Making A Scene

After the cancellation of its original musical, STA’s theater department pivots to perform “The Addams Family” on Nov. 2-5.

Senior+Keeley+Spencer+stands+on+the+edge+of+the+stage%2C+looking+out+into+the+auditorium+Oct.+19.+photo+by+Charlotte+Malone

Senior Keeley Spencer stands on the edge of the stage, looking out into the auditorium Oct. 19. photo by Charlotte Malone

Senior Keeley Spencer opens the double doors of the Music and Arts building on Sept. 7 with the stress of school, her social life, and extracurriculars swirling in her head. As she walks through the halls, one of her castmates greets her and lifts her anxieties: the stage is where she belongs. The theater department has always been an escape for Spencer, a home away from home.

 

“[The theater community] is a group where we all come together and share everything,” Spencer said. “We go through this long period of rehearsing, and we’re all doing it together. It’s a really big community. We’re like a family.”

 

Last Spring, the administration chose the musical “Head Over Heels” to be performed by the theater department in the Fall of 2022. The original play had been purchased with full rights and received the green light for advancement from the principal of student affairs, Liz Baker. As time progressed, themes in the musical regarding gender and sexuality were questioned by some stakeholders in the STA community.

 

“Even before our additional review, there were also some concerns raised by other stakeholders in our community,” STA president Siabhan May-Washington said. “Upon further review with Dr. Baker and the full administration, some concerns emerged regarding challenges to the traditional Gospel-rooted values of the Catholic Church. Our school was founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph. Recently, a new group called the St. Joseph Educational Ministries was established by the CSJs and approved by the Pope and the Vatican to ensure the continuance of their schools. One of the things that the St. Joseph Educational Ministries group is studying is opinions and guidance about LGBTQ topics and the Church’s position and view of them. As a result of these changes, we needed to wait and postpone the musical for guidance from the St. Joseph Educational Ministries. Due to this, we really did feel that at this time, some textures and things of the play pose a challenge or are antithetical to some of the traditional gospel-rooted positions for the Church.”

 

After finalizing these changes, the administration chose to inform the theater department prior to the entire STA community. On Sept. 7, the STA administrative team gathered the cast and crew of “Head Over Heels” in the auditorium and explained the need to postpone the play. 

 

“My first thought after hearing the news was, I’m not accepted as a member of the LGBTQ+ community,’ and I immediately started crying,” Spencer said. “At a Catholic school, it’s been hard to accept myself for who I am, and hearing the news made it even harder. I’d finally come to accept myself, and this sent me back. I think for everyone in the theater department, it really hits hard.”

 

The cast and crew had already begun rehearsals with many of the roles finalized. Performers memorizing lines had become attached to their characters, and costume work was underway. Head of the theater department, Shana Prentiss, was aware of the predicament that her community had been faced with, but struggled to come up with a solution to the many emotions and questions that arose from her students.

 

“We had already auditioned. We had already started rehearsals. My immediate thought was ‘what do we do for these kids, and how do we pivot from this when we’ve already started?’” Prentiss said. “Had it happened three weeks before, it would’ve been sad, but at least we wouldn’t have had that investment in it already. That was the hardest part for me, was that we have a cast, kids have scripts, we’ve started this, they’ve highlighted [their scripts]. Where do we go from here?”

 

The decision to change the play was not easy for May-Washington to make; her heart goes out to all the students who had parts in the play knowing the effect this change has on their feelings of acceptance and confidentiality.

 

“Certainly all decisions are made with prayer and contemplation. They’re not done lightly,” May-Washington said. “I do know that unfortunately, the play had been cast, but yet, in a school organization, we have to be flexible and we have to make decisions that are best for the full community. As a school leader, I love to say yes to students and make students happy, but as a school leader, and also personally as a parent, I can’t always say yes to my own kids and can’t always say yes to the STA Stars. Decisions have to be made that are best for the collective and best for the full community. We are a part of a community and we’re a part of the Church community, and therefore I have to calibrate decisions in accordance with all of our stakeholders and our guiding mission. In all decisions or disciplines, for some, there is disagreement and for others, those decisions may be glorious and affirming, but the intent is always to do what’s best and in accordance with our mission.”

