December 3, 2020

Carousel: A missed conversation about abuse

This past weekend, Webster’s Conservatory put on a beautiful show with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical “Carousel.” The show featured some of the best choreography The Journal has seen from students and standout performances by several actors and actresses, the two romantic leads in particular.
But “Carousel” isn’t all about carnival fun. The show, set in coastal Maine near the turn of the 20th century, hits on heavy subjects such as alcohol and class warfare. The Journal recognizes that often times, Webster’s theatre department has a reputation for living in a fantasy world of song and dance — we found the choice of “Carousel” to have many themes relevant to modern-day situations.
And yet, “Carousel” did mention certain topics that strike a nerve with The Journal and Webster students alike. The male lead, Billy Bigelow, is known as a womanizer and abusive man, who strikes out physically several times onstage towards his wife and daughter. The daughter, Louise, asks her mother Julie if a hard slap can feel like a kiss, and Julie replies that sometimes a hit doesn’t hurt at all.
Obviously, The Journal realizes that Webster students did not write “Carousel”, and we don’t fault the Conservatory for choosing an established show with hit music. But certain themes seemed unsettling.
Webster is a school that prides itself on human rights and equality, which includes women’s rights. Each year, Webster focuses on a new international human rights topic, sparking conversation with speakers and films. So what message do we send when we perform a show that attempts to justify or rationalize domestic violence under the premise that love conquers all? “He didn’t mean it.” Tell that to the woman in the audience fleeing an abusive husband, the child who grew up hiding from violence in his or her home.
The Conservatory should have been more aware of the Webster audience. Including a disclaimer with a hotline number in the program could have easily addressed concerns.
We feel that there is no right or wrong answer in this situation. The Journal is not seeking to take away from the talent and hard work students and faculty alike put into making “Carousel” a reality. But we do think issues like domestic violence deserve conversation and education, and this show in particular brought these questions to light. We hope that students and faculty who attended “Carousel” will be brave enough to discuss abuse, direct those in need to support groups and end the cycle of abusive relationships for women and children.

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