We live in a polarized society where just about everything is right or wrong, black or white, either/or, and rarely both/and. Perhaps this is some of the starting point of the discussion about the Amity High School Theatre Department's production of Sweeney Todd. It is violence ladened entertainment, or it is art. Even when talking about art, we find this dichotomy, art for art sake versus art as a means of societal change.
Last night, at the Amity Board of Education, I suggested a middle ground. Can we look at Sweeney Todd as both art for art sake, and art capable of bringing about positive societal change? Can art contain distasteful violence and be redeeming at the same time? If we are willing to step outside of our preconceived assumptions, it just might be possible.
For me, this relates back the whole idea of indirect lessons. Kids learn football for football's sake, yet at the same time, they are learning about teamwork. There's a lot of teamwork you learn when you are in a musical. Yet there's even more. There is a certain amount of emotional intelligence and empathy that can be indirectly learned by the cast and the audience a like. There can be catharsis and redemption even in a play about revenge.
Amity has a great tradition of theatre, yet one thing that I've not been able to find around that has been groups gathering to share with one another what they have experienced and learned from attending the productions.
The dust up around the production of Sweeney Todd appears to be offering an opportunity to fill this need. Over in a discussion on the Orange Patch, The Rev. Ann Ritonia wrote,
"a community discussion on violence is a wonderful idea. All are invited to attend a continuation of a community dialogue on April 23rd at St. Barbara's Greek Orthodox Church sponsored by the Orange Interfaith Clergy Fellowship. Prevention of Violence in our Culture: The Next Steps will begin at 7 pm and childcare will be provided. The public is welcome and Middle and High School Students are most welcome to participate in the discussion."
I hope people will attend Sweeney Todd. I hope they will then join the discussion at St. Barbara's Church. Let's celebrate and share art for art's sake that brings about positive social change.
This evening, I attended the Amity Board of Education meeting, where the public comment ended up being about the theatre department's upcoming production of "Sweeney Todd". I decided to go after I saw an announcement in the Patch, Violence Continues at Amity High School.
It was an unfortunate headline for an unfortunate announcement. The violence continuing at the high school is in the form of the musical, "Sweeney Todd". One high school student commented that the only violence at the school is freshmen during the first part of the school year, and that most of the time, Amity High School is a pretty mellow place.
The announcement resulted in an article in the Patch, "Parents Plannning [sic] to Protest at Amity BOE Meeting". It appeared in both the Bethwood Patch and the Orange Patch. Between the two articles and the announcement, there have been around 40 comments on the topic. It was also picked up in the New York Times.
Many of the comments talked about those opposing the production as "small-minded protesters [who] should be ashamed of themselves" and who "should get a grip on reality". Yet I think this misrepresents what is going on.
The first person to speak talked about an inter-faith coalition that was concerned about violence in society, and particularly as it exists in the media. She raised concerns about the violence in the musical and if it was teaching the sort of lessons we want to teach our youth. Others spoke about the musical in terms of art.
I spoke about how, perhaps if we think seriously, the two positions aren't as far apart as people would like to imagine. Art is a powerful way for people to deal with trauma, with the evil that is in the world. It provides an opportunity for people to discuss violence and the sort of society that we want to be part of.
I encouraged everyone to attend the musical, and then to gather with friends to discuss it and broader topics of violence in society. Afterwards, I encouraged the husband of the first speaker to attend, and to distribute leaflets inviting other theatre goers to an open discussion on a later date about violence in society and how art, and the musical addresses this problem. We shall see if anyone takes me up on this.
After I spoke, Howard Sherman echoed some of the same themes, reflecting on Sondheim's words, "Art isn't easy". Art isn't easy. Confronting evil and violence in our world isn't easy. Teaching our children isn't easy. But all of it can come together to help make the world a better place.
So, please come see Sweeney Todd, and then engage in discussions about the music with your friends and neighbors. Join in a broader discussion about how we can make our community a better place.
(This blog post has also been submitted to The Patch)
Testimony Supporting Senate Bill 366, AN ACT REQUIRING LICENSED SOCIAL WORKERS AND COUNSELORS TO COMPLETE CONTINUING EDUCATION COURSEWORK IN CULTURAL FOUNDATIONS
Sen. Gerratana, Rep. Johnson, members of the Public Health Committee. I am writing to you today concerning Senate Bill 366, AN ACT REQUIRING LICENSED SOCIAL WORKERS AND COUNSELORS TO COMPLETE CONTINUING EDUCATION COURSEWORK IN CULTURAL FOUNDATIONS. My name is Aldon Hynes. I live in Woodbridge, CT. I am the Social Media Manager for the Community Health Center, Inc., headquartered in Middletown, CT and am a member of the Connecticut Health Foundation's 2013 Health Leadership Fellows Program. My testimony is based on my experiences with these two organizations, but I am speaking on my own behalf.