 

The effect of the change in musicals extended beyond the theater department, impacting many members of the LGBTQ+ community and beyond within STA. Senior and treasurer of Gender-Sexuality Alliance (GSA) Sam Lif reflects on the decision both through the eyes of the community and the administration, understanding the gravity of the situation and the school’s intent. 

 

“As the leaders of GSA we decided to take the high road, and voice our sadness about the cancellation, letting the students know that STA protects our school,” Lif said. “We wanted to make sure that the student body was confident that STA is a safe and loving environment that accepts every student that walks in here.” 

 

President of GSA Marin Smith shares this sentiment and the desire to protect the students. 

 

“The announcement of the cancellation of “Head Over Heels” was a true heartbreak for GSA,” Smith said. “I can speak for myself that when it was first announced, I didn’t think it was real. Our first reaction was to communicate with the student body that Saint Teresa’s is a welcoming school to all students and supports the students’ identities. In the future, we hope to continue to be a strong presence on campus and provide a safe and confiding place for all students at STA.”

 

“Teachers and staff have been nothing but loving and supportive throughout the entire situation,” Lif adds. “Dr. Baker has been a true blessing for the protection of GSA; she is incredible in ensuring our students are protected as much as possible. We are so lucky to have her as our principal of student affairs. Along with that, the teachers have been amazing as well; after the statement was made, the leaders and I got countless messages from teachers—even ones that we weren’t taught by—expressing how much they support us as well. The love and support is insane at our school and I’m truly lucky to be here.”

 

The initial aftermath of changing the musical erupted in confusion and pain for a large number of the STA community who felt unheard or betrayed, but after the administration explained the decision-making process, an understanding was met with the overarching conclusion that STA does protect and cherish its students.

 

“It’s not about this community, this is not about STA,” Prentiss said. “This is about the outside world that is putting constraints on what this community looks like and sounds like.”

 

May-Washington echoes this sentiment.

 

“The world right now is divisive,” May-Washington said. “We’re blessed and so we have to continue to pray for those who are unfortunate and really cherish the specialness of our community and not take it for granted. We are fortunate that we can have a theater department and some schools don’t. The fact that we can even put on productions is an amazing, fortunate occurrence.”

 

May-Washington and the administration worked hard to find a loophole—anyway the original music could be altered and performed at STA, but couldn’t find one. May-Washington believes in promoting opportunities for all voices to be heard at STA and was aware of the students’ disappointment that might result from canceling the musical.

 

“Initially the administration and I, as well as Mrs. Prentiss, had some conversation about if there was any possibility of modifying the original play,” May-Washington said. “If we could have done that, it could have been a consideration. However, there are strict licensing restrictions. We found out that we are bound to licensing agreements that really prohibit much altering of the script. For that reason, it was also not a viable option. It’s okay to change a curse word or something here and there, but substantial alterations would have been inappropriate.”

 

Throughout the aftermath, May-Washington reflects on the decision and the time that went into trying to make the choice that would result in the best outcome for the STA community. Looking back, the importance of communication was highlighted by the events surrounding the musical. May-Washington wants to ensure the student body knows she is always willing to hear their voices and do her best to make the changes necessary for their well-being.

 

“The community should know that I believe in transparency and openness and going forward, we’ll certainly make sure that everyone understands completely that I have an open-door policy,” May-Washington said. “People can make an appointment with my assistant and email me and I’m always willing to meet with people to ensure that they fully understand decision-making.”

 

With the immediate stress and confusion surrounding the situation simmering and questions about the decision clarified, the overall outcome of the situation has been a deeper communal discussion of identity and what it means to be accepted. Prentiss values every student and believes self-expression is the key to a good life.

 

“It doesn’t matter to me who you are, just be you, and that’s awesome,” Prentiss said. “That’s all I want: for you to just be you.”