With each piece of art, there are questions that the viewer must ask themselves: What is the point? What is the overall message?
When we watched the recent production of “High School Musical”, we asked ourselves these questions. The point of the musical, or the message, is about the struggles of balancing all that you love without compromising on anything. It’s about manoeuvring through high school while staying true to yourself.
Yes, this production was definitely feel-good, easy to sing along to and it provoked a strong sense of nostalgia for High School students (or even for parents). But, the fact that we knew all too well what was going to happen and were able to predict the script meant the musical was no longer exciting to watch. For a well-known production to be successful, there needs to be a certain complexity to the story-line.
Take “Romeo and Juliet.” We all know the plot – despite warnings from their friends, the lovers fall in forbidden love and die because they can’t live without each other. But, there is so much more to “Romeo and Juliet” than just the plot. There are strong messages about fate, loyalty, filial duty and love. Every time you watch a “Romeo and Juliet” production, you learn more about these themes and you take something new away from it.
With “High School Musical,” there simply is not enough of a bigger message for us to take away after the 10th time watching it. It’s the typical high school story and, sure, the production hints at bigger messages of loyalty and commitment – but it’s only surface level.
So, why was “High School Musical” chosen this year? The administration lets the theater department have a pretty loose reign. Drama Teacher Buck Herron is able to choose most of his productions however he likes.
The department has shown provocative plays such as “Avenue Q,” which had many bigger messages that engaged students and faculty in meaningful discourse long after the curtain had closed. The musical acted as a springboard for taboo conversations that might not have been initiated otherwise, such as the concept that “everyone’s a little bit racist,” and the tensions that arise from being overly politically correct.
Last year’s play, “A Light in the Darkness,” also told a meaningful, true story, which was strengthened by the presence of the actual Eva Schloss – the main character of the play – sitting amongst the audience. Watching this play brought to life an atrocious time in history, which we study in history class. As the audience, we were forced to face the reality of what happened during the Holocaust of World War II and learn from past mistakes.
If ASL allows such provocative performances, then why are we wasting that privilege to put on plays like “High School Musical,” that don’t have nearly as much substance?
While we appreciate the direct application of “High School Musical” to high school students, the message seemed somewhat shallow.
Herron has made clear his desire to expose ASL students to a variety of plays and musicals, ranging all genres and time periods, but was “High School Musical” truly the only choice?
The point of plays, in our eyes, should be to provoke further dialogue, ideas and discussions from the viewer: Plays should provide viewers with a platform to address large-scale issues.
Without a real message, art is not art. Art is just a painting on a wall, a blend of color pigments depicting a scene. Without a message, a play is just a gathering of people acting out a situation.
Although “High School Musical” had fabulous acting and flashy dance numbers, it didn’t contain a deeper message. We believe that this very fact diminished the quality of the production as a whole.