Every year, the General Assembly considers many bills. Those that move forward requires fiscal notes from the Office of Financial Analysis. It is my belief that every bill that moves forward should also require an analysis of its health equity impact: how does the bill effect the health of the people of Connecticut, and how equitably does it meet that impact?
SB 366 is a bill that I believe can have a positive impact on the health of Connecticut's citizens and do so in an equitable manner. The better informed Licensed Social Workers and Counselors are in the cultural foundations which affect their care of patients, the better the outcomes we can expect. In addition these outcomes are most likely to assist those from different cultures that experience health disparities, making such training important in achieving health equity. Currently, all staff, especially those in behavioral health, at the Community Health Center are expected to complete yearly cultural foundation training. The cost is minimal and the benefit can be great.
Therefore, I strongly urge you to support SB 366 and to consider all bills in terms of the health impact they have and how equitably they active this impact.
One of the recurring themes in my recent blog posts has been my participation in the Connecticut Health Foundations Health Leadership Fellows Program. It has been a very engaging program which has given me lots to think about. For those interested in participating next year, applications are due April 1st. Please check out the program and see if it might be for you. If you have questions, feel free to contact me directly.
If you have an idea about how to help achieve health justice in Connecticut, you may want to check out the Health Justice CT Challenge. Submissions should include a simple two minute or less video describing the project. I hope to share some of these videos in the coming weeks. Just remember, what matters is the idea, so if you have a great idea, but can't make a great video, make a simple video and let people see the idea. The deadline is February 22nd. Last year, there were some great ideas proposed, and hopefully we'll see some really good ideas proposed this year as well.
If you've got smaller ideas, consider texting them. The Community Health Center Association of Connecticut has a program called Txt 2B Heard. Just text the keyword txt2bheard together with you ideas about how to make health care better to 24587.
If you're looking for more of a discussion, consider joining the Health Care in Social Media CT Group We have monthly meetups and weekly tweetchats. The Meetups are the first Wednesday of every month and the Tweetchats are every other Wednesday at 3 PM, using the #hcsmct hashtag.
Finally, if you're looking for a panel discussion, consider attending the Connecticut Social Media Breakfast on February 22nd at Quinnipiac. February's breakfast will be on Social Media and Healthcare and I will be one of the panelists.
There's a lot of interesting discussions about health care going on here in Connecticut, and I hope you'll find ways to join in.
On Thursday, there was another Citizens' Town Hall in Woodbridge. It was a chance for people to get together and discuss what was going on in Hartford. This month, none of the State Legislators could make it, so it was a discussion amongst citizens.
A few had been to a town hall a few weeks before in a neighboring town. That town hall had two State Legislators attend but the people who went to it complained about the lack of specificity by the State Legislators and their unwillingness to commit to anything. Perhaps some of this is because of the hyper-partisan nature of politics today and how divisive some issues are.
As part of the CT Health Foundation's, Health Leadership Fellows Program, I've been thinking a lot about things like the intent of one's action, the actual impact of the actions, and SMART goals. SMART is an abbreviation for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. All of these seem like things State Legislators should be looking towards, even though some of them tend to avoid specificity.
A good example is the discussion about gun control. One of the State Reps danced around the issue saying that it isn't clear what's going to happen yet. However, I've been following the news. I know that a bunch of bills have been introduced recently.
I've been tracking a bunch of bills in Pearltrees. One bill is S.B. No. 604, AN ACT CONCERNING THE SECURE SAFEKEEPING OF FIREARMS.
The purpose of the bill is "To require a firearm's owner to safely secure the firearm in a locked box or container if the owner knows or should that another person residing in the home presents as a danger to self or others."
There are plenty of issues with this bill. Does it lead to further discrimination against mentally ill people? What about veterans with post traumatic stress disorder? On the other hand, shouldn't all firearm owners safely secure firearms? Some would say that they need to keep their guns easily accessible in case of home invasion, so there is an argument against requiring all people to keep their guns constantly secured.
In an article in the New Canaan News, The Nancy Lanza law: Bill focuses on safekeeping of guns, State Rep. Klarides asks, "It's just how to define what the mental health issue is. Where do we draw the line?"
It seems as there are some simple lines that could be drawn. They might not be perfect, but we shouldn't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. For example, instead of referring to mentally ill people, it might be good to refer to people who have an increased likelihood of misusing guns, including anyone who has been convicted of a drug or alcohol related crime or has been prescribed a psychiatric medicine in the past year.
Legislation, as well as discussions about legislation need to be smarter. They need to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. Discussing ways to make S.B No. 604 implementable is a good example of ways the legislative process can be smarter.