be more appropriate. It’s one of my family’s favorite musicals (please don’t bother writing to scold me….)

    Why do we assume that girls or boys are being sexualized when they get to play dress up and pretend at home or in a play, and display proud, sassy attitude?

    How wonderful that we can have the marvelous production of Broadway Rules spur interesting and critical dialogue.

    I whole heartedly agreed with Paul Crosby’s support of Arts Alive! as a wonderful organization, one that fills a vacuum for arts and performance in the schools and empowering to our kids.

    I encouraged both my 10 and 13 year old to read Mr. Crosby’s letter. Both were completely befuddled by his accusations. I took it as a teaching moment to explain what prostitution is, and what might have been meant by oversexualized costumes or movements. After that explaination my 10 year old daughter reponded – that wasn’t sexual – that was sassy!!!

    There is a difference between playing dress up and drama and percieving elementary students as scandalous and sexuallized.

    I must add that by choosing to write a public letter rather than FIRST talking to Dena or any board member parent to parent, that a tremendous amout of hurt has been laid at the feet of Dena and Kim, and that is heartbreaking.

    From 101 dalmations to Once Upon a Mattress to the current production, I have been nothing but impressed by this team of pros, volunteers, teachers and principals that somehow missed these things that Mr. Crosby alleges.

    FInally, after reading Josh’s follow up, I am flabergasted by this being put forth as investigative journalism. Completely unsupported opinion quotes were used, including from a writer that never saw the play in question.

    Josh, please get your facts right and lucxidly organized before you publish your online article in the print edition. Enough false accusations, enough false information, enough hurt. You have the opportunity to right this story in a fair, journalistic way, which is lacking in your on line piece.

  9. Patricia said:

    I noticed at the beginning of this article that there is a photo of the Hampden Meadows School students taking a bow after their recent performance of “Broadway Rules.” Is it possible to also post some photos of the Little Shop of Horrors scene? It would be helpful for everyone to be able to see for themselves if the costumes in question were appropriate or not for 10 and 11 year olds.

    • Pete Bilderback said:

      I understand your curiosity, but I hope that no pictures from Little Shop of Horrors are published either in print or online. Let Josh look at them, and he can describe the costumes objectively. But these little girls should not have their pictures published online or elsewhere after having these kinds of accusations directed at their performance. No pictures and no names, please! There were real little girls in those costumes and enough hurt has been caused already. It would be horribly inappropriate for the Barrington Times to publish pictures of these girls under the circumstances. I hope they have better sense than that.

      One thing I can tell you, if it helps, is that the costumes in Little Shop were, if anything, more modest than what you see above. Most of the dresses were ankle length, and on those that less than ankle length the girls were wearing tights as well.

    • Erika Sevetson said:

      Helpful for whom? Any problems–real or perceived–should be addressed by the BPS administration, the directors and staff of Arts Alive, and any concerned parents. I’m sorry, but this is not a “community concern,” this is a school issue, and as such should be worked out within those avenues before getting thrown out into the community. If LSH photos are posted, you’ll have most people saying there’s nothing wrong, but a few people will find something to disagree with–be it that the girls wore black, or sequins, or heels. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by continuing this conversation in that way.

  10. cprete26@verizon.net said:

    I was disappointed when I opened the Barrington Times and saw the Arts Alive Broadway Rules production was being criticized. My son was in the play, actually he’s been in two of Dena Davis’ productions and has been part of her summer camp. She has nothing but his best interest in mind. So I feel confident she saw nothing inappropriate about this play when she presented it. I feel the same way.
    My 9 year old son was actually in The Little Shop of Horrors number mentioned. He had no idea those girls were portrayed as hookers. Do you know why? Because it was never portrayed to him that way. Not in rehearsals by Dena or any of her staff, or by me. To him, these were girls on the street with “attitudes”. He’s the one who had lines with them and nothing in the dialog portrayed them as hookers either. If a child asked what a hooker was, then that child must have heard that word from an adult. That child would have not understood that from this scene. My son didn’t even ask what these girls were supposed to be and he was part of the scene. The problem is if you watched this play through adult eyes, then you saw the things adults see because of our age and knowledege. If you watcrd h it through a 9, 10 and 11 year olds eyes, you would have not understood the things that are been critized. The children don’t understand the sexual content unless someone brings it to their attention. Did I know what some of the things being said and done were, yes, but my 9 year old had no idea. And even though it was there through my eyes, I still don’t feel it was over-sexualized or inappropriate. I really do feel if those who are critizing this play, sit back and watch it through innocent, non-sexual children’s eyes, they’ll find there was not one thing wrong with this play. I applaud Dena Davis for all her hard work. I feel badly that something my son work so hard on will now have a negative connotation.

  11. M Proctor said:

    Dear Barrington Times,

    My daughter participated in this play, and I was impressed with the way that the Arts Alive staff handled the considerable work of coordinating more than a hundred student performers.

    Their model is different than the typical school play, where one or two people have are the stars of the show, relegating everyone else to the background. Rather, each student has a moment to shine. This is helpful for the children. They don’t have to memorize hundreds of lines, or feel like they weren’t good enough to get an important part.

    I saw my daughter become more confident on stage, and I will continue to support Arts Alive. I feel fortunate to have this professional organization in our community. My daughter said that she wants to try out for a singing part next year. This growth is exciting to see.

    Drama is such an important part of many children’s development. Whatever they decide to do in life, being able to stand up in front of a group of people and communicate with them will serve them well. Thank you, Arts Alive and Hampden Meadows School.

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