Friday, March 26, 2010

Balance of appropriateness

Earlier this month I attended a production of the musical Spelling Bee at the Ruhala Performing Arts Center. As with most productions there, the performances were superior and the young performers did an excellent job. Not only are they talented, but more importantly, they have put in a lot of hard work.

While their production was charming and wonderful, there were several times I found myself distinctly uncomfortable. Discomfort during a theatrical performance isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is a sign that there is something to think more about.

When I first saw The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, all of the characters were played by adults--including the kids. This added a certain humor factor to it. It also gave us even more of a feeling of looking at the kids through adult eyes.

Spelling Bee is a fun musical that takes a very authentic look at the real struggles of junior high kids--especially those who are outcasts for one reason or another. If stage shows were rated, this would would probably get a PG-13, with one song about the young man's "unfortunate erection" making it push the edge of an R rating. There is also a fair amount of language which is both vulgar and profane.

If I acknowledge that nothing in the show is outside of the language, thoughts, or conversations of junior high aged students, is it hypocrisy to be uncomfortable when I see actors as young as age 12 performing it?

After much thought, I've concluded that the answer to that is no. Ultimately, it is a parental choice whether it is appropriate for their child to participate in musical or dramatic pieces with adult content. For myself, I would not have my child perform in a musical like The Spelling Bee. There is a difference between knowing that children use certain language and joke about certain subjects and having an adult demand that they do so and having them perform it in front of audiences.

When you teach math, you don't ask students to attempt trig before they've learned how to multiply and divide. So it is with other subjects. Students of life shouldn't have everything thrown on them at once. When we respect the learner, we allow the learner to take things in stages and steps without dumping things on them before they are ready. So it is with issues of sex. I'm all in favor of open, honest discussions with children about sexual topics--and in letting them lead the way when determining what they are ready for and what they are not. However, we already live in an over-sexualized society in which messages about sexuality are far from healthy. I'm not eager to push my child to explore topics of physical desire when he is still working out more basic social and decision-making skills.

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