November 2017 (Volume 68, Issue 2)
By Nina Yee, Staff Writer
On October 27-29, student-run theater group SAMD (Students Acting to Make a Difference) treated audiences to lively hand-jiving, punchy lines, and energetic musical numbers in their performance of Grease. Set in the 1950s, Grease follows a summer romance through the school year as characters encounter clique conflicts and teenage drama. All proceeds from the show were donated to the charity Strong Women, Strong Girls, which looks to empower young, underprivileged girls by establishing strong mentorships.
“It was definitely very fun,” recounts Jackson Schwartz, who played lead Danny Zuko. However, the underlying messages in Grease are lacking in comparison to its exciting stage presence. Not only do the main characters frequently smoke and drink, but their actions reinforce gender norms, perpetuate superficial values, and repeatedly slut-shame female characters.
However, SAMD made a point to recognize these flaws before the show was presented and deliberately chose the charity Strong Women, Strong Girls to combat the “rampant sexism” in Grease, describes Schwartz. “We are taking a horrible message and turning it into something much more positive—one that young girls will now look up to instead of trying to become Sandy,” states Maya Osman, whose character Sandy Olsson completely changes her personality to attract her love interest. At the end of the day, SAMD aims to raise money for a beneficial cause. “By making a time piece, it may not be the most good as a role-model show, but we put on shows for charity. And people really do come to shows that are the most popular,” says Osman.
Both Schwartz and Osman acknowledge that performing Grease is not indicative of the culture at NHS. “In school, we can look at art differently– it can be removed from school. We can read books in English that have those kinds of things happen in them and they don’t represent our school values, but we can see them happening without internalizing them” remarks Schwartz. Osman notes that 2017 Needham High School is much different than 1950s Rydell High, where Grease takes place. “Our school has created a really friendly atmosphere: one that prohibits sexual abuse and harassment and promotes women to be strong and not succumb to the images they once have.”