Most of you have heard about the expulsion of Alex Barton from his kindergarten class nearly a year ago (If you haven't, see this article.), and I wrote a letter to the St. Lucie Schools superintendent, Michael Lannon, suggesting that Honk! should be performed by at least one high school in the 2009-2010 school year. This is the transcript of the letter:
Dear Mr. Lannon,
I read several articles regarding the sad tale of formerly 5-year-old Alex Barton’s expulsion from his kindergarten class by a margin of 14-2 from the student body that formerly learned skills from their teacher, Wendy Portillo, to whom you had the board suspended almost last month. I am very satisfied with what you have done because little did she realize that he has Aspberger syndrome, which is a high-functioning autism spectrum disorder. I have a low-to-moderate disorder at that spectrum, and I am outraged at her and her class’s actions. Autism was a bit on the rare side in my childhood in the 1990’s, but 1 in 150 children would be diagnosed with the same disorder in general that I’m now living with. Barton is now homeschooled, and his self-esteem eventually suffered from this Survivor-type incident.
A lot of you have had Hans Christian Andersen’s (who was presumably autistic) fairy tale, “The Ugly Duckling,” read before you were tucked into bed in childhood, during story time in your school days, or to your own children. I want to emphasize that the ugly duckling in real life, in the context of your school district, is Barton, because so many people don’t understand his condition. I want people to listen to more than just an oral and visual recitation of “The Ugly Duckling,” and there’s a musical out of Britain, which is now playing at Christian Youth Theaters and other amateur productions nationwide.
In 1993, the musical theater team of Alain Boubil and Claude-Michal Schoenberg offered Anthony Drewe, a British lyricist and librettist for musicals, to co-write two musicals based on “The Red Shoes” and “Thumbelina,” but they were canned. He bought an anthology of Andersen’s tales and decided to adapt a musical from “The Ugly Duckling.” He neither contributed the input to Schoenberg nor Boubil, but his mutual friend and composer, George Stiles, placed his words to music. (The year before writing the show, they co-founded the Mercury Workshop, now Mercury Musical Developments, which is an organization of people who share their occupations in theater – writers and composers.) Later that year, The Ugly Duckling, or The Aesthetically-Challenged Farmyard Fowl, premiered at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury, under the direction of Steven Dexter.
Four years later, the famous West End director, Julia McKenzie offered Sir Alan Ayckbourn to have it premiered at the St. Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, and that show was rebranded Honk! It became so successful that Trevor Nunn ushered it to the West End in 1999 – at the Royal National Theatre, and it garnered an Olivier, the British Tony facsimile, for Best New Musical, when the public expected either ABBA jukebox hit Mamma Mia! or Disney newbie The Lion King to win.
I haven’t watched the musical in person, although it’s one of my favorites. I can relate Barton to Ugly, Portillo to Drake (his father), and the 14 who voted him out to his siblings, Beaky, Billy, Fluff, and Downy. If the Survivor-like scene when the class voted Barton under the direction of Portillo were a musical, it would resemble the musical number, “Look At Him.” The reason why I’m conjuring the comparisons is because the classmates had a say about the numerous dislikes about him (from eating his homework, humming, and throwing mucous), just as Ugly’s own siblings squawk about the ways they loathe their own brother. As I read various articles regarding this, I thought about that show.
Mr. Lannon, because on the outrage of the expulsion of an autistic child by student vote in the past year, I request that a high school in the district would perform Honk! as their spring musical in the 2009-2010 school year. I even went as far as contacting the writers, Stiles and Drewe, about writing this letter and sending the link to the article of Portillo’s suspension. The show is more than just a personal favorite – it’s a musical theater work designed to foster compassion towards diversity, especially when it comes to incrementing numbers of autistic individuals like me. I may be a Hillsborough County former student who lives near Brandon, near Tampa.
Thank you for reading this letter and considering my recommendation. My heart and prayers go towards the Barton family.