It was news that made headlines all over the world – two Perth high schools canceling their production of a popular musical because of its outdated themes.
Year 7 to 10 students at Scotch College and Presbyterian Ladies’ College were scheduled to perform the iconic Grease musical last year but after concerns were raised, particularly from female students, over its alleged sexist, offensive and anti-feminist themes, the show was canned .
But the decision was met with divided opinion, with reactions ranging from support for their stand to the students being labeled as ‘overly sensitive’.
This year, the schools are back with a new production of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, which musical theater experts have labeled as a safer choice for students, especially young women.
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WA Academy of Performing Arts Musical Theater course coordinator Craig Dalton said it was important for people to be aware of the generational shift in students, with some students now seeing their work as “a personal inflict” on them.
“That’s the current generation of students at this time – they’re much more aware of their interactions with one another, they’re more respectful to one another and they extend their expectations of conduct to people,” Mr Dalton said.
“Anything that’s designed by adults to be performed by children needs to have careful consideration. Students need to be involved with the decision-making process and feel empowered to say something, which can sometimes be a tricky thing in a training institution.
“It depends on how the schools will perform Charlie and The Chocolate Factory because I’m sure there’s some challenging themes in it, including a focus on how people look, so there’s always care to be taken.
“I can not think of any piece that’s completely free from challenges, so it’s important for schools to be aware of this and ensure students take care of one another.”
Written for the stage in 1971, Grease follows the story of ‘good girl’ Sandy Olsson who essentially changes who she is to become more sexier and daring in order to win the love of her summertime fling, Danny Zuko.
Students also expressed concerns about some of the lyrics in the show’s songs, in particular from ‘Summer Nights’ with the line “Did she put a fight?”, Which has been criticized for being out of step with the #MeToo era.
Two high schools cancel Grease musical production over outdated, sexist themes
At the time of cancellation, Arts Minister David Templeman criticized the decision as “over the top”, but Independent Theater Association of WA president Kimberley Shaw continues to defend their decision.
“Grease was originally written as a parody, but when it came out as a film it lost its impact in many ways, so it does send the wrong message to girls,” Ms Shaw said.
“If you’re a 14-year-old girl playing a character like Rizzo or Sandy, you’re living with that message in your head for months, which is not an appropriate thing we should be doing to our kids.
“There are problems with ‘risky’ themes in a lot of musicals, so I understand why the schools are going with a much more sensible choice this year.
“With Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the students will not be made to live with any negative messages and performing it is not going to impact their psyche.”
Scotch College and Presbyterian Ladies’ College will perform Roald Dahl’s Charlie and The Chocolate from June 15 to 18 at Scotch’s Dickinson Theater.
For tickets, visit events.humanitix.com/tours/charlie-and-the-chocolate-factory.
Both schools were contacted for comment.