The Death of the Arts

Written by guest author, Joe Bloom.

Recently some friends and I went to Shorewood to see their production of To Kill A Mockingbird. We stopped at my house to check what time the show starts when we stumbled upon an article posted by TMJ4. It turns out that the ENTIRE PRODUCTION of To Kill A Mockingbird, was cancelled. Now this came as a shock to us because there were quite literally hours from opening night. So we delve in deeper to find that people from the community that very same day had sent in threats of protest to the office. It was at the discretion of the superintendent at school board's to cancel the show.

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This was upsetting for many reasons. For one, the man hours put in by these students have now gone to waste. Parents and relatives who have travelled from all over the state now have nothing to enjoy of their child's work. Now I'm not going to come on here and preach the “plight of theatre students”. All extracurricular activities require hours of hard work and dedication, whether it be athletics or robotics or anything in between. A show being canceled opening night is the equivalent of working hours and putting all your effort into a summative project for school only to find out it's not actually being graded.

Now aside from how the students feel, we come to the reason I'm writing this article. The fact that the show was cancelled due to impending protest? Really? That's when you surrender? What happened to the arts being above mob mentality? What happened to “the show must go on”? A lot of art was/is made to question and even rebel against society and the group collective thought. When a threat of protest is made shouldn’t that  be encouraging? To Kill A Mockingbird is a show that bashes racism and follows the unfair proceedings of a court case against a black man. Isn’t that what we are fighting for in this country right now? Equal rights for people with different backgrounds and ethnicities?

Regardless of what we saw online, we decided to drive out to Shorewood anyway. We got to the auditorium and we were greeted by two students who were in the cast. They were sitting outside in the freezing wind telling people the show was cancelled so that no one would be confused about what was happening. One of the girls who was going to play Mrs. Dubose in the show talked to us about what happened. “We got a text saying meeting in the directors room after school, we had done a preview that morning where we did the show without saying the N-word and thought this conversation was going to be about that. Our director told us that we can either do the show without the N-word or we can’t do it at all. About halfway into the conversation we were told that now we can’t do the show at all and we were all pretty much more heartbroken than anything.”

They had spent 5 weeks working non-stop to make this show what it was and it was all thrown away hours before opening night. To anyone at Shorewood High School that might happen upon this article, on behalf of the OHS players we are truly sorry for what happened and we wish you the best in the future. What really confuses me about what has happened here and in America overtime is the change of focus and heart on race issues. When the book came out in 1964, people wanted to ban it because it was sympathizing with the plight of black people in America at that time. Which back then was seen as a reasonable argument. The civil rights movement was in full swing and only a year prior did MLK Jr. give his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Now fast forward to today and we are seeing the same problem of people wanting to ban the book. However, for a different reason this time. People have made the claims that the use of the N-word is too much for high-schoolers and it will “Make them uncomfortable.” See, the only caveat here is that IT’S SUPPOSED TO MAKE PEOPLE FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE! The point of the books initial release was to bring to light the absurdity and barbarity of how black people were being treated in America. Now people want to ban it for that reason. In recent years, America has seen a shift in ideology.  We went from having art that was supposed to bring to light serious historical topics to now where we must sensor these dark stories in fear that they will offend someone. To everything becoming offensive. I understand the history behind the N-word and why it shouldn’t be said, but the thing is, the N-word only has that power...because we give it that power.

In the book, the word is used as an offensive term, but that is the purpose of it. It was meant to make the audience uncomfortable to show the evilness of people from that time period. People have to realize the N-word is just that, a word. A word while yes, has a lot of history, is still just a word. People should never be beaten down by words or insults, isn’t that what they have been teaching us all these years? Don’t let words get you down? In Arthur Miller's first show Focus He talks about anti-semitism and how they eventually overcome it, when interviewed about this show he says “The only way Jewish people can overcome their discrimination is by knowing that they aren’t what the stereotypes say about them.” By making a big deal about this word, you are re-enforcing the strength it has. That exact same strength that you are so desperately trying to take away from it. A year ago we performed a show about nazi’s in the 1940’s and discussing what happens when nothing is said about the problems going on. When you try and ignore these issues and shun anyone who discusses them, you yourself are causing the damage you try to avoid.

All-in-all Shorewood High School is an amazing high school with a powerful  theatre program. What would have been an amazing show was shut down by people who were to scared to face history and discuss deep, meaningful issues. This is an issue that can only mean bad things in the future, because as we all know “Those who do not learn about history, are doomed to repeat it.”

POST NOTE:

As I was writing the end of this article on Sunday night, it came to my attention that the show has now been put back on for a special one-night showing on Wednesday evening. The Shorewood Superintendent released this statement

From Wednesday through late tonight, I have heard from and met with individuals and groups about the cancellation of our play ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. A common theme among both supporters of the cancellation and supporters of the performance was the need to engage in these difficult conversations about race and racial inequities as a way to improve our schools and our village.

We will launch these conversations this week with two events:

A Community Conversation on Race on Tuesday, October 16th from 7:30 pm - 9:00 pm in the Shorewood High School Auditorium.

A performance of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ on Wednesday, October 17 at 7 pm in the Shorewood High School Auditorium. A community talkback will occur after the performance. Information about tickets will be provided in another email.

We encourage all community members to come to both events. We will be working closely with the Shorewood Police Department to make sure the previous concerns around safety and security are addressed.

The District is committed to continuing these honest conversations about race as a way to identify areas for improvement, recognize the voices of students of color, and bring the community together.

Thank you to the students, parents, staff and community members who contributed to the conversation this past week. It has been a difficult four days. I appreciate your honesty and your patience and look forward to continuing these conversations with you throughout the year.”

-Dr. Bryan Davis

Shorewood School Superintendent

This is beyond amazing to hear, but I'm still a little frustrated with how this was handled. I was originally hoping that the school district would handle this problem a lot sooner. However, I will be thankful that this has been resolved and the students and parents can enjoy what I know is going to be an amazing performance. I am proud to see Shorewood actually take the initiative to hold this conversation about the show. On their website it even brings up the issue of using the n-word in a quote saying “The fact that our society still struggles to truly embrace racial equality symbolizes that our work is not yet done and that Harper Lee’s Mockingbird is as relevant in 2018 as it was in 1960, when the story was published.” Granted, I know this now makes this rest of the article before this kinda irrelevant to this show, but I still stand by my point. Art should never be silenced and Shorewood has taken that to heart.

To anyone at Shorewood High School that might happen upon this article, on behalf of the OHS players and the people of the art community, we are truly sorry for what happened and we wish you the best in the future.

 

Joe Bloom