13, the Musical. Dealing with fear.

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January 24, 2012
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Just finished a production of 13. LOVE LOVE LOVE this sweetly innocent funny sassy show..and yes, I said innocent. BUT I am getting A LOT of flack from my community. I was so shocked...all I saw were these typical/stereotypical characters played by lovely children experiencing awkwardness and beauty...I have found out there have been calls to my superintendent and my principal about the content. I thought I had lost my mind. I thought I had been punked. Have I missed the adolescent curiosity and exploration? The fear of being rejected for , well, anything? The need to be accepted and the desperation to be a part of something? I have NEVER shied away from any conversation with my students. I answer simply the questions asked, and I always refer them to their parents first for their input. Many colleagues are reeling as well. I didn't think it was insulting or complicated at all. I thought and still think it was beautiful and funny and uncomfortable and amazing...just like adolescence. Please advise. How do I bring a community back together? The knives in my back are beginning to sting.
5 Answers

September 18, 2012
Interesting. It Can't Be True was one of the favorites. Here comes the tongue.... became challenging... I have to say I have a bizaar sense of humor and found it kinda middle school charming. I can remember wrestling with the worry of that when a youngun. The movie lines about penis on fire....probably should have cut that somehow....but no one mentioned it. Perhaps they repressed it. No one says no to a boy with a terminal illness was majorly bothersome because while i like that every teenager on stage was a normal, perhaps somewhat exaggerated middle school character-I was told i couldn't 'own' that because I wasn't connected to it. I found it made that character so real and so approachable. My adults were disturbed most by what they saw as the stereotyping of the Jewish main character as kinniving.....I didn't even realise he was anything but a teenager desperate to fit in....never associated his planning and trying to reach the most 'popular' kids as conniving. So....for 5th graders, so much is palatable. I'd definitely have to go back to the script before giving any feedback. We trimmed down Hey Kendra...our boys were choreographically challenged.... So...I'm rambling. Our next show was a readers digest version of Hairpsray....not one person offended by the line..."And once a month we have negroe day!" shouted by our latino crew of almost caucasion performers :) . We did a LOT of pre work, and I know where I've been was a tribute to soooo many heros/heroines that came before and up to 1962. At rehearsals we called the groups- salts and peppers....very spicy. Perhaps because of the movie with John Travolta and Zac Effron...people found this challenging awful time palatable. no questions asked. Tears at the powerpoint. smiles at the end. We are now in the process of Little mermaid..... those eels may be challenging :/ I'm being sarcastic and tired. more another time. goodnight. good luck.

September 17, 2012
Cynthia, Well I'm still considering the show. I guess I'm still wary of the reaction, but I am concerned with the younger kids in the school (6th Grade). Particularly songs like "It can't be true" and what's associated with that. I did see videos of one excellent production on youtube that pretty successfully altered the lyrics to some of the songs, however "It can't be true" was missing, How did you handle that one in your discussion with the kids? I'm also considering a "G" rated version so that we can perform the show ( if we do it) for our district's 5th graders, something we do every year. Any way any suggestions you have would be helpful! What was your next show btw?

September 15, 2012
Artie, thank you for the advice and ideas...all excellent and supportive. In reflection, it would have been a good idea to share with the teachers and families BEFORE the show the topics that come up in 13, and how many great conversations and opportunities to explore this challenging stage of our lives. We could've had such good times, being frank and open and sharing our own experiences and realizing it's how human and vulnerable and spectacular we are. I have always believed in answering the questions asked. The students were all so comfortable with all the convos we had together. The adults seemed to squirm sooo much more. Unfortunately our administration only listened to and backed the staff who were uncomfortable. I learned with our next show and did some preemptive work with all the kiddies, and all the adults and families; frontloading the process with information and conversation. DO the show...it's lovely. Someone had recommended after that it may have been kinda cool to send home 'movie tickets' that advertised the show as PG-13 listing all the possibly shocking topics. Let me know what you decide and do. I loved doing 13. So did the cast. And btw...the cast's families LOVED it as well.

August 30, 2012
Cynthia, I'm considering 13 for my middle school this year, since I believe I have the guys that can do it. That being said, I'm very concerned with the possible backlash from the community. I've been in the district a long time, and it seems that years ago the community would have been more open to 13 than it may be now. When I was considering it last year, I spoke to my principal first, gave her a recording and a copy of the script. She ultimately said the decision was mine but seemed wary. We thought of giving the superintendent a heads up also.. We ended up putting on Guys and Dolls (not without some controversy) which was a very successful. If I attempt to putr on the show, I'll definitely run it by the superintendent. One woman who put the show on in a Florida middle school, met with students and parents about the show. Consequently, those involved were prepared for the themes and language of the show. Their version was not edited, while another principal I spoke to about his school's production said in fact some changes were made. Here's what I would do, although I'm sure by this time the dust has settled. Suggest a meeting between the actors, students, parents, faculty members etc, and allow the student performers to give their side of story, as well as those who were offended. Hopefully an open dialog like this will result in better understanding on both sides. Good luck. Artie

Staff Answer
January 26, 2012
Hi Cynthia - I'm sorry to hear about the response to what I also believe is a sweet, innocent and sassy show. It can be a challenge finding the right material to please everyone within a given community - especially when it comes to works of art which are by nature, open to interpretation. I applaud you for seeing the opportunity to bring your community back together as I'm sure the last thing on your mind was creating division. Adolesence is a tough time period...and for a reason - especially since adolescent issues can still make us grown-ups uncomfortable too. There are some customers who have issues performing Guys and Dolls in their community because it deals with gambling, so there really is no hard and fast rule about picking a show free of controversy. I'm sharing your post with the MTISS community so you can hopefully get some words of encouragement and ideas about how to address this within your school and community. Thanks for posting - hopefully this will stimulate conversation and allow other for future learning opportunities. -Jason