Sunday, April 26, 2015

Hairspray and Baltimore

This past weekend, the students at Sharon High School put on three excellent performances of the Broadway musical Hairspray.  Everyone involved from Mr. McCauley, the director, and Nathan Matt, the choreographer, to all the students, staff and parents are to be highly commended for an exceedingly high-level production.  The leads were wonderful, the supporting cast excellent, the very large ensemble was used creative and effectively, and the dancing was complicated and done with great precision.  Sharon's music program is a strength for our community, and seeing the great support from throughout the community in the audience was heartening.

For anyone who couldn't make it (or isn't a fan of John Travolta and Ricki Lake), Hairspray is about the integration of a local TV dance show by a plump teenager.  That the edginess in Sharon's staging came more from comedic innuendo than social commentary may be a testament to how far we've come.  Certainly racism exists in Sharon, but it sits beside effective camaraderie, genuine respect, true friendship, and even real love.  Life in our community is far from perfect, but on the whole our children seem to cross racial lines much more easily than our parents, and that is movement in the right direction.

I do hope, however, that as our children sang and danced this weekend about the racial and social problems of Baltimore in 1962, somebody is sharing with them what has been happening in Baltimore this weekend.  On stage Saturday night, Tracy Turnblad, the show's lead, asks her gym class what scatter dodgeball is and one of her friends replies, "It's like a protest rally when the police show up -- you scatter and dodge."  At about the same time, outside Camden Yards where the Orioles and Red Sox were playing, a small group of protesters smashed windows in cars and were met by police in riot gear.  (See the NYTimes article for more details.)  Granted, much of day's rally of a thousand racially-diverse protestors was peaceful, and the issues around Freddie Gray's death are more complex than dealing with a racist TV-producer and a nervous sponsor.  But the issues our students addressed on stage are found as easily in headlines of the Baltimore Sun today as they were in 1962. 

(photo credit Sarah McCauley)

The world our children are growing up in may much less black and white than it was fifty years ago.  Questions of creating a society of justice and equality where the rights and dignity of all people are upheld requires a lot more than letting children dance and sing together.  At the same time, helping young people from different racial, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds create something artistic and beautiful together might just give them the foundation of the relationships, attitudes and the experiences necessary to take on the bigger challenges.  Our young people were very well prepared to work together wonderfully on the stage.  Our community's responsibility is to prepare them equally well to work together to address the problems that haven't yet been tied up in a grand musical finale.     

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