Stepping out of the ‘Comfort Zone’ Essential to High School Theatre



Courtesy of Mrs. Jessica McLaughlin

Columnist Sydney Peet was one of WW's drama students who relished the opportunity to learn from Darius Jordan Lee, a professional who most recently was seen in Clueless the Musical as the role Sean/ Murray Cover at the Signature Theatre Company. Lee’s credits include Guthrie Theater: West Side Story (Riff), John W. Engeman Theater: In the Heights (Benny Cover), Mamma Mia! (Eddie), among many others.

Sydney Peet, Staff Reporter

Many students use high school as means of finding their personal identity through classes, sports, clubs, and, of course, the arts. One of the most formative activities available to students is theater. Due to the individuality found in theater productions, it only makes sense that high schools, bent on making students feel safe and accepted, allow and even promote clubs to produce less of the drab and mundane shows typically seen and more of the unique, nontraditional, and exciting shows that changed the culture of theater.

Theater is one of the most versatile art forms of all time; it can portray historical events, literary works, scientific investigations, sports, and pretty much any subject if one puts their mind to it. However, high schools rarely showcase the productions that make theater so special and diverse, rather sticking to the usual suspects – Once Upon A Mattress, Beauty and the Beast, Guys and Dolls, Grease, Bye Bye Birdie, Little Shop of Horrors, etc. Many of these shows are familiar to the non-theater-goer, and that is precisely the problem. These shows have become too familiar, and as so many know, the familiar is no match for the fun of diverse shows. Excessive comfort is the end of creativity. Once the community (audience and administration alike) becomes too used to shows, they bore of them – meaning less interest, fewer audience members, and smaller profits for the theater group. Decreased profits in an age of decreased funding for the arts is detrimental to the development of creative minds and individual identities. If no one cares for the arts enough to increase interest in local productions, who will remain in the industry to create the marketable goods that consumers love – movies, paintings, books, and music?

Good thing for local communities that increasing interest is relatively simple. Encourage theater groups to produce nontraditional shows. The odd and out-of-the-ordinary is what drives people to come witness the arts. If each gallery in the world only had the same fifteen pieces, no one would want to see the same art they’ve already seen, and be less likely to frequent galleries, as the average person would have very little interest in attending the same show they have already seen. Society demonstrates daily that old is out – it’s best to get in with the new. That’s why local theaters and schools alike need to take advantage of changing times and begin to encourage their troupes to produce something new and unique.

Shows such as Spring Awakening and Hair consistently draw crowds because productions of these shows are few and far between. Groundbreaking shows such as these do not come without controversy, however. Blatant displays of the youth counterculture, struggles with mental health and morality, drug use, and teen pregnancy, unsafe abortions, and suicide cause a reaction from society, leading many to claim that these shows are not suitable for high school students. While some believe this to be true, it simply is not. High school students are subjected to these themes often in their daily lives – hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people in the community struggle with mental health and some see no other choice but to end their lives or turn to drugs. 3 in 10 teenage girls will have been pregnant at least once by the age of 20, and roughly 18% of all abortions in America are for teenagers.

Exposing students to these difficult situations allows them to anticipate encountering them in their lives, saving others lives in the process. Producing difficult shows also allows actors to mature in their roles and in life, juggling some terrifying situations every day at rehearsals, while keeping up with school work and social lives.

Increasing the diversity of shows produced at high schools can not only boost the reputation of the school district and increase public involvement in productions, but also help teenagers and the community learn to handle difficult subject matter. In a world as scary as ours can be, people need to be reminded of the good that they can do. Theater productions may not solve all the world’s problems, but they certainly solve some.