Outside the Classroom Walls: The Prom Musical & Why Representation Matters
Did you watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade this year? If you did, you watched history. For the first time in the history of the parade, there was a same-sex kiss. It happened at the end of the performance from the cast of The Prom and it left me wanting to shout with joy from the rooftops. I went straight to instagram to share my thoughts but realized I have a lot more to say about this moment and this show.
When you work with young people every day, you work to make sure each of them feels loved, valued, and supported. But often times it is not you that they feel the lack of love from, it is our society as a whole. When young people don't see themselves in the culture around them they feel like they don't belong, so that simple kiss at the end of a Broadway musical number on the family-friendly nationally-televised Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade meant something. It was like a giant taffeta and glitter covered billboard saying "YOU BELONG."
As teachers, one of the biggest challenges can be managing diverse classrooms, getting students from various backgrounds engaged and getting them to trust and respect you. Part of how I do this is making sure students know I see them for who they are and I love them for it. But my love only goes so far, it can only do so much for a student if they do not see people like them portrayed positively and realistically in our popular culture.
The Prom is a musical comedy about a girl who wants to take her girlfriend to the high school prom, the PTA finds out and does what they can to intervene and prevent those girls from attending. Their story is picked up by a group of theater people who decide to make it their cause to get these girls their prom. While the show itself is billed as a musical comedy, the heart of the story is two young people trying to find their place in a world that tells them they don't belong.
So many of our students feel that way, and I am not just talking about our LBTQA+ students. The pressure on teens right now is indescribable. They navigate a world of social media that rapidly changes and consistently measures their worth through likes. They are living in a time of great uncertainty and political division. They live under the rule of a President of the United States who has openly spoken negatively about multiple minority groups.
So that kiss, that simple little kiss on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade matters. It matters because for a group of our students it told them that they matter. And an easy way we can continue to be allies to our students is to lift up pop-culture that represents them. You don't have to stand in front of your classroom each day and give an impassioned speech on embracing diversity (but if you have the time then go for it) but you can simply lift up books, movies, comic books, musical artists, and Broadway shows that reflect the students in your classroom. It will take one minute of your time to mention a new book you're interested in that has diverse characters and you don't even have to say "I am interested in it because it has diverse characters!"
Just by mentioning pop culture that includes diverse characters you can help students find where they belong. Is it in the ONLY thing you should do? No. But when the world feels daunting and uncertain and the pressure on teachers to "save" kids is immeasurable this is a simple action you can take tomorrow. Not into Broadway? That's fine! Find something that resonates with you, look for diversity, and lift it up for your students.
So thank you to all the cast, crew, creative team, and producers of The Prom for giving us another story where students can see themselves and know they belong.