Outside of contributing to the drama of this show as part of the Cathedral Choir, I work with homeless individuals and families to evaluate the cause of their homelessness in order to stabilize their situation. It’s funny that whenever I mention to people I work with the homeless, everyone starts to drown me out with their own supposed expert opinion of why people are really homeless based on a few people they have met and maybe talked to for ten minutes. The homeless are more often seen as a stain on the city, and blamed for their own condition, and kicked out of public places quite similar to the treatment of the people labeled gypsies in this show. Even for myself in my own work, when I think I have someone all figured out, the repulsive behavior of Claude Frollo is a good reminder of how often we make judgments and moral assumptions about someone whose life we barely know without allowing them to tell their own story. We can be much more like Frollo than we’d like to admit, perpetuating racism and poverty by being much quicker to condemn than to try understand or help.
How often are we really like Esmeralda, willing to risk the hostile stare and revile of others to show kindness to someone who is despised and outcast? Yet Esmeralda is demonized based on her cultural background, assumed lifestyle and moral character without out ever being allowed to speak for herself at all. She is even wrongfully accused of witchcraft.
And in regards to Quasimodo, he is just like the people that we today dehumanize and stigmatize and want to pretend are not a part of our society and want to keep hidden because seeing them disturbs us.
Why does it disturb us to see disfigured people? Or homeless people? Why is it so hard for us to let people from other cultures, creeds or lifestyles be? Is it because it makes us feel guilty? Because we need someone else to look down on as morally inferior? Or because it reminds of the fragility and vulnerability of the human condition that so scares us? Any of us are just a few paychecks away from being homeless, one accident away from being disfigured or disabled, one move away to a neighborhood or country where we are the minority and the stranger.
Despite all this, to quote Archdeacon Frollo, these are crimes for which the world shows little pity. Waukesha Civic Theater’s Hunchback of Notre Dame powerfully shows the cruelty of prejudice and hypocrisy in the name of moral authority and progress, backed by the easily influenced populace. Five hundred years later, the medieval attitudes of Frollo and the angry mob are terrifyingly familiar to how we as individuals and a society treat others today, more than they are on a commentary on a distant backwards past.
The cast and all involved in this production, beautifully illustrate the power and value of theater, through story and song to challenge us and to bring light to what dark part of us needs to be acknowledged and left as a part of history, if we really want that kinder, fairer, and wiser someday to come before the people who need our compassion and understanding the most, are gone.
Amy Teutenberg ~ Cathedral Choir