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Why I showed my Muslim students clips from the film “Heathers” and why you should see the musical in London

 Laura Martineau, Elena Reyes, Jesslyn Hodgson, and Alicia D'Ariano in Musical Theatre Productions' Heathers: The Musical. #MTPHeathers
Laura Martineau, Elena Reyes, Jesslyn Hodgson, and Alicia D’Ariano in Musical Theatre Productions’ “Heathers: The Musical.”

In 1988 the film “Heathers” was released to critical acclaim. According to Rotten Tomatoes 95% of critics gave the film a positive review.

The film wasn’t a box office hit, but it went on to become a cult classic.

As you know I have a slightly twisted sense of humour, so I got a kick out of the cynical, and subversive film.

I was impressed by its unique approach to teenage angst.

In fact, I liked it so much that in 2004, when I was teaching film in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, I wanted to show a few scenes to my students.

I was hoping the film might help them realize that regardless of who you are, or where you live, being a teenager, trapped in school, can suck…but we’ve all been there, and a few dark laughs can help us get through that awkward time of life.

I knew this might not be a good idea.

Because of cultural differences in gender roles and social mores, showing scenes from “Heathers” featuring a group of young women engaged in nasty and cruel antics, not to mention the dialogue loaded with sexual metaphors, could have got me fired.

So I asked a colleague, who had been teaching in the region for years, if he thought I should risk showing the film clips.

He wouldn’t even discuss the subject with me.

He simply said “I would not show that” and wasn’t interested in my ideas about how showing the film might open an important dialogue among students.

I now understand that he didn’t want be an accessory to the crime of inspiring subversive thoughts and, I think like many expatriates in the UAE, he was simply self-censoring to protect his own job.

But I didn’t let his advice stop me.

I showed the clips to my film students. Fortunately I wasn’t fired.

As I had hoped, showing the clips sparked the students to question their personal incidences of high school peer pressure, the power of cliques and teenage suicide.

Showing the clips helped me to create a classroom where the students felt comfortable discussing these topics, which were off limits in most other institutional settings.

Inspired by the freedom to tackle important issues in their lives the students later decided to create a campus debate about the role of sex education in Islam.

Students from across the campus attended and we uploaded clips from the debate to Youtube. The video has received over 1 million views. Since then many campuses in the UAE take a more open approach to sex education.

I’m sharing all of this to simply encourage you to go see “Heathers: The Musical.” It’s a dark and twisted tale that will get you thinking.

In 2014 “Heathers The Musical” opened on Off-Broadway to mixed reviews with Ben Brantley of the New York Times calling it a “rowdy guilty-pleasure musical.”

In Time Out New York, David Cote wrote “this is the first musical I can remember since “Spring Awakening” to capture the pain and ecstasy of being a teen.”

My experience in the UAE reminded me that teenage angst is part of life, regardless of where you live. And that it’s important to acknowledge that angst, ideally with some dark and twisted comedy.

Alicia D'Ariano, Jesslyn Hodgson, Elena Reyes, Laura Hounsell, and Laura Martineau, Heathers the musical
Alicia D’Ariano, Jesslyn Hodgson, Elena Reyes, Laura Hounsell, and Laura Martineau

Details, Details
May 6-14, 2016
McManus Studio Theatre, The Grand Theatre
471 Richmond St
(519) 672-8800
Click to buy tickets

Producer: Adam Zess
Director: Ian Badger
Music Director: Eric Charbonneau
Choreographer: Lia Karidas
Stage Manager: Jessica Martin
Marketing Team: Deanne Kondrat, Emily Joosten
Costumer Designer: Ashton Otten

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