Dialogue can help healing

Sometimes, when we feel powerless about the things going on in the world around us, it helps just to talk about it.

Whether those discussions take place with friends, family, people of similar beliefs or those on the opposite end of the spectrum, talking can help people better understand how they feel.

More importantly, discussions that take place in a healthy way and in a safe environment, can help people understand how they can take action.

Leeds Center for the Arts hosted two “talk backs” following performances of “Hairspray” this weekend.

The musical production is adapted from John Waters’ 1988 film, which is set in Baltimore in 1962. The show deals primarily with the topic of racism, but also offers commentary on interracial relationships and body acceptance. It tells the story of Tracy Turnblad, a plus-sized teenager who dreams of dancing on The Corny Collins Show. When her dream unexpectedly comes true, she becomes a celebrity overnight and leverages that notoriety to fight to allow African-Americans to dance alongside the all-white cast.

The show is loosely based on the real-life Buddy Deane Show, which was cancelled in 1960s rather than integrating the cast.

As the Leeds cast was rehearsing what they initially considered a historical show, current events revealed that the themes of the show are as important today as they were in the 1960s.

During the talk backs, which were led by the Rev. Marvin King of First Baptist Church, the events of Charlottesville were mentioned frequently as a example that racism is still prevalent in America.

The audience and cast had the opportunity to self-reflect and also comment on how the show offered a much-needed critique of society.

As King noted, art is a lens through which we look at society critically. Artistic expression is a way to question society. In this case, “Hairspray” was an opportunity to re-evaluate the current climate of race relations in Winchester and America.

We agree with King’s assessment that open, safe dialogue is a critical starting point for change.

These days, people sit behind a computer screen and post commentary, critique and often spew hate with little repercussion. Many of us may be afraid to speak out online because of the impending hateful responses from others.

That was not the case during these talk backs. Those who spoke were encouraged to be open and honest. And although the discussions dealt with heavy, uncomfortable topics, the conversation remained optimistic and hopeful.

King said it best: “If we can love our self, love others and work together, changes happen. The hate in society doesn’t take root. We can take the message back to our homes that we can be a better community together.”

What happened at Leeds this weekend was beautiful in that members of the community gathered to be entertained, but left enlightened.