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.”