Arts & Life

Dear Diary: Welcome to Westerburg High!

May 12, 2021, 9:46 p.m.

Hello from “Heathers!” We write this letter to you as the Co-Directors (Diana Khong ’22 and Gwen Phagnasay Le ’22) and Dramaturg (Kyla Figueroa ’24) of Ram’s Head Theatrical Society’s live digital production of “Heathers: The Musical.” This column’s title (“Dear Diary”) alludes to the first line of the show as jaded protagonist Veronica Sawyer reflects on the hell that is her conformist high school. This space will similarly serve as a place for us to ruminate as we attempt to put on the first official queer re-imagining of “Heathers: The Musical” — rewritten for stage by the playwrights with a love story between two women as its center — and what that ultimately means for us as future theatermakers, artists and misfits.

“Heathers” began as a cult classic 1989 film that was later adapted into a rock musical by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy. The show, a dark satirical take on the cultural norms of high school, follows Veronica through her senior year. She aspires to leave her small suburban town for something bigger, better and far away from the soul-crushing toxicity of her school and its narcissistic mean girls, hypermasculine jocks and perpetual bigotry. 

Going into this production, the directors and our producer Sierra Porter ’22 aimed to put on this show with a cast of predominantly people of color. Veronica’s experience isn’t foreign to us. Those feelings of alienation and non-conformance that plague Veronica also ring true for the many marginalized students who exist on Stanford’s campus. As students and theatermakers of color, we’re also not strangers to theater historically being an exclusive art form that withholds opportunities from communities of color and low-income people. Exposure to theater from an early age is often a matter of luck and area code. Cultivating an intentional community geared around collective growth and learning is our priority. 

And along the way, this story became so much closer to us than we could’ve ever imagined. We first considered gender-bending the character of JD, Veronica’s love interest, during the audition process when Emily Saletan ’24 — who we eventually decided to cast — brought up trying out for JD as a female actor. As two queer people, we, the directors, saw so much possibility in what this story could represent. 

We eventually decided to write a letter to the playwrights of the show, asking for their blessing to change JD’s pronouns. They not only provided their approval but rewrote the show to intentionally center a queer relationship. With that change comes so much nuance — JD becomes not only a casualty of non-conformity but homophobic violence. We watch as bystanders as her vengeance takes on a cruel irony in songs like “My Dead Gay Son.”

Our Creative Team (including our stage manager Yannie ’23, vocal director Zoey Hu ’24 and choreographer Jess Fry ’21) became invested in depicting a complex and multidimensional relationship between two queer women. In this show, the relationship undoubtedly is a harmful one, but we saw possibilities in what conversations this show could spark in talking about harm and abuse in love — even queer love — and nurturing actors to depict that dynamic.

The result was our show, and we could not be more thankful to the community of art makers who made it possible. With the pandemic, making theater has been an incredible challenge but a worthy one. Despite our distance from one another as a theater community separated by COVID, we’ve still found ways to come together and kindle new friendships.

In future articles for “Dear Diary,” we’ll be breaking down love and desire at Stanford, race and gun violence, breaking open white American theater and more.

We hope that you join us in experiencing “Heathers!” Come see “Heathers: The Musical” live on Thursday May 13 & Friday May 14 at 7PM PT and Saturday May 15 at 2PM PT. Get your tickets at musical.stanford.edu!

Kyla Figueroa ‘24 is a Vol. 260–262 Managing Editor for The Grind and a staff writer for Arts & Life. She is a junior from Stockton, California studying English with an emphasis in Creative Writing and minor in CSRE. Ask her about the indie rock and pop music scene, the coming-of-age genre, and Slaughterhouse-Five at kfigueroa ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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