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Live and let live: Southwest tackles tough topics in ‘The Prom’

By Janelle Fisher
City Pages Editor

As the fall high school theater season comes to an end, Green Bay Southwest High School will welcome audiences into their auditorium this weekend for a show that packs a punch.

“We wanted to do a show that had a real message — that was timely and had a real message for today,” Assistant Director Brent Brayko said. “With all the hate and polarization, this was a good time to do it.”

The show is The Prom, and the story is one which really resonated with Southwest students and directors alike.

“For many years, we didn’t get student input,” Lead Director Brandon Rockstroh said. “This year, we did kind of a Google pull and asked ‘what shows interest you?’ We narrowed down the list to like seven shows between students and directors and from there everyone did some research and gave rankings. This show was the top vote-getter among the director team, among this year’s senior class and among the large student population. I think the kids are excited about performing a show with a message that is just deeper than your typical musical.”

“The show is based on a true story of a town somewhere in the South,” Brayko said. “A girl wanted to ask her girlfriend to prom, and they created a second prom. They found out they couldn’t discriminate or keep her from going so they secretly made another prom in another area of the city and never told her and this girl showed up to an empty gym while the rest of the kids all kept it a secret and had prom at a country club or something like that.”

“As the show goes along, you see Emma trying to maneuver in a small town… trying to make her way through high school in a very bigoted, not inclusive school and community,” Brayko said. “Alyssa, the girlfriend, is closeted and doesn’t want anyone to know either, so they have the fake prom… And then in the second act, things really start to fall apart. The consequences of all the town’s actions start to come to fruition and it finally comes around to an ending of inclusiveness.”
While there are many things Rockstroh and Brandon love about the show — it’s songs, dance numbers, humor, etc. — it is the overarching message of the play that they say makes it impactful.

“I think everyone in this world could use some more kindness — more warmth towards other human beings — and this show is littered with it,” Rockstroh said. “The entire message is all about acceptance and kindness and I think our world would be a better place if people could treat each other better at the gas station, at the grocery store, in the school hallways.”

“We love this show because it’s not hit you over the head, smack you in the face, gay rights, gay rights, gay rights,’” Brayko said. “It’s live and let live. Just love each other and don’t judge what’s not your place to judge.”

Throughout the rehearsal process, Brayko said he and Rockstroh have been working with the cast and crew to identify how they can relate the story to their own lives.
“We’ve really done a lot of work with the cast and the kids themselves, thinking about ‘when have you felt excluded for anything, or felt picked on or not part of the in crowd?’” Brayko said. “This is who we’re doing this show for and getting that message out.”

The culmination of those efforts? A collection of interviews with the students involved in the show to kick off the performance, sharing what the show and its message means to them.

“The show is going to begin with a five-minute countdown to the show,” Rockstroh said. “The lights will dim and a video plays, and it’s interviews about how this story has impacted you. And the students could go in whatever direction they wanted. There was a lot of personal attachment, and it was broad. It wasn’t just like ‘I’ve been bullied for my sexuality.’ It was ‘I’ve been bullied because of this, that or the other thing, and here’s why this story resonates with me.’ Nobody should be an outcast. Everyone belongs. Everyone deserves a seat at the table.”

Brayko said he hopes the show is well received by the community, and that attendees recognize that there is something in it for everybody.
“We really hope that this message gets out and that we get supporters here,” Brayko said. “It’s not an LGBTQ show. We don’t want it to be ‘oh, come because you’re LGBTQ.’ We want that support and that advocacy and for people to say ‘yeah, we can fill these seats…’ Whether you agree with the lifestyle or not, that’s not the issue here… It’s just about ‘don’t judge.’”

Southwest is among the first Wisconsin High Schools to put on a production of The Prom.

“I think some schools are hesitant that it’s not going to be well-received,” Rockstroh said. “The story, it’s not traditional. It’s not a male/female romance. And yet, I think once they see this story and experience the mood of the show, I hope other schools are like ‘we should be doing this, too.’ It’s an important story to tell.”

Some other schools who have attempted to tell the story of Prom across the country have faced significant pushback and even threats from their communities, even leading to the cancellation of some productions before they can get off the ground, but Brayko and Rockstroh said they’re thankful to have been met primarily with support.

“We have heard things like ‘well, you’re never going to fill the seats. No one’s going to come to a gay show. They’re not going to come to a show they’ve never heard of…’” Brayko said. “So there’s been some of those kinds of comments, and I think there’s maybe some teasing of the kids a little bit in the school hallways. But it’s just because it’s groundbreaking… And the administration here has been very supportive along the way.”

“We received overwhelming support from last year’s principal, who approved the original show choice, and then this year’s principal gave me full support,” Rockstroh said. I’m grateful to be in a school community where we embody who we strive to be. This entire show is about treating people with decency and I feel like our school community does that.”

Performances of Prom will take place Dec. 1, 2, 7, 8 and 9 at 7 p.m.

Find more information about the show and purchase tickets at trojanmusical.com.

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