Credit: Julia Callini

Senior Show: An evolving tradition

The senior show is a longstanding tradition at Wayland High School and serves as a time for the senior class to come together and create dances, perform skits and share jokes with friends and family. Although the show is still running, there have been revisions to the process and to what content is and isn’t allowed, leaving many students with questions about the event.

Currently, the Class of 2023 is in the process of creating scripts for their senior show. With the help of administration and class advisors, student writers and directors have been working on creating content for the show that is both entertaining and deemed acceptable by adults at the school.

On Nov. 8, the class’s e-board held a meeting for seniors interested in writing scripts. Senior show directors Brennan Davies, Prash Subbiah and Katie Schouten conducted the meeting along with a couple of other students interested in writing. Students met with the class advisors, where they talked about some of the ground rules for the scripts, how the show worked and how to make sure everyone was included.

“The big thing that [the class advisors] wanted us to know was to keep [the scripts] appropriate for all ages because this is definitely a show for parents and younger siblings,” senior writer Austin Russell said. “[The class advisors] also wanted to make sure there were no rude comments or singling anyone out.”

Senior class advisor Jennifer Reed thought it was very important to set the boundary on making jokes about individuals. In her opinion, the audience will not be able to enjoy the show to its full extent if they are concerned they will be negatively featured.

“Everyone shouldn’t be sitting in their seats thinking, ‘I really hope they didn’t target me in the scripts,'” Reed said. “That has to be the worst feeling in the world sitting there, whether as a senior, underclassman or a teacher.”

After the initial script writing meeting, student writers started constructing the original draft script ideas with the help of the directors. A couple of weeks after the initial meeting, the script ideas were due and the writers met with the class advisors along with Assistant Principal Sean Gass.

“[The second] meeting to me was very confusing because we were told that a lot of our ideas were not appropriate,” Russell said. “We weren’t allowed to use a white Prius joke for one of our scripts even though the owners of the car were consenting to it. A lot of senior shows in the past would single out one kid who was doing something funny, and now we can’t do that, even if the kid consents to it.”

There has been much debate between the show writers and the assisting faculty about consent. While some students believe they should be able to make fun of people if they give permission to the writers, Gass thinks this situation could become tricky.

“It’s totally fine [for a student] to get up there to make fun of themselves, but for other people to go up there and poke [fun at] them only and ask them if it’s okay, it gets a little problematic,” Gass said “Consent to being made fun of is a little bit challenging in this context. In the broader context of the world, if you’re a public figure, you kind of give consent to being made fun of in some ways. You sort of expect that someone will imitate you on SNL or something like that, but in high school, it’s a little more complicated than that.”

The advisors and administrators have decided to rule out every joke that targets a specific individual. They hope this will prevent encounters between students who may feel forced into giving their approval to be featured despite discomfort.

“There are power dynamics,” Gass said. “Do you think [a student] might be unduly influenced to say ‘yes, it’s okay’ even though they really don’t think it is?”

This controversy over which topics are deemed acceptable for senior show extends to other areas beyond individuals. Ideas proposed about “rizz,” calling out the gender-neutral bathroom and blazers were also asked to be removed by admin.

“There is a gatekeeper part of my role, which is that some things that may seem funny from your perspective, or from a writer’s perspective, might not be funny from other perspectives, they might even be offensive and difficult,” Gass said. “There are some things that cross a line.”

Instead of removing scripts outright, administration and writers have been working together to revise scripts to make them more appropriate. This way, they hope to find a middle ground between including ideas seniors find important to memorialize while also producing a show that administrators feel comfortable with.

“There were a bunch of little things [admin] didn’t approve of,” senior scriptwriter Ryan Desmond said. “Main ideas were fine, but there were specific things you couldn’t talk about or name a person or identify a car. It was just minor editing. There was only one script we had to completely get rid of.”

The 2020 and 2021 senior classes could not perform a senior show due to the coronavirus pandemic. The time away from these performances gave administrators time to come together and change how senior shows are run.

“I think people have an idea of what they have seen in other senior shows, and then they want to use the same kind of writing as that,” Reed said. “If you’re only looking at siblings and what they did and hearing from people that graduated, that is what you have in your mind. I don’t think it’s an intentional miss-the-mark [for current seniors]. I think it is just really hard to separate what you want with what’s acceptable now. We have made that shift, and it’s really hard for the seniors to jump on that train.”

Reed was also the class advisor of the graduating class of 2022. She and co-advisor Scott Parseghian brought in experts from comedy group Boston Improv to help the seniors write their scripts. The Class of 2022 was given a grant for the Boston Improv assistance, allowing them to rehearse for multiple hours together. However, this year, getting outside help with script writing has been more difficult.

“We are working with the PTO, who is funding this grant,” Reed said. “Either Boston Improv or something similar will be assisting students, kind of tweaking the scripts. They are the professionals. They are the ones that are going to say ‘this joke isn’t really coming out as you want it to, let’s change it so we can get the whole audience to laugh.’”

Senior show will be performed by the senior class this upcoming March. Until then, administration, class advisors and students are continuing to work together to bring the show altogether.

“It always blows my mind how everyone is so stressed, and you feel like nothings going to come together, and then it happens and it’s great,” Reed said. “You see these students who you have never seen talk to each other before, and they are like, ‘I really enjoyed working with you” and ‘this is a great experience.’ It’s a memory the seniors are going to have forever, and I hope more people get involved.”

Senior Show over the years
Senior Show 2023 infographic
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