Letter: Barrington grade school play was ‘oversexualized’ and inappropriate

To the editor:

I feel compelled to share some thoughts on the Arts Alive! / Hampden Meadows production that took place at BHS this weekend.

I am sure all can appreciate the difficulty in producing a theatrical undertaking that provides roles and parts for 150-plus students. Moreover, the disparity in gender adds to the challenge. The inclusion of all is no doubt admirable.

There was clearly no shortage of enthusiasm and joy evidenced by all of the young thespians at all performances.

Theater indeed does wonders to improve young people’s self-confidence, poise and pride in accomplishment.

It seems counter-intuitive to me however to bring such scandalous performances to the stage by fourth- and fifth-graders. 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.

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?

They’re compelled to portray characterizations that are salacious and unsuitable for a grade school production.

Arts Alive!’s intention is wonderful and I fully support it. The over-sexualized production presented this weekend was poorly vetted and inappropriate. The unfortunate roles for our young girls did nothing to empower our town’s impressionable daughters.

I am hopeful that future projects will be more conscious of our children.

Paul H. Crosby

Barrington

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12 Comments

  1. danskmind said:

    That does sound very inappropriate. 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?

    • Pete Bilderback said:

      I would not hesitate to speak up if I thought something was inappropriate. However, I did not see anything inappropriate in the costumes, dialog or performances. Nothing.

      The notion that as a parent I was cowering in fear of the Arts Alive staff, and willing to subject my child to salacious and inappropriate material in the desperate hope that my son could get a leading role is beyond absurd. I wish you had at least seen the show before passing such harsh judgment on the parents of the children involved.

      My experience with Arts Alive has been entirely positive, they are open to suggestion and criticism. They are grateful for parental involvement, which is in fact necessary for these shows to work at all. I say this not because I want my child to get better roles, but because it’s true.

  2. onward73 said:

    I do not remember there being any hookers in Little Shop. Can you cite where you are getting that information from? Was it in the playbill? It takes place not on skid row but in Skid Row, because that is the name of the city where it is set. The subplot is that the hero and heroine are trying to get away from Skid Row to make a better life for themselves (terrible role models). And concepts like growing up and out of childhood things, rebelling against a parent’s advice – how sinister and unnatural!

    If one is so easily offended, one should not attend future performances nor allow their own children to participate.

    I seem to have missed the part where the kids in this production where told that this is exactly how real life is (i.e., mutant carnivorous sentient plants as in Little Shop) and told that they should emulate every character portrayed in popular culture.

    I also did not read a suggestion about what production or characters would be appropriate. What musical’s characters would you find morally beyond reproach and entirely suitable?

    If this stuff is too much for you, stay home and organize your socks or read a book about dust. Don’t have a cow.

    Good job Arts Alive, good job kids!

    • Live Andletlive said:

      It is imperative we understand the adverse impact of negative images of women (however they may be couched) and that inappropriate (i.e.adult) themes are not suitable for children. Rather than stay home as you suggest, I support the writer’s investment in our community’s children. We should all be working towards a safe and wholesome environment for our kids. Please note, he supports Arts Alive but sees room for improvement…as do I.

  3. danskmind said:

    This is what I mean. A response from ONWARD73 is what most parents are afraid to deal with. You stick your neck out a little bit and don’t agree 100% with the buddies of Arts Alive and you get struck down immediately. It’s sad that it’s a “my way or the highway” attitude that seems to prevail and that we cannot say something that we think might be appropriate for future productions?

  4. Gregory Knight said:

    Although I agree that we need to assess and question what our girls and boys are exposed to (boys are somehow left out of the conversation about the effects of image here; they need to be included), I think Mr. Crosby is wrong in how he is characterizing the Broadway Rules production.

    The characters in The Little Shop of Horrors scene are not street hookers. They are both “street urchins” (ie kids who spend most of their time on the street), and, as portrayed in this production, a chorus similar to Diana Ross and the Supremes.

    As to the other characters, some were teeny boppers, some were homemakers, some were acrobats, some hippies, and yes, some had sensual qualities. And some of the male roles were hoodlums (“Grease”) and street thugs and criminals (“Guys and Dolls”). But these representations were not salacious, reductive or objectifying.

