Since 2016 we have been fortunate to work with AHS’s theater ensemble, the amazing students and their highly dedicated directors and staff. This years musical Sweet Charity explored issues of sexism misogyny and especially how young people are impacted in the systems we live in. Ward Dales, Gregory Theodore Marsh and NCBI, are true masters of creating safe space for the students to share their own stories and experiences around the topics. Creating a performance that is not only about the story itself - it’s about everyone who has every been in a situation of toxic societal norms and for everyone else learning how to be an ally.
Sweet Charity was performed at Albany High School March 28th - March 30th, 2019. Arts Letters & Numbers associate director Frida Foberg was part of the production as the scenic designer. Below are the directors note:
“This season the Ensemble chose to explore issues of sexism and misogyny, particularly as they impact the young people in our system. Not surprising, though still shocking, our pre-production workshops revealed that nearly every young woman in our Ensemble has experienced periodic, chronic or systematic sexual harassment and/or abuse. Some survived horrific acts of physical and emotional terrorism, other, micro-aggressions that are publicly sanctioned and often celebrated. Concerns about consent are real for our young women, and violations have a heart-breaking impact on their self-image and esteem, and their physical and emotional health. The impact of toxic masculinity on women is clear, but we don’t often reflect on how soul crushing it is for our young men when they fall in the line with its unspoken rules.
When given safe space to talk, all of our students - regardless of how they gender identify - have a story of pain to share: and what a gift to be able to support one another in this difficult exploration. For many of our young women, consent and autonomy are things that they feel they aren’t entitled to. Through listening ears and self-reflection, our NCBI workshops allowed our students to empower themselves. We need to make more time in our young people’s days to speak their painful secrets, their truths, and we need to provide them with more resources to learn how to be an effective ally and to stand up and educate others in a way that leaves a lasting impression.
“Sweet Charity” - Charity Hope Valentine - is a woman on a life-long quest to find love. While this may seem like a noble endeavor, she navigates the world under the notion that her worth and happiness are predicated on her ability to please a man. Her career of choice exposes her to the underbelly of New York life for sex workers and the men involved. While her employment at the Fan-Dango Ballroom pushes her into work that is a societal taboo, Charity, and her fellow dance hall hostesses, display autonomy and force us to challenge institutions that question female consent.
Sweet Charity may seem on the surface an inappropriate choice for a season focusing on social issues. It is, after all, about a woman who believes she can’t be happy until she is married to “Mr Right”: that she is incomplete without a man in her life. What better way to explore toxic societal norms than with a scenario about sex workers and misogynists? What a rich field full of teachable moments when artists and and old examine a sexist warhorse quite consciously through a feminist lens. How can we avoid reflecting on the autonomy of women in a play where women are selling themselves short and literally? What happens when we explore sexist literature and their guilt? They become more powerful - more themselves - they become educators and allies, and we surely need more of these, now more than ever.”
- Ward Dales and Gregory Theodore Marsh
Photography by Jahmere Holland