“What makes a monster and what makes a man?” Or so goes the riddle (“to guess if you can”) woven throughout the duration of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, Knight Theatre’s most recent production. For those unfamiliar with the story, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” tells the story of Quasimodo, the deformed bell ringer of Notre Dame who longs to live “Out There” in the world with the rest of the congregation of Paris. Deemed too ugly to experience the cruel world outside the cathedral by his abusive master Archdeacon Claude Frollo, Quasimodo sneaks out one day during the Feast of Fools. There, he meets the Romani girl Esmeralda, and his life is changed forever. The musical, with music from the Disney movie, bases its tragic storyline on the original novel by Victor Hugo. Knight Theatre’s production ran from January 24-28, 2018 to sold-out audiences.
With the production now completed-- with many tears shed and life returned back to normal-- I have purposely removed “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” from my thoughts. It has been my hope that, by separating myself from the unforgettable experience, I would be able to accurately articulate my feelings surrounding this emotional, socially relevant production. It would be easy to spend the length of this article talking about the memorable experiences, the laughs and tears, but that is not the article you will find in the remaining paragraphs. That article would not do this show justice.
The message of the show is clear: our actions, not our appearance, dictate our value as citizens of the world. Quasimodo, a person cursed with deformities, is a beautiful human being; he is kind, considerate, and innocent. His master, Frollo, is blessed with the power of his ranking in the Church, but uses that power to malign not only Quasimodo, but also the Romani people living in Paris. It should be noted that the Romani people have historically been vilified with the term “gypsies,” an ethnic slur.
In the current political climate where people are verbally, physically, and emotionally abused for their religious, racial, and ethnic backgrounds, the story of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” rings through the centuries. Unfortunately, like Frollo, there are people in power who choose to denigrate minority citizens, as well as others who may be underrepresented in society. It is inherently wrong of us to stereotype groups of people because of their appearance. Instead, we should place value on the actions of individuals, their contributions to society not the color of their skin or their choice of worship.
Moreover, this denigration does not end in the world of politics. Verbal, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse is being viciously wielded by some of the most influential people in our society-- by film producers, Olympic doctors, and CEO’s to name a few. Even if we as ordinary citizens do not hold the same amount of power, by doing nothing, by standing by and allowing injustices to occur without speaking up, we are contributing to the violence and hate as bystanders.
Are you silent, or do you speak up? And if you speak, are you perpetuating prejudice, or are you lending a voice to fight for equality? As the show hopefully declares, “someday these dreams will all be real”. Someday, but unfortunately, not today.
But we can change that.
In the traditions of our institution, we can join together in the spirit of communio and make real change happen by spreading radical hospitality, standing together with those fighting against the wrongdoings in our world, hand in hand. If we stand together in solidarity, we can achieve something much greater than ourselves. The future is dependent upon this, dependent upon the voices of many coming together in unison.
“Change will come. One day, someday, soon.”
So, what makes a monster and what makes a man? Which are you?