Today came the news from Lancaster, PA that the superintendent has canceled the production of the musical “Hairspray,” a musical about the effects of HIV / AIDS. Students at McCaskey High School, who hoped to perform the show in May, are disappointed that Superintendent Damaris Rau pulled the plug just a week before auditions.
The Right Time?
It is not the right time to stage a musical, “Rau said, referring to the recent outbreak of HIV / AIDS in the United States and other parts of the world.
Ms. Rau said that after emails from pupils and the headteacher outlining their concerns, she read the script to her and asked the headmaster to cancel or change the performance. Although details of the students’ concerns are not being made public, Ms. Raus said that student groups expressed concerns about the derogatory language in the play, which describes black, Hispanic, and disabled people. The kids are too rough right now, “she said, according to one of her students, a 14-year-old girl.
What does Hairspray Stand For?
Hairspray, based on a 1988 film by John Waters, tells the story of Tracy, a teenager who dreams of dancing on The Corny Collins show until her reality becomes more like daily detention. When Tracy gets the chance to find fame, she begins to struggle with the barriers to representation that existed in the television industry in 1962.
The series accurately portrays the civil rights movement, but it was also at the center of discussions about white saviors in entertainment. The musical hit the headlines last year when the show’s creators took action in response to a loophole that allowed a white production to cast and write black actors to portray black characters. With the recent push to diversify the theater program, Hairspray is unlikely to be at the top of the list when it comes to selecting theater programs and productions for the school. Was it right to get Hairspray canceled, though?
Although it is not a perfect show, it promotes a message of equality and shows that racism has no place in our society. I think we would have liked our students to have performed it, but I am glad they did not.
The show contains offensive language, but it also makes it clear that such language is wrong, and I don’t know where it’s begging on the show.
I feel the same about other programs that contain slurs and derogatory terms such as’ ragtime ‘to illustrate how wrong and hurtful these words are. There aren’t many high school shows that teach that kind of lesson, so this would have been a great opportunity. McCaskey reportedly has a long-term interest in the show and other musicals, but not as a teacher.
There has been much chatter on social media since the announcement, and while many supported the decision, others pointed out that it was an example of the culture being torn down, with some students coming forward. E-mails have been received from students who auditioned but were not cast on the show.
After more than a year in the theatre, this is not the time to cancel a performance for questionable reasons. Either way, I think it’s a shame that this product hasn’t gone ahead and it’s a disappointment for all of us.
Was it the right call to get Hairspray canceled? We’ll find out soon.