Pitman Drama


Madiha Haideri (10th), Editor-in-Chief

The Pitman Drama Productions did yet another great job with their recent play, The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee. From the songs to the casting, to the acting and singing: everything was done to a perfection. The dressing, however, did not meet the same standards. Well to cultured people at least. That is said not to be rude but to point out that to understand the problem, one must have some sense of knowing why the issue is an issue to begin with. 


For those that did not attend the play, let it be said for the record that it was well done by our peers. However, the only problem that arose out of the show was the dressing of one of the characters. While it may not seem as controversial to some, let me highlight the fact that the hijab (scarf that Muslim women wear) is a symbol of modesty; the women wear it out of respect and humility. 


Now. With all that said, the character being discussed (Olive’s mom) was wonderfully played by Emma Smith, a sophomore at Pitman High School (PHS). The problem with her dressing was the fact that she was wearing a revealing dress with a scarf on her head. First off, the scarf on her head was shown to be a form of the hijab as there are many ways it is worn around the world. And it is not for me, or anyone, to tell a hijabi woman how to wear her hijab. As someone in India in an ashram (temple) and wearing a hijab as a sign of modesty and respect for the place, wearing a dress like that is contradicting what the hijab stands for. Not only is it a disrespectful portrayal of wearing what is considered an inappropriate dress to a temple, but also wearing a hijab with such a dress is disrespectful and insensitive. 


Granted that it is a mere high school show and that the dressing should not be dramatized and taken seriously. However, this is not about exaggerating a play in high school, this is about educating the people about certain cultures and religions around the world. If it is to be portrayed in a story or a play, the least the writers, directors, or producers could do is respect it and keep it accurate. 


I decided to interview the Pitman Drama Director, Patrick Norris, to get his opinion on this matter. I asked him about his point of view on whether or not this issue is “serious enough” as some students have indirectly hinted that it is not. Norris replied with, “I would like to start by apologizing to anyone who may have been offended by the costume choice in the scene you mention from our recent production. I believe this costume choice is being misunderstood, and it’s important to note this character’s description is provided for us in the script and changes are strictly prohibited by copyright laws within our Performance License. The costume design for this scene was designed by students within our department and the choice was made to illustrate the ways this character is out of place in India and should instead be at home supporting her child. We took inspiration from the original production’s costume design and the similar design of productions across the nation. That being said, the point you bring up about modesty is something we should have taken into consideration and I am committed to finding better methods of leading our student designers to culturally sensitive decision making.


Another question that was asked of Norris was, “In general, how often does Pitman drama include concepts from other cultures, religions, peoples?” Norris responded with, “As the Director of Pitman Drama I search for Plays and Musicals that have a central message or theme that resonates with me. The theme of The 25th Annual County Spelling Bee is centered around celebrating one’s unique qualities and individuality, furthermore it’s about forming friendships and connections with others who differ from us, even if this occurs within a competitive spelling bee. I work diligently to make decisions which are culturally sensitive and respectful to the text of the playwright, the character being represented, and the actor portraying this character. I thank you for the insight as to how our costume choice in this scene was offensive, I aim to do better moving forward.


I also interviewed Smith, who played Olive’s mom, to get a more in depth idea of what went on behind the scenes and an opinion from the person that played this role and wore the costume. 


I asked, “Since you were the person playing Olive’s mom, what is your opinion on this issue?” Smith responded with, “I think these problems in theater shows should be talked about. I did voice my concern about the outfit, and asked if the outfit is okay. I felt a little uncomfortable at the moment, but I did not want to make it hard on anyone and wanted to be easy going. So I sucked it up for the sake of others. However, I don’t think the intentions were bad when we made the costume. I think we just did not have enough research about it; I don’t think that the intent was malicious. I think next time, we should think about what we are doing.”


Smith was asked how she thinks this issue will affect the drama class. To this, she replied with, “I think this will affect us in a positive light, there will be more research for the costuming and putting ourselves in the perspective of others so we don’t make another mistake.”


At the end of the day, it’s not to say that the Pitman Drama is out to get people with hijabs or people in ashrams. I’m sure they did not put together this costume to offend anyone or anything or with any hostile intentions. However, this article’s purpose is to educate students and staff alike, to raise awareness towards the hijab and what it symbolizes.