A Dystopian High School Musical Foresaw The College Admissions Scandal A California high school is staging an original musical called Ranked, set in a world where class rank means everything, and some parents are willing to pay for their student to get a better spot.
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A Dystopian High School Musical Foresaw The College Admissions Scandal

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A Dystopian High School Musical Foresaw The College Admissions Scandal

A Dystopian High School Musical Foresaw The College Admissions Scandal

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We had a pretty strange case of life imitating art here in California recently. A high school teacher named Kyle Holmes wrote a musical with a colleague - a show that explored life in high school, one often driven by grades, tests and this immense pressure to get into top colleges. Well, now it feels a bit too real. NPR's Elissa Nadworny has the story.

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: The show is called "Ranked." It's a dystopian fiction where your grades and test scores, they determine everything in your life - from where you sit to what your future is. One of the main characters is a student who has a low rank - she's failing - and she's under immense pressure.

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UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: (Singing) When does this feeling go away, this tightness in my chest? When will I...

NADWORNY: Here's the cast from Granite Bay High School, just outside Sacramento, performing one of the early songs, "Drowning."

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UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: (Singing) And, God, what will my parents say if I fail another test...

NADWORNY: At the end of Act 1, a major plot twist - turns out a parent was paying to inflate their kid's grades, and the kid had no idea. Sound familiar?

KYLE HOLMES: We're literally watching our story play out in the national news.

NADWORNY: That's theater teacher Kyle Holmes talking about the recent college admission scandal where parents paid to get their kids into top colleges. Just this week, more than a dozen parents agreed to plea agreements and others were indicted on charges of mail fraud. And the guy behind that scheme, Rick Singer, years ago, he actually worked with students at Granite Bay High School.

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ANVITA GATTANI: (Singing) You think you're going to get ahead, you're just...

NADWORNY: The pressure to do well inspired the lyrics of the song "Someone Always Bleeds," sung by student Anvita Gattani.

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UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: (Singing) But, hey, rich kids like you never have to pay their dues. Who needs to read textbooks when you've got daddy's checkbooks? Someone always bleeds.

NADWORNY: David Taylor Gomes wrote the music and lyrics.

DAVID TAYLOR GOMES: Did I tell the future? I don't know, but... (laughing).

NADWORNY: So how did this spot-on story come to be? Gomes and Holmes listened to their students.

EMMA HARLOW: I'm Emma, and I play Sydney Summers.

NADWORNY: Emma Harlow is a senior, and there's one line her character says that gives her all the feels.

EMMA: So she says this line, how do we know the difference between who we actually are and what people want for us? It hits deep, you know? (Laughing).

NADWORNY: It hits deep because she, Emma, actually said those words to her drama teacher months ago.

EMMA: I felt that my whole entire life, I'm just doing things to make sure that my family looks good. And parts of me got lost along the way.

NADWORNY: Those feelings are captured in the song "Come Up For Air."

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UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: (As Sydney Summers, singing) I'm not about to throw it all away because life isn't fair. I'm going to come up for air.

NADWORNY: Emma says the musical is a window for adults to see just how stressful high school life is.

EMMA: The biggest use of this show is an entry point to the conversation about, what is our worth? And, like, what's the difference between learning and getting a grade?

NADWORNY: Emma and the rest of the ensemble at Granite Bay High School take the stage for the final time this weekend. Elissa Nadworny, NPR News.

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