Inside “The Outsiders”


Credit: Alison Sheehy Photography

Kai Dirksen, Contributing Writer

The Outsiders is a coming of age novel about two rival gangs and a 14-year-old protagonist named Ponyboy. He lives with his brothers and hangs out with the ‘Greasers’ – who go up against the rival ‘Socs’ – until one night, things go too far and a Soc is killed in a fight. Throughout the rest of the story, Ponyboy faces the consequences of his actions as he runs from the cops and confronts his own mortality.

The novel by S.E. Hinton was published in 1967, followed by the release of the movie in 1983 and the play in 1990. It has been performed in theaters around the country, and as of Friday, October 21, Hastings High School was added to that list. 

Nevertheless, there were a few bumps in the road for this production. 

This year, the fall play, usually directed by Rachel Wineberg, was directed by Laurie Walton. Walton has been directing the spring musical for numerous years but hasn’t directed the play for some time. The difference between a musical and a play can be a large one: plays don’t have the songs and dancing to lighten the mood, and plays can run the same amount of time as a musical without the musical numbers — meaning there is much more to do when it comes to acting and dialogue. Yet Walton took up the challenge and began preparations and soon enough, auditions. 

There has been some recent controversy over the casting decisions made in this show. For those who have not read the novel by S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders is an entirely male-dominated story. With a total of 17 major characters, only two are female. This initially presented some concern, as, historically, the Hastings theater company has been majority female. 

Because of this, the possibility of genderbending was widely expected. Genderbending is taking a character of a piece of media and swapping the gender of the role to fit the actor playing the role. For instance, the 2021 revival cast of the Broadway show Company decided to genderbend their cast, swapping the majority of roles for actors of the opposite gender to play. 

For Walton’s production, however, the cast was not genderbent. The majority of the original characters that were written as male remained that way, and all of the female roles remained as such also. All the leads remained consistent in the gender of the character to that of the actor portraying them – the only roles not kept as the same gender were two supporting characters. “The teacher is Ms. Syme now, and Jeri [a parent] is spelled J-e-r-i, so Jeri’s a woman now also,” says actor Eli Rothstein, who played Ponyboy. 

However, this still proved to be an iffy solution.  Although many auditioned for the show, seniors — specifically senior girls — were mainly cast as ensemble. which leads to the issue of seniority. In many shows, directors have opted to give seniors larger roles than freshmen. Usually, this is because the seniors are leaving and won’t have many more opportunities for a lead role before college, whereas the freshmen have years before they leave. Walton discussed her approach to seniority, saying: “At this age many young actors are similarly talented; meaning that 2-3 students could present during auditions as equally capable to play a role. When that happens I will likely give the role to the student who has either been in the theater program longer or who is older. However, if there are students who I feel are the best suited for a role, regardless of gender, age, or experience, I give that student the role,” she stated. “It’s important for students to remember that casting is subjective.”

And yet, many didn’t feel this way. Once the casting came out, it was revealed that the majority of senior females who auditioned were placed in the ensemble. Disappointed by casting, quite a few students left the production. “The policy of seniority for lead roles has been very wishy washy over the years, but it’s just kind of something that I . . . expected to happen. And it didn’t happen, and I was a little disappointed,” said one senior who left the cast. 

The lack of genderbending paved the way for scenes that some cast members took issue with. For instance, the fight scenes were comprised entirely of male characters. So, instead of using female ensemble members, the decision was made to use male crew members. “I do know that once genderbending kind of . . . left the room when [the show] was casted and nobody was genderbent; it left completely. Because now there are no girls in the fight scenes,” explained a cast member who later quit the show. Some people found this a little odd, however, others thought it reasonable: “As far as the little ‘gang’ theme going on, having – sort of doing some genderbending with those kind of roles is – I can see how the director would not want to do that, to stay with the original sort of idea of the production,” recalled Eli. The ideas of gang violence are very present in The Outsiders, and many of the scenes include standoffs between the two rival groups. Many saw the decision to use male members of the stage crew in these scenes as being done for continuity purposes, and to maintain some of the original themes in the story.

Just like Eli, Walton too mentioned recurring themes in The Outsiders versus our modern-day lives. “I believe that this story still resonates [] fully in our society today. The struggles still exist.  The divisions still exist. In fact, I feel that they exist more now than at any other time in my life. I think that is also why I was drawn to it,” she said in reference to some of the more mature themes, violence and societal pressures among them. “I was hopeful [the play] would give the students something to think about, as they are portraying kids who are underprivileged and kids who are affluent — at odds, confused, against each other. Trying to understand why.”