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Parents Planning to Protest at Amity BOE Meeting

They say the Drama Department's musical production is too violent.


A group of parents and community organizations are reportedly planning to protest tonight at the Amity Board of Education meeting for what they are calling a "despicable" decision.

The protest, made public in an announcement posted on Patch, questions the high school Drama Department's musical production choice, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Of the musical, the announcement, posted by Laura Carroll, states:

"Amity High School students are assigned and taught to perform the horrific acts of gruesome murder, cannibalism, rape, suicide, etc."

"Our children and communities are still going through the effects of the Sandy Hook massacre. What is Amity’s message to these children? Amity High School is supporting violence in our community."

The play is described this way, in a review written by Richard Eder and published in The New York Times on March 2, 1979, following its Broadway debut:

"It is the story of a barber, unjustly convicted and transported to Australia by a wicked judge who coveted his wife. Upon his return the barber takes the name Sweeney Todd, and takes his general and particular revenge by slitting the throats of his clients, who are then turned into meat pies by his industrious associate, Mrs. Lovett."

For Eder, the production was an "extraordinary, fascinating, and often ravishingly lovely effort," yet, he writes:

"There is, in fact, no serious social message in Sweeney; and at the end, when the cast lines up on the stage and points to us, singing that there are Sweeneys all about; the point is unproven."

"The Amity Board of Education Meeting on Monday, March 11, 2013 will be faced by parents and community organizations protesting this despicable form of education," Carroll writes.

The meeting is at 6:30 p.m., in the cafeteria at Amity Regional High School, 25 Newtown Road in Woodbridge.

The agenda includes discussion and possible action on the superintendent's proposed budget for 2013-14, among a host of other items. The full agenda is attached as a PDF to this article.

