Brooklyn Free School puts on an annual school-wide musical production. The work begins in the fall when students begin to debate what that year’s production will be. The nominees are discussed in advisory meetings and in all-school democratic meetings, until it’s time for a two-round, all-school, vote to arrive at our selection.
From there, the students, with teacher support, begin to rewrite and adapt the script. Invariably, there are complex ideas to be tackled. The selection of The Sound of Music led to a discussion of hateful imagery, which in turn led to a school-wide vote to represent the Nazi soldiers in the play with a red armband. Hairspray, performed in 2016 in the context of the newly prominent Black Lives Matter movement, was adapted to end with a student performance of the song “Glory.” In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the students dissected casting and the depiction of the oompa-loompas.
From there it’s on to learning the blocking, singing, and dancing. Rehearsals focus on character development, costume design, teamwork, stage presence, and voice projection. Students aged five to 18 participate, rehearsing at least twice a week, with the goal of mounting a fully staged hour-long adaptation of the chosen play.
2018 Musical: The Wiz
2017 Musical: Charlie and The Chocolate Factory
At Brooklyn Free School we integrate anti-oppression work into as much as we can as a community. As we began to read the play Charlie and the Chocolate Factory last year, we found several specific challenges. The heightism, misogyny, capitalism, and race-based problems in the play carried the blatant bias of corporate power, patriarchy, and racial dominance.
Acting out such harm, rather than acting against it, was a problem for us and we asked ourselves, “How do we knowingly support this performance?”
As a result, our community mindfully transformed this work. We adapted the script, and what was harmful became liberated on the stage. We addressed some aspects of the play, but unable to change everything, we acknowledged remaining undertones as a community. Nonetheless, our children were simply magical.