Dana Hall Speaks: A Twist to the Timmy Tradition

“Dana Hall Speaks” is a new feature of the Hallmanac that will highlight the voices of the Dana Hall community about current issues. This first column prominently features junior and senior voices because of the subject matter, but normally the Hallmanac will strive to represent a cross-section of Dana voices. If you have a suggestion for a Dana Hall Speaks topic, please let us know!

Dana Hall students first performed a play called “Revels” in 1921. This annual winter performance grows out of a medieval tradition that was revived by a number of groups in the United States and Europe in the twentieth century. Dana Hall’s Revels tradition has seen several changes over the years. For example, in 1947 Principal Alnah Johnston described the mood of the play as one of “deep reverence,” which is certainly a contrast to the spirit of modern performances. The Dana Hall play originally featured Saint Francis, who has since dropped out of the script, and was performed by members of the entire school body rather than being the purview of the junior class.

The 2013 performance will see yet another change to the tradition. According to Junior Class Dean Nia Hays and Director of the Upper School Jessica Keimowitz, “In keeping with the School’s emphasis on inclusivity and community, the junior Class Deans and the Administrative Team agreed that a minor change to the Revels script was necessary in order to avoid making a caricature of Timmy as a person with a physical disability. Many felt that portraying Timmy with a physical disability leads the audience to focus on what people with physical disabilities cannot do, as opposed to all that they can do. It’s not the disability itself that is offensive, nor is it the desire to cover-up physical disability that is the impetus for the change. The concern was that the original script made jokes at the expense of Timmy’s disability, and that we then played into stereotypes that pity the disabled. While the Dana Hall community values the traditions that are so important to this school, we also know that arguments for what is ‘traditional’ are too often used — both throughout history and in modern times — to marginalize and discriminate against people.”

Ms. Keimowitz and Ms. Hays continued, “The core of the play remains the same, and continues to be about bringing light to the darkest day of the year and ushering in the well-deserved Winter Break.”

The change has elicited a variety of strong opinions from members of the Dana Hall community:

“I think tradition is bound to change over time. It already has. I don’t think this new change is a big deal, and the play is still going to be just as enjoyable.”  Holly McHenry ’14

“I feel like you only notice [Timmy’s disability] if you are part of the production. The audience wouldn’t be focused on that part of the play, and I don’t think they would be offended as the deans assumed they would be. It was not a big deal, but I do understand why they made the change.”  Merab McFarland ’15

“While I think it is a considerate change, I fear the change will make things more awkward than helpful. I don’t think it’s offensive as some people think because it is actors acting a part. I think it is up to the actor to portray it correctly without being offensive.”  Hadia Jalloh ’14

“As an advisor of Best Buddies, we welcome the change to the tradition. There is no reason to highlight disability. You can get the point across in a different way.”  Donna Corrigan, Dean of Residential Life

“I think it’s okay to have a disabled person in the play. People are cheering for him; it’s not being derogatory. People are being represented, which is a good thing.”  Julie Sheldon, Upper School math teacher

“I don’t really see the change. On the stage, I can see what Timmy is wearing on the ankle so I still think that he is disabled. It’s just not that obvious.”  Nicole Chan ’15

“He is essential to the performance. They should keep it in the tradition. But if [his disability] offends anyone, then they should find away to make the character really slow [so that he doesn’t get into the castle at first].”  Leslie Laurie ’14

Revels, c. 1923

“Traditions changing is what makes them fun and unique.”  Frances Chase ’06 and Assistant to the Dean of Students

“It’s a traditional play, and I feel like Dana Hall shouldn’t be changing it, even if they think it’s offensive. The Dana community understands the tradition, and that’s all that should matter.”  Emily Dumont ’14

“Traditions are important, but they need to adapt and to change as the people and culture around them change.”  Krista Falcone, Upper School English teacher and twelfth-grade class dean

Photos: (top) Timmy in the 2012 Revels performance. (right) Florida Friebus 1926 as the Little Lame Boy in the 1923 Revels. Courtesy of the Nina Heald Webber 1949 Archives in the Helen Temple Cooke Library.

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