What’s your damage, Heathers?
A student asked me recently why Heathers was a musical worth producing, given its heavy content and violent themes. The list of content warnings for this show contains bullying and homophobia, suicidal ideation, murder, and multiple forms of abuse–and more. Yet through the ugliness the musical depicts, the story of Veronica Chandler’s senior year of high school allows us to imagine healing at the end of trauma and reconciliation after violence. While the musical represents the painful ways in which social hierarchies and pressures isolate and separate students longing to connect, its narrative arc endorses community and inclusion.
The forces that motivate violence in high school arise from the same oppressive systems that structure broader society; in this way, Heathers represents a microcosm of broader cultural failings–and also, choices we can make to forge different paths. The artistic choices we bring to this production emphasize the common pain shared across social strata during high school, and we worked particularly with the idea that even the bullies who choose physical and emotional violence over kindness do so because of their frustrated desire for connection.
None of the claims we seek to make with this musical are new or revolutionary; indeed, US culture continues to grapple with the harm perpetuated by the John Hughes oeuvre of films from the 1980s, which sedimented exclusionary high school cliques as the organizing principle for dominant narratives about the lives of teenagers. Nevertheless, the stories we see (and hear and read) about adolescence in the past decade or so take a more expansive approach to the social landscape of high school. These narratives more eagerly embrace diversity in its many forms, fluid social groups, and flattening of hierarchies.
We value this story because it renders for audiences the harrowing challenges US high school students confront. The generation of students involved in our production endured the trauma of lockdown drills and continue to witness the ever growing list of mass violence in our schools. Theater offers a therapeutic methodology for releasing the heavy burdens young adults in this country carry, and serves as a reminder of the work we still have to do to be kinder to each other – to be beautiful.
– Lindsey Mantoan, Director