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  Sweeney Todd objectionsMay 03, 2014 7:16 AMKristie Bach
  RE:Sweeney Todd objectionsMay 04, 2014 8:09 AMAllan Dodson
  RE:Sweeney Todd objectionsMay 04, 2014 9:18 AMScott Piehler
  RE:Sweeney Todd objectionsMay 04, 2014 11:08 AMVicki Bartholomew
  RE:Sweeney Todd objectionsMay 04, 2014 4:59 PMMichael Tennant
  RE:Sweeney Todd objections
May 05, 2014 2:24 AMAlan Strait
  Re: Sweeney Todd objectionsMay 05, 2014 5:31 AMJoe Deer
  RE:Re: Sweeney Todd objectionsMay 05, 2014 9:33 AMJulie Woffington
  RE:Sweeney Todd objectionsMay 05, 2014 8:07 PMSusan Cox
  RE:Sweeney Todd objectionsMay 05, 2014 8:30 PMRon Wells
  RE:Sweeney Todd objectionsMay 06, 2014 3:35 PMHoward Sherman
  RE:Sweeney Todd objectionsMay 09, 2014 9:26 AMStephen Thompson
 

1.
Sweeney Todd objections
From: Kristie Bach
To: Open Forum
Posted: May 03, 2014 7:16 AM
Subject: Sweeney Todd objections
Message:

I have an original production of Sweeney Todd scheduled for the fall.  I have a very small group of parents (3 students out of 27) who are objecting to the cannibalism because they are not the "values" that our school wants to promote.  Anyone have any experience and have some good arguments for me?  BTW the principal is supporting me, but they are threatening to go to the school board.
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Kristie Bach
Traverse City MI
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2.
RE:Sweeney Todd objections
From: Allan Dodson
To: Open Forum
Posted: May 04, 2014 8:09 AM
Subject: RE:Sweeney Todd objections
Message:
We did Sweeney several years ago and ran into an almost identical problem. The principal supported us, but there was a small group of parents that objected to the play. We met with all the parents and talked about the themes of the show, particularly the theme of revenge and how Sweeney's obsession with revenge leads to his downfall.  The show actually does have a moral center despite the awful things that are going on.  We also drew comparisons to Shakespeare and talked about how no one would be objecting if we were doing MacB despite all the carnage in that one.  I'm not sure we really changed any minds, but the parents left it alone after that (most of them didn't even have kids in the drama program).

Two other things that helped:  We're a Catholic school, and we had support of the pastor.  Also, our principal started the meeting by saying, "Whether we do the show is not under discussion.  We're simply here to try to put some of your concerns at rest."

Sweeney ended up being the most successful show we had ever done at the time.  It encouraged more boys to enter the program, and really was the show that put us on the map.  I encourage you to soldier on and do the show if you can.

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Allan Dodson
Tucker GA
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3.
RE:Sweeney Todd objections
From: Scott Piehler
To: Open Forum
Posted: May 04, 2014 9:18 AM
Subject: RE:Sweeney Todd objections
Message:
I'll start with a hearty "Amen" to Alan's post. I've not staged Sweeney Todd, but Alan nails it.

In general, we're dealing with a play about a villain. A villain, who gets his in the end. And the Shakespeare comparison is spot-on. Does "Macbeth" promote ascension by murder? Only if you miss the point of the whole show.

The character of Sweeney Todd has a long and storied history. 
en.wikipedia.org

I would say Sweeney Todd no more promotes cannibalism than the Looney Tunes support dropping anvils on people's heads.

Good luck!

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Scott Piehler
Drama Director
Lilburn GA
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4.
RE:Sweeney Todd objections
From: Vicki Bartholomew
To: Open Forum
Posted: May 04, 2014 11:08 AM
Subject: RE:Sweeney Todd objections
Message:
Kristie,  In theatre everyone has choices: whether to direct a play or not, whether to be in a play or not.  Don't think of these parents as the enemy.  It doesn't matter what opinion other teachers on the sidelines have.  You have to look for your own motivation, your own standard in teaching under age students.   