    I hope the folks at Arts Alive continue to provide an amazing opportunity to the community, be open to assessing their own work, and that we as a community can engage in dialog about the various images and “role modeling” our children are exposed to, including wondering about what it means to be sexual, or tough, without being reduced to solely one or the other.

  5. lgunness said:

    Like they say, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

    I was really surprised when I saw Mr Crosby’s letter. While I appreciate his right to state his opinion, I profoundly disagree with his perception of this play. And I think his choice of a public forum to air his complaint is hurtful and unnecessary. Let me explain:

    Mr Crosby wrote his letter in a tone that was articulate and polite. But I read his tone as appeasing, because it seemed like what he really wanted to do was call the play things like “scandalous” and “over-sexualized” and to pass moral judgement on this accomplishment and those involved with it.

    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.

    To the scene he referred to in Little Shop of Horrors, wasn’t it the Supremes who were in the original production? Well, what I saw in that moment was a little girl who absolutely nailed it. She owned the audience with her voice and presence. Such a great great job.

    And her performance (and that of her backup singers) didn’t at all strike me as sexual (let alone “hyper-sexual”). It struck me as powerful, skillful, charming, brave, successful. But not sexual.

    I feel the same about the other performances that I saw, both spoken and musical. I saw kids having fun learning about how to portray archetypal characters from our national pop culture.

    I know that art is subjective. I also know that a viewer’s reaction to a work of art can say as much about the viewer as it does about the work itself. If an objective assessment could be made here, in my view this production came no where close to crossing the line. And that is at the center of why I so disagree with Mr Crosby’s assessment.

    But my disagreement goes further. He chose a public forum in which to make his case. He could have asked to speak directly with the play directors, with the ArtsAlive staff, etc. But choosing a live online public forum makes me wonder if his was an effort at public shaming. If they’d put on a production of Rocky Horror Picture Show, then maybe his case would carry more water. But this tame performance? Come now.

    I had a child in the play, and she can’t wait until next year. I have no formal affiliation with ArtsAlive beyond participation as a parent. I greatly admire and value their work and contribution to our community. ArtsAlive is filling a void left by school budget cuts. They are entrepreneurs and artists who are, in my view, helping this town and our children to thrive.

  6. rigfmom said:

    Too bad he didn’t read the dozens of emails that explained how various phrases were changed due to their original inappropriate content, or read the actual script that his children brought home which highlighted the changes (including removing the word “hickey” and others), or go to a costume fitting to see the great lengths that the crew went to to make sure every costume was appropriate and fit each child. (Most costume fittings are done outside of rehearsals with parents present)

    I’m also saddened that he didn’t discuss his concerns directly with the staff and instead is attempting to spoil what was an amazing effort by adults and children alike with his contorted views.

    To all those above who think they could cast a show “better” or “more fairly”, please come to rehearsals and see these amazing women in action. As a very active volunteer who is at many many rehearsals, I see no preferential treatment. Just very hard decisions about how to utilize so many (154 kids) talented kids in ways that will be interesting to the kids and will benefit the show as a whole.

  7. traceyorchard@aol.com said:

    Mr Crosby,
    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. Shame on you for publicly disparaging this program.

  8. onward73 said:

    When someone perceives something in a way that most reasonable people do not, it may indicative of their own conscious or subconscious tendencies.

  9. Mary said:

    I’m reading this and am blown away that many of the people commenting are not getting what Mr. Crosby is trying to say. I did see the performance and happen to agree with Mr. Crosby. These are 10 and 11 year old children and in my opinion they should not be dressed in a sexually provocative manner. It’s inappropriate for their age. Period. And whether you agree or disagree with Mr. Crosby, everyone is entitled to their own opinion and there is no need to demean, ridicule, and belittle the writer just because you don’t agree with him. It’s a shame that people cannot express their opinions in a public forum without being attacked. I commend Mr. Crosby for standing up and speaking up for what he believes in, and say shame on those who resorted to childish, mean-spirited behavior.

  10. comn sense said:

    Thank you Paul for speaking up! The letter was 100% appropriate.

    There is a sense that if it involves “the arts”, somehow that makes it OK to stretch the norms.

    “In your face” gets a free pass when we put it in a frame, or call it hip-hop.

    We don’t want to talk about the outcomes, like absurdly high rates of teen pregnancy together with it’s own TV reality show.

    Bad behavior has become an art medium unto itself.

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