Lessons learned from ‘The Little Mermaid’

The dress rehearsal for “The Little Mermaid” before the school had to be closed to students by midnight, Friday, March 13.
The dress rehearsal for “The Little Mermaid” before the school had to be closed to students by midnight, Friday, March 13.
Photo by John Brehm

As I prepared to write this week’s column, it was my intention to feature the opening of the Groton High School Drama Club’s musical, “The Little Mermaid,” which was supposed to have taken place March 20 and 21.

With the unprecedented health crisis that we are all very aware of, GHS’ production has been postponed to a future date, possibly sometime in May, though nothing is “set in stone” at the time of this writing.

Directing her 15th straight musical for the GHS Drama Club, Annette Twitchell has found a way to integrate each year’s production with education, and this year was no exception. In lieu of writing about the play itself, I bring you some detail on how Twitchell approached this with “The Little Mermaid.”

Many young people struggle with depression today. According to recent studies at Columbia University, depression is on the rise, especially among teens.

Twitchell saw the correlation between this and underlying themes in the musical and found a unique way to weave that into her “Theatre-as-Education” piece.

The theme of broken family relationships is the foundation for two central ideas in the story of “The Little Mermaid,” the rebellion of Ariel against her father and the sad demise of Ursula. Ariel questions her father’s love for her as he places restrictions on her going to the surface, and Ursula sings of how she was not a pretty child. While her sisters “got adored,” she “just got ignored.”

She did all she could to get her father’s attention, including killing her sisters, but it did not bring about the result for which she had hoped.

“I’ve been familiar with the story of ‘The Little Mermaid’ since it first came out 30 years ago, but the additional songs and development of Ursula’s character in the theatrical version were new to me,” Twitchell said.

When she read the lyrics to Ursula’s song, “Daddy’s Little Angel,” Twitchell said they struck her as “disturbing,” and she saw a clear connection between Ursula’s cry for attention and the lack of affection she felt from her father.

“Working with teenagers now for 30 years, I have seen a growing number of students who face emotional struggles stemming from their home lives,” Twitchell said. “Our culture has changed in so many ways that have negatively impacted our children, as evidenced by the rise of depression among teens.”

Twitchell said she saw the opportunity to address this very important topic by connecting this musical to the emotional well-being of teens today, utilizing Gary Chapman’s book, “The 5 Love Languages,” which addresses the ways people show and receive love.

As a means of promoting emotional self-awareness, the Drama Club students were encouraged to take a test designed for teenagers to determine their primary “love language.” They were asked to share the results with their parents and loved ones with the goal of building stronger relationships between parents and teens.

“The students’ reactions after taking the love languages test was fun to see. Many of them were very excited to see who else had the same primary language and they bonded with each other on a new level,” Twitchell said. “Some were less interested, but that’s OK too. A few became very emotional.”

Chloe Conger, a sophomore who portrays one of Ariel’s sisters, Allana, said she thought it was interesting to find out which language was her main way of expressing love.

“My primary was physical touch, with quality time close behind,” she said. “I thought they were pretty accurate, and I had fun taking the quiz and sharing the results with others. It really helped me feel better about myself for others to know this to express love. I really enjoyed this concept, and it’s something I would share with my other friends as well.”

Another sophomore, Sarah Dean, who plays the role of Jetsam, said doing the five love languages is a great idea for theater as education this year.

“It really fits in with the story of the show,” she said. “It’s also very helpful to know what love language people are to build better, stronger bonds with family or friends.”

Dean also said it helped her understand why she gets impacted by certain actions more than others.

“For example, my love language is words of affirmation, so if someone tells me how well I did on something, that means a lot more to me than just a pat on the back,” she said.

Brynn Blasz, one of the eighth-graders in the show who plays the role of Windward, said she already knew her love language before taking the test.

“I do feel the test was accurate because I value quality time and I don’t like receiving gifts (they were my top and bottom results),” she said.

Blasz said she shared her results with her parents, who got the same results.

“My parents already knew the way I receive affection, but the test kind of breaks down how much you value each love language,” she said. “The information can help bring families together to help understand how their children or other relatives receive affection.”

Twitchell said Chapman’s “The 5 Love Languages” revolutionized her home life in parenting her own children, so she thought it might give the families of the cast members a boost for a good family discussion or perhaps hope for building better relationships.

“Ultimately, I am hoping that this will be a tool they can use to navigate relationships as they go through the tumultuous teen years and beyond,” she said.

While Twitchell and her students were disappointed that the show “could not go on,” they were grateful to have received their costumes in time to do one dress rehearsal for now and look forward to bringing “The Little Mermaid” to Groton’s stage before too long.

Groton on the Inside appears weekly. Submit news ideas to Linda Competillo, lmc10@cornell.edu or 607-227-4922.

In brief:


While it is likely clear that most things you may have planned on this month have been cancelled, the following organizations would like to get an official word out.

The McLean Fire Station March breakfast that was scheduled for Sunday, March 22 has been cancelled. The organizers are hopeful that the April 19 breakfast will be happening, but that remains in flux at this time.

The Foodnet Meals on Wheels presentation on emergency preparedness in conjunction with the Finger Lakes Independence Center that was scheduled for Wednesday, March 25 at Center Village Court has been cancelled, as are all Foodnet presentations, until further notice.

Doug’s Trash Removal

In this challenging time, Doug’s Trash Removal routes will run on normal schedules. Please make sure all your trash is bagged and tied up and set curbside on your normal pickup day by 7 a.m., and please limit the total weight of your trash can to 50 pounds.

Please do not use oversized trash cans. They recommend a 30-gallon trash container for easy dumping.

“Our priority is to keep our employees healthy and safe,” Doug’s said. “We have an important responsibility to continue to provide service to all our customers.”

Graduation speakers named

The Groton High School Class of 2020 has named its speakers for its graduation ceremony that will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 27.

The valedictorian will be Lilyann McCormick, who was named with a 99.377 GPA, and Abby Corcoran, with a GPA of 98.07, will be the salutatorian.

Congratulations to both these young women and their families.


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