Update: How Sweeney Todd Made The Cut
Its becoming easier and easier for high school productions to come under fire from parents or local members of a community all across the United States. 99% of the time, the reason really has nothing educational or arts factor of the production but merely a creative difference. Last week when a group of Connecticut parents related violence in the musical Sweeney Todd to the recent Newtown Elementary School tragedy, we decided enough was enough. Today, Luner on Theatre is able to bring you an update on this situation.
Last Monday night, several parents gathered at a school board meeting to discuss their disagreement with the district and high school to produce Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street due to the violence in the production with the most recent tragedy at Newtown Elementary School just a few months ago. Many, including myself, blasted the allegations calling them not only ridiculous but also offensive to those affected by the tragedy. However while many expected a wild west showdown, where one side pulls its argument out and the other side fires back, thats not exactly how to meeting ended up going.
The meeting began with a member of the local clergy speaking about how members of the community spoke up at an interfaith meeting regarding curbing violence within their community after the Newtown tragedy. The conversation very quickly turned to the school production, Sweeney Todd, which has violence in it. Several parents spoke wondering how and why the school production was chosen or even if other shows had been considered. One of the parents even had a student in the production but wouldn’t pull them after being dissatisfied with the show choice.
As mentioned, Howard Sherman, the former director of the not for profit American Theatre Wing, attended the meeting and was able to speak about the production. Some of his remarks included;
“Stephen Sondheim, who has already been lauded here, is very famous for a song that he wrote in another one of his other musicals in which we hear the line ‘Art isn’t easy.’ Creating art isn’t easy and the content of art isn’t easy…Sweeney Todd can create a learning opportunity. The responsibility of schools is to create a context for young people to understand the world around them and as much as we may want to keep that world away for as long as possible, it is not possible. While we can choose to do other works of literature, to read other books, to sing other songs, we are denying them the opportunity to learn.”
By the end of the meeting, no one was demanding that the show be stopped. No official vote was ever taken on the production and people merely had a chance to speak about something they personally felt concerned about.
The principal of Amity Regional High School, Dr. Charles Britton, released the following statement on the Friday morning following the board meeting:
“This past week, the media widely reported some objections that have been raised against this year’s spring production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Some members of the Amity community and parents believe this production is too graphic for a high school audience. The administration and Drama Department at Amity High School respectfully disagree with these objections. The production is PG-13 and designed for a high school level audience. The show is produced in high schools across the nation. When carefully considering all academic material for Amity students, the faculty and administration at Amity never select material that is gratuitously violent or purposefully titillating in nature. All material is selected for the deeper meaning and value of the work of art, literature, or related academic resource. In the hands of talented teachers and directors, this academic material engages students more effectively and promotes our efforts to stimulate critical and creative thinking.”
All in all, it looks like Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street made the cut at Amity Regional High School. We are able to bring you so many great details on this event thanks to Howard Sherman. His own blog was able to provide us with details of what occurred at the meeting and we are now able to report that to you. Thank you Howard! And thank you to everyone who reached out during this time to support Amity Regional High School and their production of Sweeney Todd. Together, we are not able to make sure high school productions are being cancelled and shut down for the wrong reasons but also secure the freedom of the arts in our schools for a long time to come. I encourage everyone to attend Sweeney Todd at Amity Regional High School if you have the chance.