Chip Deffaa March 11, 2013 at 11:22 AM
Well, the organizer of this protest certainly sounds like a small-minded Yahoo to me. She should be grateful students are being introduced to the work of Stephen Sondheim, generally recognized to be the greatest living writer in musical theatre today.
Jennifer Jump March 11, 2013 at 12:52 PM
Many students did not agree with this choice including our household...we just choose not to support the choice by not participating in any way. This selection was choosen long before December and students were discussing the show in September. If you want to make a statement boycott the performance, BOE didn't select the show.
Garrett Stack March 11, 2013 at 01:16 PM
Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, "The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," is quite rightly regarded as a masterpiece of musical theater and held in the highest regard by the theater community. Its origins date back more than 150 years to Victorian England and numerous vehicles have been mounted to tell the gruesome tale of revenge and enterprise. Like most Gothic literature it contains elements of horror and romance. The opportunity for young people to be exposed to this genre and more importantly to the magnificent score Sondheim created is without equal. I have personal connections to the Sandy Hook tragedy and grieve every day. But to enjoin the production Sweeney Todd at Amity High School because it contains elements of gothic literature, yes violence and murder, is to say don't read Edgar Allen Poe and never watch a Frankenstein movie again. These high school students know the difference between fact and fiction. And Director Robert Kennedy is to applauded for his bold choice, made long before Sandy Hook, of this difficult opera. The students, as we have seen in the past, will rise to the challenge and thrill us.
John anderson March 11, 2013 at 03:10 PM
Well, at least the wholly innocent high schoolers aren't being asked to take part in one of the plays of murder, sex, lying and cheating written by Shakespeare! John Anderson, retired high school English teacher
Margaret Bottone March 11, 2013 at 03:32 PM
Clearly, those in protest are simple-minded,most likely uneducated, and unappreciative of the arts. Our children (Amity students) are lucky to have a theater program , and not to mention the amazing talent of the drama department heads.Get a life, folks!
Suzanne March 11, 2013 at 03:44 PM
I'm so glad people are protesting. I am a retired school teacher also and was appalled at the choice of Sweeney Todd. It doesn't matter when it was chosen because there are so many other better choices that could have been made. Just the fact that the children wanted to do it also makes one wonder about the amount of violence children are exposed to in life.
Steve Scarpa March 11, 2013 at 05:14 PM
The ignorance of the protestors is rather stunning. The world is not a simple place. It is the goal of great art (something Sweeney Todd unequivocally is) to hold a mirror up to society and reflect what is both good and bad about the world in which we live. A protest of this sort starts a slippery slope - what's next? Books that make people uncomfortable in the classroom? So much of our current crop of television, film and theatre asks nothing of the viewer, lulling our society into a collective obliviousness. The Amity drama program has both tried to entertain audiences and to present work that is socially conscious, giving students the entire realm of the artistic experience. This is important work and shouldn't be impeded.
Mary Beth Nelsen March 11, 2013 at 06:40 PM
So- no more Shakespeare?
Aldon Hynes March 11, 2013 at 06:48 PM
Does Amity High School have a class in marketing? Because the announcement of the protest on Patch, with a headline that misrepresents what is going on at the high school, together with the article and the comments is really a brilliant guerrilla marketing campaign. I applaud the person who thought of it.
Lara Morton March 11, 2013 at 06:56 PM
They don't need the help. They sell out every show, every year.
Michael March 11, 2013 at 07:14 PM
im a student at amity. you guys are parents your kids are in high school...ages 14-18...i think theyre old enough to watch a play and realize its just that...a play. im not into theatre at all but stop trying to stop the play bc its simply not gonna happen. youre kids arent in elementary school anymore hate to break it to you. theyre growing up stop treating them like babies. mark my words the show will go on
Tim Maynard March 11, 2013 at 07:15 PM
I'll bet these are the same folks protesting outside movie theaters every time a new 'slasher' film comes out. Oh wait, that doesn't happen. Certainly, they don't allow their kids to see movies at an establishment that condones, supports and promotes filth like that. I mean, those movies have HORRIBLE music scores.
Ilene Kramer March 11, 2013 at 07:46 PM
First I would like to say I'm sorry to those of you out there that feel you have to protest Sweeney Todd. The Sandy Hook tragedy rocked us all. Teachers out there, those working or retired, please remember why you are teachers. You chose a career to teach, nuture and augment right and wrong of society. Performing arts comes in the form of Musicals, Dramas, Comedies, and Tragedies. This years Amity High School production just happens to be a "Tragedy". A few years back I attended a performance of Sweeney Todd at Hopkins High School in New Haven. It was a "tragedies" go, gruesome in content, but rich in acting and music. The audience did not come out feeling compelled to cause harm because of the content of the play, but instead came out buzzing about the talented young men and women. Lets try and reframe why people attend plays.....for the love of ART. Lets focus on the "real" issues that are fostering violence in society today. If you have never been an actor/actress, vocalist or dancer, you can not appreciate the therapuetic value in these skills. Amity students or any other student for that matter, did not choose to be a part of the production of Sweeney Todd because it was violent, they chose to be a part of the artistic masterpiece that it is. Lastly, thank you to Rob and Andrea Kennedy and the production team of Amity Creative Theater for enriching our community with amazing talent and art.
Lara Morton March 11, 2013 at 08:13 PM
Sondheim's 'Sweeney Todd' is widely regarded as a masterpiece, featuring some of the most difficult music ever written for a musical. It is epic tragedy, a cautionary tale with a twist ending that masterfully and heartbreakingly illustrates the devastation sown by coveting thy neighbor's possessions, and the resulting poison to the soul that is vengeance... In its message, it is not unlike Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' or Macbeth'. It's murderous madness depicted at the highest level of artistry, and only the strongest theater companies can pull it off well. Having seen numerous productions at Amity High School, I can confidently say their 'Sweeney' will be a magnificent and moving show. It's what they do, and it is why they ALWAYS sell out all of their performance dates, because their fine work has become a CELEBRATED and ANTICIPATED EVENT in their community-- up there with the homecoming football game! Imagine that. These are not the kids who are sitting in their basements running down pedestrians and mugging/raping/murdering prostitutes while "playing" Grand Theft Auto eight hours a day. To do what they do requires all hands on deck-- teachers and parents going beyond any reasonable call of duty and students utilizing every natural resource they have from head to toe and every skill they have learned in school (literature, music, math, engineering, woodworking, art, design, architecture, history, etc.) to bring to life a stone soup masterpiece of a musical.
George Grotheer March 11, 2013 at 08:14 PM
