By Nate Stein ’24
A couple weeks ago, in a special assembly at St. Andrew’s Chapel, Dr. Hulsey announced a new policy regarding attendance at school performances. Third- and fourth-formers are required to attend both the winter and spring main stage productions, fifth-formers are required to attend at least one, and sixth-formers can opt not to go to either.
This announcement came in the wake of horrible student behavior at numerous required performances: specifically the Second City’s visit in mid-January.
Dr. Hulsey read to the entire student body comments given by members of the Second City. And, as expected, their reviews were awful. The actors and actresses said that our students over-sexualized many of the skits and sketches, showed no respect for the female group members onstage, and overall was one of the worst groups they’d ever performed for.
Sadly, this has become the case at most all-school performances in recent years.
To combat the bad behavior, the headmaster and dean of students’ office implemented the new attendance policy described above.
This decision, while new to most current students, is not new to Woodberry. Ted Blain, a long-serving teacher and director of many winter plays, often advocated to make performances optional to students. And last spring, “To Kill a Mockingbird” was made optional to seniors. I attribute this mainly to the uber-serious subject matter and also to the fact that the production, by its nature, was not a comedy.
My bigger problem with the policy, though, is that it doesn’t address the root causes of the issue, which can (and should) be dealt with using the discipline system that our school maintains.
Woodberry students know well the common mantra preached by administrators and faculty — “choose the hard right over the easy wrong.” This new policy is a blatant example of our administration taking the easy wrong over the hard right.
Instead of dealing with the behavior of the students who catcall women onstage, who immaturely sexualize anything else they can, and who ultimately sully our school’s image to complete strangers, the administration has given them a free pass and an exemption from whatever they’ve said and done at past performances.
When I came to Woodberry, I figured that the expectations would be high, specifically those pertaining to discipline and behavior. I figured that my school would punish bad behavior fairly and without question. However, this obviously isn’t always the case.
I must say, I don’t think that a perfect solution exists. Keeping with the “hard right, easy wrong” example, though, if the new policy is equivalent to taking the easy wrong, then taking the hard right might be something militaristic but effective. Perhaps separate showtimes for different groups of students, assigned seating, adults evenly dispersed throughout the audience, and the threat (and subsequent issuance) of demerits?
But this solution is an overcorrection. It shouldn’t take something like that for behavior to improve at performances.
Going back to last spring’s mainstage, another reason why the behavior might have improved is because the seniors who would’ve caused the problems simply didn’t attend. This is fairly obvious, but the question still stands: isn’t this a win-win situation? The students who didn’t want to be there in the first place didn’t have to go, and those same students who would’ve acted up weren’t in the audience to cause problems.
This may be true, but the root cause of the issue still remains unaddressed. The bad behavior still exists, and the new policy does absolutely nothing to discourage, change, or nix it.
The lesson in this whole dilemma is that the well-rounded students that Woodberry Forest claims to produce should understand how to behave at a performance, even if it’s not a performance they particularly enjoy. Allowing those who misrepresent our school so often and so egregiously to skip performances teaches them nothing.
The contents of this article do not necessarily represent the ideas of Woodberry Forest School or the editorial board of The Woodberry Oracle.
Thank you Nate for bringing this to our attention. This took guts to write! And many of us find this behavior intolerable from a student at Woodberry or anywhere.
Philip Bartlett ’89