How Heathers: High School Edition is helping difficult discourse on teen issues in Johnson County, Kansas (and how it can help you, too).
The importance of having discussions about mental health, violence, and bullying in our community and communities around the United States became clear when three students in Johnson County, Kansas took their own lives in January of 2018. In the previous year, eight Johnson County teens did the same. This is a subject that is very difficult to discuss between local students and adults alike.
The difficulty of the conversation did not keep our theatre department from stepping up to be the people who started it. It was our understanding that, through our performance capabilities, we would be able to inspire our school administrators and community leaders to carry the torch that we would ignite.
Heathers the Musical: High School Edition is perhaps the most obvious way to portray the high school experience in all the best ways. It deals with many issues that have been prevalent in lives of teens and adults for decades, and construes them in a comedic way that will either have you rolling on the floor or shifting awkwardly in your seat.
This dynamic of laugh-out-loud and sometimes uncomfortable humor is integral to the message of the show because the nature of these issues is uncomfortable, and to discuss them so openly can leave you feeling awkward. Unfortunately, these are the issues that cannot easily be solved by laws or rules, but instead by constructive discussion.
If the show accomplishes anything, beyond trapping excellent rock ballads on loop in your head, it's creating discussion. The goal of choosing this show was to inspire conversation about these problems that were important to all of us.
With a show like Heathers, over anything else, the emphasis is on spreading a message whether it's received positively or negatively. Even if some people don't see the show, the people who did see it will talk about it if you can really connect to the audience.
A big part of producing Heathers was how we wanted the audience to feel about the show before they even came to see it. We pushed that through a promotional video of the cast discussing their own struggles with bullying and violence. In addition to the video, we donated all proceeds from fundraisers to the JED Foundation, a group that advocates for mental health in teens.
The most impactful part of the experience was making these efforts to give back. Our Thespian board took this very seriously, and we even held meetings with our school social worker to make sure we went about our efforts correctly. Listening to cast members' stories about how being a part of Heathers helped them through these problems and fundraising for a cause other than ourselves was heartwarming to our classmates, members of our community, and the entire cast.
On January 30, Fox 4 published a tweet announcing a future publication of an in-depth report on teen suicide. All of the hard work of our department had paid off when our principal responded to the tweet, declaring that the rising teen suicide rates are a “timely and important issue.” The feeling of our message reaching the administration was overwhelming, because the most prominently evident fact about producing Heathers is that, from the music to the message, it demands to be heard.
Learn about performing Heathers The Musical: High School Edition here.