This letter was released today in response to the issues related to “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” as outlined on this blog and elsewhere.

Department of Fine & Performing Arts

Newton North High School

March 13, 2014

This letter is in response to some recent concerns surrounding Newton North’s production of Thoroughly Modern Millie. It is important to acknowledge up front that we recognize the concerns that have been brought forward. We appreciate the open and honest dialogue and hope that the information in this letter will help us all understand the work that has gone into this production and the teaching and learning that will continue long after this weekend.

In choosing Thoroughly Modern Millie for production we recognized early on that there are some significant challenges in regard to the stereotypes portrayed in the show.  We ultimately decided to produce the work, but took deliberate steps to address these concerns directly from the onset:

  • Michele Leong, English Teacher and Director of the Office Human Rights and Charlene Beh, English Teacher at Newton North have been a helpful resource to the faculty, staff,and students involved in this production. They led the cast/crew in workshops about the stereotypes portrayed in the musical. They also were instrumental in educating the staffand students on Asian Stereotypes in the media and its impact on our society. Ms. Beh also attended a rehearsal and gave helpful feedback to the production staff.
  • The students in the Asian Culture Club at North had a conversation with the director,producer and department head in which they voiced some of their concerns and suggestions.
  • We reached out to MTI, the company that owns the rights to Millie to see if a high school edition was available. Unfortunately, it was not.
  • The program includes a Production note that addresses the concerns surrounding the stereotypes.

Adam Brown, Director of Theatre Ink, in his opening words to the audience at each production will make a statement about the stereotypes in Millie and invite the audience to read the production note found on page 49 as well as invite them to our talk back.

We do understand that we did not appreciate the magnitude of feelings that the play would elicit. Even as educated artists and teachers we also learn and grow in situations like this. Future selections will go through more scrutiny and we will look at issues with a keener eye. We do apologize for the impact that this has caused and may cause members of our community. Even with these steps in place, we acknowledge that for some it may not be enough. It is our sincere hope that this production is one of both artistic integrity and one where significant learning has occurred.  It certainly was never and is never our intent to offend members of our school or Newton community.

Theatre Ink prides itself on being “Newton North’s Teaching and Working Theatre.” The process of producing this show, and the thoughtful and sometimes challenging dialogue it has generated among staff, students, and the broader Newton community, exemplifies the program’s commitment to explore, critique, and interpret how the human experience is conveyed throughthe arts.  As the curtain goes up tonight we are bringing the constructive conversation and learning process that our school community has engaged in over these past few months to an audience of students, parents, and community members. We hope that you will choose to participate in it with the same appetite for learning that we have seen in our students – a genuine desire to understand our differences, our history, and ourselves.

On Monday night, March 17th, we will hold a “Talk Back” to further learn and share perspectives surrounding the arts and stereotypes, especially those presented in Millie. All are welcome to attend. The meeting will be held in Newton North High School’s Little Theatre at 7:00PM. We hope you will join us.

Sincerely, Todd R. Young Chair, NNHS FPA Department

Adam Brown Director, Theatre Ink

Jennifer Price Principal, NNHS

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