Frosh-soph musical brings on discussions about race

Students debate choice and casting of “Bring it On”

This year’s freshman-sophomore musical “Bring It On” premieres Dec. 3, carrying with it complex conversations of opportunity that stem from race and economic stability.

“Bring It On” revolves around head cheerleader, Campbell, who is determined to win the national cheerleading competition.

When Campbell is transferred from her wealthy, primarily white suburban school to a racially diverse inner-city school, she creates her own cheer squad to fulfill her dream.

The premise of the show alone has sent a ripple of questions through the student body. The first of which is, can New Trier put on a show about race?

To director of the show and science teacher Ryan Dunn, the show offers a unique opportunity to bring light to inequalities that individuals face sometimes by virtue of nothing more than location. The cast of the show has used it to begin group discussions concerning inequality. Dunn notes that in choosing a show, it is important to maintain its integrity, both in script and theme.

For junior Maggie Lin the answer is simple, “talking about race is okay, as long as you explore the show in a respectful way.”

Dunn finds that “the common themes are about kids finding themselves, about what it means to have opportunities and not have opportunities.”

“[Race] was a part of the tension in the show, but it wasn’t the heart of it. We decided to go forward with it because we thought we could do it in a responsible way.”

Dunn hopes that this will bring something special to the students here.

“[The show] says something relevant to New Trier about how not everyone has the opportunities that we have and life is just different for other people.”

For members of the play opportunities have already emerged. Freshman Sage Harper found that in working with the show she experienced a “culture shock.”

Evie Wigdale, a sophomore also noted that the show has given her the opportunity to play a role she may not have otherwise had the ability to play.

Through the show Dunn hopes “in the end we bring awareness to a larger issue of discrepancies and opportunities.”

While those in the show are confident in its messages and how those messages are portrayed, other students remain uneasy about the show.

In an attempt to increase the show’s diversity, as well as the diversity of the theater department as a whole, Dunn met with different organizations within the school. While the show maintains a primarily white cast, most minority students participating were cast as the roles of students in the inner-city school.

Originally “Bring It On” involves a cast of black characters because the location of the inner-city school is set in a primarily black community. While it may make sense to cast minorities as inner-city students, in an attempt to imitate the Broadway show, this choice implies a direct correlation between race and financial stability, as well as a broad generalization that all minorities will face identical obstacles socially and fiscally.

Hannah Li, a sophomore student of color, found this type of casting to be “a slap in the face.”

“Someone’s race is a huge part of their identity, and should not be just a role to play,” said Li.

Beyond New Trier’s portrayal of the show there is a greater question of whether the show’s premise is inherently flawed.

Sophomore Adhishree Kathikar took issue with the mere premise of the show in which the impoverished students are forced to change themselves to accommodate the new wealthy white student.

Kathikar summarized, “‘Bring It On,’ the musical, is an idea of a white girl who goes to a school which she deems imperfect because of the lack of a cheerleading team and tries to fix the entire structure of a school in order to fit it to her expectations. This is the white savior trying to create problems to solve to make sure that her leader status is ‘maintained.’”

In the context of the show, only after adapting their dance team into a cheerleading squad are the students of the inner-city school able to befriend those of the wealthy school.

Kathikar said, “‘this show is saying, ‘you need to change who you are if you want to be accepted.’”

Despite questionable undertones in the show, students such as senior Alice Bowe feel the show is justified given its ability to start conversations about race.
“Since we have not done seminar day since I was a sophomore, I think that it’s important that we start up this conversation again,” she said.

Dunn concluded that this show is a step in trying to start conversations.

“To even address the problem, you have to know that the problem is there.”

For Kathikar it is not so simple.

“It is not people of color’s responsibility to educate individuals on racism and start conversations, and especially not through participating in a show that tells them to conform.”