About Heathers The Musical
Dear Northwest Academy Community,
Northwest Academy’s Project Theatre curriculum has always embraced shows that are based on somewhat controversial themes that interest students and potentially cause a stir. It is our belief that if we want to raise empathetic and self-aware students, we have a duty to give them opportunities to experience hard emotions and subjects in a supportive and contained space. We want to continue putting forth a program that creates theatrical experiences with an artistic portrayal of ideas and themes and allows for a common experience, focal point, and language to inspire conversations both in and out of school. The productions we choose serve as the catalyst for these conversations, and then the school provides additional opportunities for education, discussion, and in the end, valuable lessons in dealing with uncomfortable themes.
What is Heathers the Musical?
Heathers the Musical (High School Edition) is a new adaptation of the Broadway musical based on the 1990’s cult classic movie. It is a dark comedy that tells the story of Veronica Sawyer; a brainy teenage misfit who hustles her way into the most powerful and ruthless clique at Westerberg High: the Heathers. But before she can get comfortable atop the high school food chain, Veronica falls in love with the new kid J.D. When Heather Chandler, the Almighty, kicks her out of the group, Veronica decides to bite the bullet and kiss Heather’s aerobicized butt...but J.D. has another plan for that bullet.
Adapted to be appropriate for a teenage cast and audience, the show deals with the important issues of suicide, gun violence, violent death/murder, body shaming, bullying, sexual assault, and homophobia. While the high school version of this musical has removed much of the language, sexual situations, drinking, and drug use found in the original, the author chose to leave in some language and themes that can be abrasive. For this reason, we have chosen to rate this show PG-13, which means Parents Strongly Cautioned – some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. As always, families are advised to do their own research on the show and make a decision about attending that they think is most appropriate for their children.
So why Heathers, and why now?
Our Artistic Team (Director Kristin Van Sickle, Choreographer Ariella Brown and Technical Director Tyler Buswell) met in May of last school year and discussed show options. Heathers was the first show that came up and felt like a perfect fit. Not only did the show musically suit our students, but we felt that this particular group of seniors could handle the subject matter and could lead in exactly the way that we would need. This musical tackles universal social issues that are faced by teenagers today in the same way that they faced students in the 80’s. “Where do I fit in?” “Who am I?” “How am I going to get through this?” “Will life always be like this?” This show brings up these questions in sometimes silly and over exaggerated ways, but it provides a place to explore and talk about it. Our students have been eager to discuss these questions as well as the tough subject matter.
How are we facilitating these conversations?
While the show provides an entertaining forum for these questions to be inspired, we realize that it is necessary and important to bring in experts to help process these ideas for our students and the school community. Northwest Academy has partnered with YouthLine to provide supplementary information and facilitate conversations for our school and cast. Throughout the run of the show, YouthLine will host an information table in the Main Building Commons for students, families, and all show attendees. This table will provide basic information about suicide prevention including (but not limited to) the warning signs, help seeking behavior, and local resources. NWA counselors Caitlin Gibb and Rebecca Koon will conduct debriefs of Heathers for our cast, and we are working to set up a “talk back” with audiences after the Friday show on December 10th.
In addition, I have consulted with an Intimacy Coordinator to help provide us with the language and knowledge needed to safely engage with our students around the subjects of sexual intimacy and bullying. These subjects can be difficult and are portrayed physically in the show. Our process has been centered on consent and the understanding that if a student is uncomfortable and says no, we do not do it. Parental consent was given before students auditioned.
OK, I get that the show will be educational, meaningful and important, but will it be fun?
Of course! With songs like “Candy Store”, “Freeze Your Brain” and “Beautiful”, families who choose to attend the show will be laughing, crying, and uncomfortable in a good way. It will be a fun night and a good conversation starter.
All the best,
Kristin Van Sickle
Heathers the Musical Director
Production and AAH Coordinator and Music Teacher
The school play is about WHAT!? Controversy on stage and why it matters, by Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post
“You could argue that the purpose of high school theater, as with all theater, is to connect us with the human condition. But once you get past the esoteric parts about the meaning of life and morality, the human condition gets messy and uncomfortable. … My instinct was to turn and run…. For the first time, I realized how the impulse to censor or shut down a high school production could grow from the seemingly good and parental intention to protect young people from uncomfortable or offensive territory. But what was I afraid of? The play? Or the offstage realities it portrayed? To find out, I’d have to face this ethical dilemma with more information.”
Keynote: School Theatre Can Be More, Howard Sherman, Director of the Arts Integrity Initiative at The New School College of Performing Arts School of Drama
“Theater is a window for students to a broader world. Exposure to that broader world may increase their understanding and acceptance of that broader world, which is why we see increases in Tolerance and Social Perspective Taking. Plays may be more effective than movies in helping students understand and accept that broader world because we react differently to human beings acting out a story in front of us than to representations of human beings on a screen. The in-person experience may create greater emotional connections.”
Which prepares students for the larger world, for the world they live in, the world they will face? The vast majority of your students will not become artists, but they are all citizens of this country, of this world. Can the work you do with them be more than just about developing skills and empathy, but about preparing them to look at life both critically and compassionately? Indeed, can school theatre speak directly to their lives as they are now?”
How and Why Heathers Got Remade for High School By Michael Gioia
“This new version of Heathers has been created to address the issues with bullies that kids face in high school,” artistic director Tony Marino says in a new release. “It has created this discussion every day with the kids about what they face and how they deal with it. It's been a really moving and cathartic experience for everyone.”
Northwest Academy is committed to inspiring students to discover their intellectual and artistic voices in a creative and supportive atmosphere fueled by curiosity and constructive challenge.