Last week, I wrote about over whether or not high school theatre awards actually help or hurt high school theatre departments. Reaction to the piece was mixed with some sharing their positive experiences and others who had quite the opposite.
In the past few days, an uproar in Pittsburgh regarding their high school theatre awards proves how these types of awards can create issues and cause students and parents to lose focus on what's really important when it comes to the performing arts.
Tonight, students from all over the Pittsburgh, PA area are going to converge on the Benedum Center Downtown for the annual Gene Kelly Awards. The awards are one of the participating theatres with the national awards known as "The Jimmys". So I'm not going to downplay how important these awards can be to area high schools.
But while schools like Pine-Richland, West Allegheny, and Woodland Hills will be crossing their fingers for wins inside the theatre, students and parents from Pittsburgh Obama will be marching outside, protesting that their production of "Dreamgirls" wasn't nominated. Of course, that could be because they never performed the musical at all.
The Barack Obama Academy of International Studies(better known as Pittsburgh Obama), is a grade 6-12 public school in the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh. In addition to being ranked as one of the best schools in the entire state, Pittsburgh Obama has an incredibly strong theatre program and have been an annual staple at the Gene Kelly Awards. In fact, their 2017 production of "Sister Act" won one of the Best Musical awards for their respective budgets.
Unfortunately, this year's production of "Dreamgirls" had some issues. According to the school, "waning student participation in rehearsals led to too small of a cast to recreate the theatrical experience of ‘Dreamgirls.’ School leaders had no other option but to cancel the musical this year."
Because the school canceled the production, it was ineligible to qualify for the Gene Kelly Awards. So Pittsburgh Obama was shut out from the ceremony this year. This didn't sit well with parents and students, so they're going to march outside the awards ceremony tonight. According to organizers, they are not protesting the Gene Kelly Awards itself, but rather the fact that the school’s cancellation of “Dreamgirls” made the students ineligible to win any of the awards.
So, I want to make it very clear that I feel terrible for the students at Pittsburgh Obama. No student should ever see one of their theatre productions shut down. However, staging a protest at the Gene Kelly Awards is a bad move. Because it's only going to be misinterpreted and paint these students and parents as sore losers.
Their anger and vitriol should be directed at the school for canceling the production. However, if we are to take what the school said was the cause of the cancellation, then I have to look to the students to figure out this issue on their own. The school said the reason why the show was canceled was due to low student participation. If that's the real issue, then the students themselves need to wonder how the arts are being embraced by their own community. If there is an interest issue at their school, they are the only ones who can help fix that. Unless there are obstacles the school puts in place that hinder participation(such as lofty activity fees), I don't see how this is their fault that they had to cancel the show.
It's also certainly not the Gene Kelly Awards' fault either. They can't reward a show that was never performed. Because first of all, that would be ludicrous and secondly, it would take opportunities from another school that did perform to be eligible.
This truly sucks for the students at Pittsburgh Obama, but staging a protest at the awards ceremony, for what is clearly an internal issue, will only cast a negative light on the students and for what might be some real issues going on at their school will be looked at as sore losers by others.