Opposing Views: Leading Ladies Change Fall Production

Michelle S. Lee '16, Veronica Brown '16 & Anya Gruber '16

Editor-in-Chief & Associate Editors

Rock musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” debuted in 2009 to critical acclaim, but as the production toured the country, it faced a number of protests and cancellations. Native American advocacy groups objected to the musical’s comedic treatment of Andrew Jackson, including his passage of the Indian Removal Act.

Recently, these tensions surfaced at Smith. The college’s musical theater ensemble Leading Ladies planned to put on the musical as their fall production. When the troupe created a Facebook event page for the auditions on Sept. 12, a student quickly posted a criticism, and a debate followed in the comments.

Ultimately, Leading Ladies removed the event and decided to change their fall production to “Jekyll & Hyde.” All comments were deleted with the removal of the event. The incident was met with dissatisfaction from members of the Smith community on both sides of the issue.

The Indigenous Smith Students and Allies (ISSA), a cultural organization at Smith, expressed disappointment with the choice of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.” While the ISSA as an organization did not directly participate in the Facebook conversation, they said, “Based on our research of the production, we would like to explicitly state that we do not condone [‘Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson’] and were severely disappointed to learn that it was a contender at all.”

In a statement to The Sophian, the ISSA said, “[‘Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson’] was more than a poor choice of production and hurt feelings. It wounded our community and demonstrated the importance of representation, especially in the context of an elite, predominately white institution where there is very little.”

Such were not the intentions of Leading Ladies, according to Quinn Malter ’18. Malter, who planned to direct the production, explained, “I chose ‘Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson’ to engage in an intelligent dialogue with the audience about the dangers of allowing devastating parts of our history to repeat themselves.”

Malter touched on the timely nature of the production in the context of recent social justice movements in the United States. “As a nation, we have encountered a tipping point in the last year with issues concerning marginalized groups -- i.e., racial profiling among police, dissent over marriage equality and proposed immigration reforms among politicians, to name a few,” said Malter. “This is what led me to choose ‘Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,’ so that we, as a college community, could highlight the unacceptable treatment of marginalized people.”

While the play was intended to underscore the injustices of the late president’s executive actions from the cast’s perspective, the ISSA remained steadfast in their position that the production still contributed to systemic oppression of indigenous populations.

“Though it has been repeatedly stated that the production was nothing short of a satire, we believe that this argument is a means of derailment from the larger issues at hand,” said the ISSA. “While it is possible to play on the elements of satire in certain productions, we believe that [‘Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson’] heavily relies on the silence, dehumanization and degradation of Indigenous peoples.”

They argued, “It is undeniable that this production thrives on a history of racism, dispossession, genocide and colonialism – institutions that continue to exist in our society today. And though this issue might not seem as urgent to some, it is a burden we have carried and will continue to carry for the rest of our lives.”

Members of Leading Ladies recognized the potentially controversial nature of the musical and planned to edit offensive content, Malter explained. “I feel it’s essential to state how the Leading Ladies planned to make cuts and changes, as well as implement a talkback with the audience about the issues presented in the show and their consequences today.”

Malter ultimately stands by the potential of the production. She said, “In a college that celebrates the rich diversity of people from around the world, I felt that this show would be seen as the thought-provoking piece it was intended to be. Never once did I intend to make jokes at the expense of the victims of these tragedies.”