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Vicki Bartholomew
Playwright
Sherwood OR
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5.
RE:Sweeney Todd objections
From: Michael Tennant
To: Open Forum
Posted: May 04, 2014 4:59 PM
Subject: RE:Sweeney Todd objections
Message:

Don't allow parents to dictate your theater program or the types of shows you perform. Listen to them, consider them, but in no way shape or form allow yourself to be bullied. There's too many other factors you have to consider of which they probably have no clue. The last thing you want is for these same people (or others) giving you grief every time you choose a production. As far as arguments go, these parents have probably seen the Johnny Depp version and are expecting the same thing. The case I'd present to the school board is that you aren't Tim Burton, you're your own director, It doesn't have to be as graphic, it doesn't have to be as bloody. This is your interpretation. However, if yours is as graphic and bloody, disregard that point of argument. Secondly, Sweeney Todd is not about cannibalism. It has cannibalism in it - its not what its about. It does in fact show heavy themes of morality all throughout. Explain to the school board that you're not promoting murder and cannibalism. Its used to teach a moral point. If the school board is against this, simply question other choices.... are they willing to cut MacBeth out of the literature books? Hamlet has a pretty high body count, is that off the table too? If so, suggest that you simply do Our Town for every show, every year. That's safe. But really, the school board just needs to understand what you're doing. You are putting on a very famous title which teaches morality but often gets a bad wrap by those who don't understand how to interpret plays/musicals or characters. And did you say it was an original work? That's exciting!!! Get the school board on your side by letting them know that the parents have grossly misunderstood the play and the theme. Of course your school's values doesn't promote cannibalism. What school would? But the school does promote morality tales, and showing what happens to the unjust, and how the tangled web that we weave plays out in the long run. I'm sure your school also teaches critical thinking and never to blindly eat whats fed to you... even if its served nicely in a pie. I'm particularly interested  in how all of this goes. Please keep me posted.

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Michael Tennant
Hemet CA
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6.
RE:Sweeney Todd objections
From: Alan Strait
To: Open Forum
Posted: May 05, 2014 2:24 AM
Subject: RE:Sweeney Todd objections
Attachment(s):
Message:
Ultimately if you have the backing of your admin you are usually going to be okay. Parents can have influence on those who do control your job. If you must, don't require those kids to see your show, but don't let the rest of your kids miss out, it is a good show. If your admin supports you and you do the show well then you should find yourself without major problems. If your admin wasn't backing you, then I would reconsider.

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Alan Strait
Teacher
CCSD
Henderson NV
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7.
Re: Sweeney Todd objections
From: Joe Deer
To: Open Forum
Posted: May 05, 2014 5:31 AM
Subject: Re: Sweeney Todd objections
Message:
I've read a handful of the comments and thought I'd weigh in. 

I recommend a meeting with the objecting parents to discuss the show. Make it clear to them that you also find the violence/revenge that Todd embarks upon as horrific. The cannibalism, his blind revenge and insensitivity to anyone but himself are clearly Sondheim and Wheeler's point. They believe that something in Victorian (and contemporary) society flipped a switch in him. It is similar to the violence we see in schools (Columbine, Sandy Hook, etc.). This is a great opportunity to discuss these issues with your students. The show doesn't endorse violence, it condemns it clearly. Remember that the only survivor of this corrupt society is the boy, Toby. He is the only hope for a future without that violence. It is a strongly anti-violence piece, that doesn't seek to glorify the gore. Absolutely unlike the SAW movies, or any other slasher films. 

Hope this helps. It is a remarkable piece of theatre that can teach students so much about so many aspects of themselves. 

Good luck with this,

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Joe Deer
Distinguished Professor of Musical Theatre
Wright State University
Dayton OH
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8.
RE:Re: Sweeney Todd objections
From: Julie Woffington
To: Open Forum
Posted: May 05, 2014 9:33 AM
Subject: RE:Re: Sweeney Todd objections
Message:
Have you seen this video of high school senior Laura Lingar defending Sweeney Todd as an appropriate play for high school students? 

Laura Lingar testimony

It is one of the most inspiring stories I have heard from a student since I joined EdTA. This production had been cancelled by the administration, and after receiving letters from all over the country, lots of media attention including Howard Sherman's involvement, and holding a hearing with over 300 people, the superintendent reversed the decision. Here is a link to one of the articles:

Sweeney Todd article in Plaistow, NH

And please watch this video - I promise it is worth 2 minutes of your time!