As both a student of Amity and a cast member of Sweeney Todd, I am utterly appalled by this. We are no longer children, we are young adults, who are perfectly capable of discerning the difference between fictional theater and reality. We have been working tirelessly for months, and are quite proud of our efforts. As written in the United States Constitution, the first amendment prohibits the abridging of our freedoms of speech and expression. This effort is in direct violation of our rights. I hope the administration and board of education will continue to support great theater at Amity Regional High School. Hope you enjoy the show!
Kim Hynes March 11, 2013 at 08:28 PM
I keep looking for the "like" button for this comment! +1 Garrett.
Eliott Demelier March 11, 2013 at 09:02 PM
YEA MISS KRAMER!! great insight, I love it!
Sean Morley March 11, 2013 at 10:48 PM
I would like to echo the sentiments of my neighbors above in support of Amity Creative Theater and wish their production great success. I was fortunate enough to see the original Broadway production of Sweeney Todd with Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury when I was in high school, and I was awed and enriched by the experience.
Bella March 12, 2013 at 01:16 AM
Kudos to the students and teachers with the discipline to take on a Sondheim show. I doubt any of these outraged parents have the chops to sing "Green Finch and Linnet Bird." Some of us find the power of theatre healing. Mr. Grotheer, break a leg. :)
Craig Dellert March 12, 2013 at 02:47 AM
Sweeny Todd is a wonderful opportunity and challenge for the Amity Creative Theatre program. The kids are working real hard to put together a great show. I can't wait to see the results. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweeney_Todd:_The_Demon_Barber_of_Fleet_Street
Carla March 12, 2013 at 03:05 PM
This silly debate reminds me of the book burning days. It's a play people, let's grow up.
orange mom March 12, 2013 at 05:35 PM
Please folks. To attack those who have reservations about the choice to produce this musical in a public high school...to refer to them as small minded and uneducated, is in itself small minded and uneducated. Have you so little respect for the rights of others to express their views that you need to turn to name calling and bullying? I have a child participating in the production of this show and very much look forward to seeing it, however I fully respect others rights to free speech. I encourage these discussions as they are a healthy part of maintaining balance and respect within our high school community, as well as the community at large. Why is it that we only have the right to free speech if we're on the "right" side? Think on it and if you are an adult, please set a healthy example for the kids and refrain from your bullying and name calling.
richard March 12, 2013 at 10:00 PM
Because we disagree with the choice (what if Sandy Hook happened yesterday?!), we are simple minded, uneducated and unappreciatative of the arts....? We travel to NY 3 times a month to see Broadway and off Broadway plays...When was the last time you went? We contribute to the Amity theater arts department...We have been intimately involved in television, film and theater for over 30 years....There are lots of classic plays...You have to be a repugnicant. Typical.
Amity parent March 13, 2013 at 01:06 AM
The dialogue last night was indeed respectful. As repeated by all, we do need to come together as a community and a country to address the issue of violence in our culture. The question I have is why now, 4 weeks before opening night of a high school production that had been in the planning stages since last fall? All this hype and sensationalized jargon about "violence back at Amity" has only derailed the hardwork and efforts of a tremendous group of high school students and their director. This is an extracurricular activity offered to those who choose to participate and members of the community who choose to attend. It's a choice and not appropriate for everyone. The dialogue is critical but the timing of this "protest" was opportunistic and only hurt a group of committed students and their director who been looking forward to the oppotunity showcase their talents.
Jonas Fogg March 13, 2013 at 02:21 AM
This clearly has nothing to with anyone's right to free speech. They are not simply choosing to exercise their right, they are choosing to enforce it by stopping the show. That's a huge difference.
orange mom March 13, 2013 at 09:59 AM
@ Jonas.......who said "STOP THE SHOW" I didn't hear anyone say that. They have a right to express their opinion. Freedom does not go in one direction.
Alex March 15, 2013 at 02:08 AM
It does appear the show will go on unfortunately. As stated in my earlier response, this will be the first year I do boycott, by not taking my family. The world is exposed to enough uncontrolled violence without choosing it for entertainment. We regularly attend theater as well and for a family production this just isn't suitable for us. Hopefully in the future Amity will choose from the other dozens of wonderful productions in the world that all ages are able to see and not have to cringe every time we drive by the horrible signs posted at Woodbridge intersections, such as Sweeny Todd.
Karla DeMaris March 17, 2013 at 06:32 PM
I am an Amity alum ('79), and am currently teaching English for a district other than Amity. I would like to address my comments to the statement that this play has “no serious social message.” In fact, it has several. On the surface, it is a cautionary tale directed at those who abuse the social power that they possess. One never knows when another Sweeney Todd will become unhinged, and disregard human decency and the law to exact vengeance on his perceived tormentors. On a deeper level, the audience is asked to identify the point at which sympathy can no longer condone bad behavior. Deeper still is the question of who is responsible for the horrors that Sweeney Todd brought upon his world. Perhaps the answer is that we are all, in some way, responsible—some of us for starting the dominoes to fall; others of us for willingly falling with the dominoes; and still others for merely standing back and watching. I think our children need to be aware that dangerous people such as Sweeney Todd exist in our world. When these kinds of subjects are handled artistically, we have a medium for engaging our children and each other in conversations that can be difficult to have. It is unfortunate that some people have linked this performance to the tragedy in Newtown; but it is conversely fortunate that we can use art as a way of discussing that tragedy. Perhaps the discussion can lead to a means of preventing future tragedies. Who is responsible? What are we doing with the dominoes?
Use your Head March 17, 2013 at 06:41 PM
This is all interesting comment. While I don't necessarily agree it's a "constitutional right" to be allowed to produce this play at Amity High School, I have no doubt this production will be another excellent example of Amity's theatrical talent, and will exhibit months of hard work on the parts of many people. What is unfortunate is the knee jerk reaction to ANY type of perceived violence in schools. We have gone so overboard that children are being suspended for playing cops and robbers with hands pointing like a gun; for eating a bite from a pop tart which then “resembles a gun”; for wearing Marine T shirts to school with rifles depicted on the bottom. This has gotten a little out of hand. Now days all a child has to say is “I feel uncomfortable” about someone, and the next thing you know, the Principal has interviewed every child on the bus to get to the bottom of a non-issue. Many children who are suspended are still innocent enough to not even know why they are being punished. Let’s be rational, and use our common sense.
Karen April 25, 2013 at 04:08 PM
Oh my, if this is a representation of the writing skills that our Amity High School students are capable of then perhaps we should be more concerned with this rather than a play that displays violence!

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