By Samantha Lund, Columnist
The theatre department decided on, worked on and performed “Kiss Me, Kate” within four months. There were some students in the musical who had never sung before, and three months of training later, they were on a stage in front of hundreds of people, singing.
That alone made the musical a success.
The musical was part of the grand opening for the Karen Hille Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
The gala held for the opening brought many patrons and filled the theater with 580 people for opening night.
After that, the musical did not have a single show with less than 270 in attendance. The director, Jeff Clapp, said he wanted to create a colorful, energetic spectacle to grab attention, and he did just that.
Anything big enough to get attention creates a ripple effect.
A week after the 1949 Tony Award winning musical hit Pacific Lutheran University, it became clear that some students were not happy about the gender stigmas and stereotypes portrayed in the musical.
In response, Amanda Sweger, the set director, put together a panel of PLU faculty and actors from the musical to discuss gender dynamics in the play.
During the discussion there was a quick shift from focusing on gender dynamics to a debate about the play’s validity.
A group of about 20 students gathered in the Scandinavian Cultural Center and wanted to know why the play was chosen and accused it of not being representative of PLU as a population.
The backlash from “Kiss Me, Kate” took place Oct. 21 when students doubted their voices were being heard.
There were three main issues these students had with the musical: it had domestic violence against women, it was ‘outdated’ and for an older crowd and it lacked a talk-back or any form of educational element other than the panel, which was put together after the fact.
The mentality of the panel session was set by the students in the audience. The mentality was to point fingers and blame the theatre department, something I think to be completely unfair and unjust.
After the panel, I sat down with Jeff Clapp, artistic director of theatre and discussed his reaction to the panel. Clapp said he did not understand why the panel discussion shifted into attack mode.
Clapp said the play was meant to be fun and energetic.
The play was realistic in the idea that Frank and Lilly, two lovers in the play, were in love but also fought, just like couples do today.
The musical was meant for everyone to enjoy and appreciate. Clapp, though he was not invited to the panel, said he thought the discussion should have stayed on the gender dynamics.
As far as PLU should be concerned, “Kiss Me, Kate” was a success by any measure.
We have a great group of faculty who went through 30 scripts before landing on “Kiss Me, Kate,” sure they had picked a good play for the opening of our new center.
The musical brought attention and music to campus.
If we cannot enjoy a play from 70 years ago because it is ‘outdated’ then we might as well throw away the last 2,000 years of theater, disregarding all the great work that has been done.
If we are so progressive that we cannot look back, then we have failed. ◼︎