Letter to the editor: Regarding South East Junior High’s musical

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Students from Greenwood Christian Academy in Indiana perform ‘The Wild, Wild, Wildest West,’ a comedic musical Iowa City’s South East Junior High produced in March 2019. — video still

By Jamie Helmick

I am a community member here in Iowa City. I attended the March 8 production of The Wild, Wild, Wildest West at South East Junior High. One of the youth in my youth group is a member of the cast and I came to the show to support them.

However, when I was reading through the program, I noticed that one of the character’s names was “Schizophrenic Kid.” As one of the approximately 9.8 million people in the United States who has a serious mental illness, I was aghast that this play was chosen and approved for junior high students to perform. I am perplexed about how this play could be considered appropriate for any students because of the stigmatizing character of “Schizophrenic Kid.” I am worried about the youth and adults who went to see and laugh at this play going out into the world thinking that throwing around the word “schizophrenic” is not a big deal. It is a big deal and can cause confusion, emotional pain and a spread of ignorance that feeds into the negative stigma associated with mental illness.

Thankfully, we have an excellent local NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) affiliate — NAMI Johnson County. Mary Issah, the executive director of NAMI Johnson County, can be reached at or at (319) 337-5400. NAMI has many resources about mental illness that will be helpful to our community as a whole.

The youth did a very good job performing the musical they were given, but it left a bitter taste in my mouth.

I hope when choosing the next play and musical, better care will be taken to properly vet them. I sent emails to Principal Cook and Ms. Finger, who was the director of the play.

In this wonderful community of Iowa City, I cannot fathom that a junior high would choose a play with a character who is called “Schizophrenic Kid,” uses the word “sissy” more than once, and has racist overtones. I would like everyone to know that Iowa City and their schools are better than this.

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  1. I empathize with the autbor of this editorial. My daughter, also a student at Southeast Junior High, discussed all of these things with the director for the play, specifically. She didn’t particupate, mostly because of the script, and her issues falling in deaf ears. Her concerns were disregarded. I know we cqn do better.

    1. How did you daughter get a copy of the script before the play? What I saw was just character descriptions prior to the tryouts. Did your daughter really just not make the cut? Don’t make up stuff please.

      In response to the article, why didn’t the director just remove the word “sissy”, that is said twice? Why not change the name of the character? The kids did great, but there was a definite lack of sensitivity from the director in advance of all of their hard work. Thank you for taking the time to write this article.

      1. I have no idea why you would think I or my daughter would make anything up. Very bizarre, as is your somewhat defensive reaction. Your implication that just bc a tween interested in the musical didn’t participate bc of concerns with the script is maybe lashing out now bc she “didn’t make the cut” only makes you look childish. I think southeast is being presented with an opportunity to listen to sincere & constructive criticism from its audience and student body. Your opinion is valid, just as mine is, and my daughter’s, and this author’s. There is only one of us stooping to low brow accusations of fabrication, though. So there is that.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with you Ms. Helmick, and I appreciate you writing this letter. My daughter played the “Schizophrenic Kid” character in the SEJH musical, and when I saw the show I was aghast. In addition to the show’s treatment of mental illness, it was full of blatant sexist and racist tropes that have no place anywhere in this day and age, let alone the stage of an Iowa City youth musical. Besides that, the show’s humor was low quality, slapstick, and almost totally based on insults, meanness, and violence. As you say, the kids did a fine job with the material they were given, but it was very poor material. I’m no expert on musicals, but I gotta believe there are way better ones out there than this.

    I also must apologize that as a parent of a student in the musical, I didn’t catch the completely inappropriate nature of the show sooner and intervened. I should have, but it didn’t hit me until I actually saw it performed. I’ll be more alert from now on.

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