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Julie Woffington
Executive Director
Educational Theatre Association
Cincinnati OH
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9.
RE:Sweeney Todd objections
From: Susan Cox
To: Open Forum
Posted: May 05, 2014 8:07 PM
Subject: RE:Sweeney Todd objections
Message:
I think you should meet with the parents and hear their concerns. If their students choose not to participate they should not be punished for their choice. I agree with the parents it is not a wise choice for high school. Every message you choose to tell touches someone with the values in the play. If these are the values you choose to promote you have that right but they also have a right not to be a part of your value system.

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Susan Cox
Drama Director
La Crescenta CA
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10.
RE:Sweeney Todd objections
From: Ron Wells
To: Open Forum
Posted: May 05, 2014 8:30 PM
Subject: RE:Sweeney Todd objections
Message:
Meet with the parents, yes, and listen to their concerns, yes, but the "value system" you speak of is in the hands of the playwright. Sweeney Todd is a great HS endeavor and the discussion about the moral values (or lack of them) of Sweeney, the time and place (history), etc. etc. is all valuable stuff from an education standpoint. -- not to mention the positive reaction most people will have to a good solid production. Parents can choose to keep their kids away, but the learning should still go on. -- especially since there is a "simplified" version that removes the most intense stuff.
Letting anyone's negative (and probably uninformed - have they read the script?)  opinion alter the course of a solid educational experience is wrong. Instead of bending to the will of parents, teach them about the art, and its powerful message to us all.

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Ron Wells
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11.
RE:Sweeney Todd objections
From: Howard Sherman
To: Open Forum
Posted: May 06, 2014 3:35 PM
Subject: RE:Sweeney Todd objections
Message:
Having been involved at several schools where objections to SWEENEY have arisen, allow me to share a letter sent to the leadership at Timberlane High School in New Hampshire by Joseph Dougherty, executive producer and writer of ABC Family's PRETTY LITTLE LIARS, who while writing with some specificity about that one case, make a strong argument for the value of the Sondheim show:

"I am not a member of the Plaistow community and have no stake in decisions regarding Timberlane Regional High School.  But I do have experience writing for a largely teenage audience, and it is from that point of view I'm reaching out to you in the matter of the Timberlane High School's proposed production of "Sweeney Todd."

  "Sweeney Todd" is a challenging piece about damaged characters who let revenge and selfishness rule their diminished hearts with tragic results.  The rewards of facing the challenges of mounting this play would benefit the students and the community.
There is an adolescent appetite for mystery and mayhem.  It comes from the place of campfire ghost stories that delight as they chill.  They are rites of passage, like literary rollercoasters; things that have to be faced as part of growing up. 
For all its frightening theatricality, "Sweeney Todd" is a remarkably moral tale, in which evil committed in response to evil reaps only misery.  The possibility of forgiveness is overwhelmed by the blind hunger for revenge and we leave the auditorium watchful for the secret Sweeney lurking inside us.  We keep from becoming the murderous barber (who almost destroys the thing he claims to love) only by heeding his cautionary tale.  The piece is as relevant as it is entertaining.
I urge you to reconsider the decision to cancel the proposed production of "Sweeney Todd."  Please, do not deny the students an opportunity to work intimately on a tremendous piece of American theatre that will take cast and audience on an admittedly harrowing journey, but one they'll never forget.  One of the ways we hold on to our humanity, is to be brave enough to experience stories about people who have lost theirs.
Again, it is not my desire to interfere in the affairs of a community I'm not a part of.  I send you this as a writer who knows about the educational and therapeutic value of a good scare.  I trust you will make the best choice for the students."



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Howard Sherman
New York NY
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12.
RE:Sweeney Todd objections
From: Stephen Thompson
To: Open Forum
Posted: May 09, 2014 9:26 AM
Subject: RE:Sweeney Todd objections
Message:

Just an add thought about the 'cannibalism' issue. Though literal within the context of the play, the cannibalism is largely symbolic and polemic and represents the way that a corrupt hierarchical society feeds on each other and itself. This is best exemplified in the song "Try the Priest" to quote:

TODD
The history of the world, my love --

LOVETT
Save a lot of graves,
Do a lot of relatives favors!

TODD
Is those below serving those up above!

LOVETT
Ev'rybody shaves,
So there should be plenty of flavors!

TODD
How gratifying for once to know

BOTH
That those above will serve those down below!

Stephen Thompson
Paris AR
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