by NATALIE PENRY
Despite equal amounts of work, our community
continues to glorify sports while ignoring theatre.
For one week every October, there are about 45 kids who practically live in the WHS auditorium. They do homework, eat, sleep, and breathe in the smell of sawdust from the worn-down set shop. And then for three nights, they slather on more makeup than a YouTube MUA, and sing, dance and act their hearts out for an audience full of friends, family, and patrons of the arts.
They are the Thespians.
They are Westfield Theatre.
They are tired of being ignored for the sake of sports.
It’s been pretty well documented that the fine arts are beneficial for kids in and out of school (check out this Washington Post Article if you want to learn more). Granted, athletics also bring positive aspects, such as teamwork, grit, and responsibility; however, the benefits do not vastly outweigh those of theatre, creating a question when you look at the staggering difference in community support. It’s almost as if we, as a city, would rather watch teenage boys battle for possession of a ball than see teenagers expertly communicate common themes that run through humanity while singing or dancing in bedazzled costumes. I understand this is a big accusation...so let’s bring in the facts to back it up.
FACT: There were just over 915 people total that came to see the most recent Westfield High School play, The Great Gatsby.
FACT: That’s been the highest attended play in recent school history.
FACT: There’s a lot more than 915 people that visit the stadium for sporting events.
FACT: The WHS stadium holds 5,000 people.
FACT: The WHS auditorium holds just over 800 people.
FACT: Student tickets are the same price for games and shows.
FACT: The stadium is under five years old.
FACT: The auditorium and most of its equipment is older than every student at Westfield High School.
OPINION: It seems sort of like the odds are stacked against theater, huh?
A small clarification: we are in no means lecturing the administration or teachers on how the programs are run. The Westfield High School Thespian Troupe is fortunate to have an administration that approves shows like Grease, The Great Gatsby, and Les Miserables. These are shows with hot topics and touchy content that teenagers should be exploring in high school. Not every school gets the opportunity to touch on darker themes in literature, and we thank our school district for allowing us to grow as performers and share these moving storylines with our audience.
Granted, who are we to sit here and lecture people about what to do in their free time? But it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating to see two separate groups of students put equal effort into their extracurriculars and see one group receive local celebrity status while the other group gets shunned for embracing their artistic side. Let’s be real: both groups of students are practicing after school for hours, balancing between academics and extracurriculars. Both actors and athletes work their bodies and minds to prepare for their next game or performance. All of these students find joy and passion in their activity; unfortunately, the community doesn’t treat them the same. One of these groups gets censored on what they are and are not allowed to say in a show (think curse words, innuendos, “Oh my God” to “Oh my gosh”). One of these groups is dealing with equipment older than they are. One of these groups is made fun of by their peers, as some shame certain students for joining it. Spoiler Alert: It’s not the athletes.
Of course, I am biased towards theater. I honestly find the Arts to be the highlight of my life. It’s my past, present, and hopefully my future, which is why I’m so passionate about this. While I’m the first one to cheer at sporting events, and I follow the NHL religiously, there’s just something about live performance. It’s almost magical when it all comes together. The lights, the sound, the pure energy radiating from a small group of techies and actors. We pour our hearts and souls into a show for seven to nine weeks at a time. We accept the fact that plays and musicals will never draw crowds as big as Friday Night Football, but we take it in stride and don our black/neon/camo and show school spirit in the student section. We perform 200 yards away from the football field, and yet the helicopters and TV news never venture to our side of the auditorium lot. There is so much love in my heart for sports and theater, and it discourages me that some cannot say the same.
It is worth noting, that when we discussed this topic with friends and family, there was a very popular reaction: we can’t expect people to come to these shows because of [**insert bland and basic excuse**]. Answers varied from “kids aren’t always welcome at productions, so it’s harder for young parents to plan a night out” to “some people just want to sit back and relax and the end of the day, not watch a journey of self-discovery,” and there was even a “hey, some people are just bored during shows. There’s not much action!”
Well. Am I blushing?
Is that really the reason a play’s attendance is so pitiful compared to a sporting event? It’s boring and taxing and difficult to sit through? What happened in the past 400 years? Shakespeare was a celebrity, his plays were the envy of entertainment everywhere. But now, in the most technologically advanced century in existence, we are too bored and too uninterested to appreciate live theatre. Society changed. But that’s good, because it means society can change again.
So, I leave you with a quote from The West Wing, which I may or may not have been watching while writing this:
“It’s not our job to appeal to the lowest common denominator... it’s our job to raise it.”