Elements Theatre Leaderboard-Apr16
The cast of "Rent" at Trumbull High School in Trumbull, Conn. (Photo by Howard Sherman)
The cast of "Rent" at Trumbull High School in Trumbull, Conn. (Photo by Howard Sherman)

Who Cares About Censorship on School Stages?

Fighting for freedom of expression in high school theatres can be a complicated cause, but it’s clearly a fight that matters for all theatre artists.

“What’s the deal with all this high school theatre?”

That’s the kind of comment—spoken, written or tweeted—I’ve been getting regularly over the past four years since I began writing about instances of censorship of theatre in American high schools (and, on occasion, colleges). To be fair to those who may be skeptical about the extent of the problem, I myself have been surprised by the volume and variety of issues raised over the content of shows being done—and, in some cases, ultimately not being done—in school-sponsored theatre.

But between writing about these incidents, and directly involving myself as an advocate in some of them, I’ve come to believe that what’s taking place in our high schools and on our campuses has a very direct connection to what is happening (and will be happening) on professional stages.

So here are nine common questions that have arisen as my advocacy has increased, and some answers—although, as every attempt at censorship is different, there aren’t any absolute answers.

1. Why is there so much more censorship of high school theatre these days? There’s no quantitative study that indicates the policing of what’s performed is any greater than it was 10, 25 or 50 years ago. Everything is anecdotal. But the Internet has made it easier for reports to spread beyond individual communities and for news-aggregation sites uncover and accelerate the dissemination of such stories. It only takes one report in a small-town paper these days to bring an incident to national attention; that was a rarity in the print-only era.

A sign for a production of "Sweeney Todd" at Amity Regional High School in Woodbridge, Conn.
A sign for a production of “Sweeney Todd” at Amity Regional High School in Woodbridge, Conn.

2. Isn’t this just a reflection of our polarized national politics?
School theatre censorship doesn’t necessarily follow the red state/blue state binary division, because the impulse can arise from any constituency. While efforts to quash depictions of LGBTQ life—as with Almost, Maine in Maiden, N.C., or Spamalot in South Williamsport, Pa.—may be coming from political constituencies galvanized against the spread of marriage equality, or from certain faith communities which share that opposition, that’s hardly the only source. Opposition to Sweeney Todd, both muted (in Orange, Conn.) and explicit (in Plaistow, N.H.) was driven by concern about the portrayal of violence in an era of school shootings and rising suicide rates, while Joe Turner’s Come and Gone was challenged by a black superintendent over August Wilson’s use of the “n-word.”

3. What’s the real impact of school theatre on the professional community?
The Broadway League pegs attendance at Broadway’s 40 theatres in the neighborhood of 13 million admissions a year and touring shows at 14 million a year. TCG’s Theatre Facts reports resident and touring attendance of 11 million. That totals a professional universe of 38 million admissions.

Based on figures provided to me by half a dozen licensing houses, there are at minimum 37,500 shows done in high school theatres annually, and conservatively guesstimating three performances of each in 600 seat theatres at 75-percent capacity, that’s more than 50 million attendees. In both samples, the numbers don’t represent the total activity, but high school theatre’s audience impact is undeniable, both as a revenue stream for authors and as a means of reaching audiences who might not see any other theatre at all.

4. Does it really matter what shows kids get to do in high school?
While there are valuable aspects to making theatre that apply no matter what the play choice may be, many schools view their productions as community relations, frequently citing that they want to appeal to audiences “from 8 to 80.” While the vast majority of students in the shows, and their friends who come to see them, will never become arts professionals, they are the potential next generation of audiences and donors for professional companies. If they are raised on a diet of Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz (both currently very popular in the high school repertoire), how can we expect more challenging work , new work, or socially conscious work to sustain itself 20 years on?

5. Are school administrators fostering an environment in which censorship flourishes?
I’m unwilling to accept the idea that our schools are run by people who fundamentally want to limit what students can learn—or perform. But they are operating within a political structure topped by an elected board of education, and can be subject to political pressure that often makes the path of least resistance—altering text or changing a selected show, in most cases—the expedient way to go. Unless an administrator (or a teacher, for that matter) is independently wealthy, they can’t necessarily afford to risk their job fighting for the school play that may have challenging content. That said, students at Newman University rebelled against administration-dictated text changes, reverting to the script as written for the latter two of their four performances of Legally Blonde in November.

6. Isn’t this a free speech issue?
In a word, no. Schools have the right and responsibility to determine what is appropriate activity and speech under their control, and just because students are exposed to all manner of content in the media and even in their day-to-day lives doesn’t mean that schools can or must permit it, either in classrooms or performance. That The Crucible is in countless high school curriculums does not necessarily prevent it from being censored as a performance piece, despite the seeming double standard.

Cici Pinson and Nathaniel Shoun rehearse a scene from "Almost, Maine" at Maiden High School in Maiden, N.C. (Photo by David T. Foster III)
Cici Pinson and Nathaniel Shoun rehearse a scene from “Almost, Maine” at Maiden High School in Maiden, N.C. (Photo by David T. Foster III)

The same stringent oversight that affects school theatre is also often directed at school newspapers and media. However, while some school systems attempt to control all student speech, it is a First Amendment violation to infringe on student speech to the media about their dissatisfaction with the actions of a school, including censorship. Drama teachers, who are best equipped to make the cases for the shows they choose, are usually prevented from doing so by employment agreements which prohibit them from discussing school matters without the express approval of the administration, typically the superintendent.

7. Don’t shows get edited all the time in schools for content?
In all likelihood, shows are constantly being nipped and tucked by teachers and administrators to conform to their perception of “community standards,” whether it’s the occasional profanity or entire songs. But that doesn’t make it right, and it is censorship. Aside from violating copyright laws and the licensing contracts signed for the right to the show, it sets a terrible example for students by suggesting that authors’ work can be altered at will, undermining the rights of the artists who created the work.

Some writers and composers have authorized school editions or junior versions of their shows for the school market to recognize frequent concerns and to keep from denying students the opportunity to explore their shows. But the rights must lie with the authors, not each and every school. If that isn’t made clear early on, how can we expect to fight censorship anywhere?

8. When a show is canceled and then successfully restored through a public campaign, is that winning the battle and then losing the war?
That’s a genuine concern of mine—that once there’s a public battle over theatrical content, the school will thereafter clamp down even harder and apply greater scrutiny forever after to drama programs, academic or extracurricular. At the Educational Theatre Association’s national conference this past summer, one attendee asked the others if there were shows that they believed would be great for their students but which they couldn’t even raise as possibilities. Every single teacher in the room raised his or her hand. So the incidents that become public—ones in which a show is announced, then has approval rescinded—are the tip of the iceberg. Drama teachers and directors are already having their choices limited, often by self-censorship. There’s much more work to be done, but if blatant examples don’t come to light, it may never be possible to galvanize support for school theatre that challenges students to do great work and great works.

9. Can professional artists and companies make any difference when incidents of censorship arise?
Local theatres—professional, community and academic—make superb allies in fighting against censorship. Institutions and individuals within communities that are respected for their art occupy a position from which to speak out forcefully and effectively for school theatre programs. Whether it’s a nearby artistic director or a one-time resident who has gone on to a professional career, they bring a history and authority that will speak to both the local populace and the media. The vocal support of the Yale School of Drama and Yale Rep with the aforementioned Joe Turner, and of Goodspeed Musicals and Hartford Stage in the case of Rent in Trumbull, Conn., were key factors in the ultimately successful efforts toward restoring those shows to production.

In closing: The first time I inserted myself into a school theatre censorship debate in 2011, I assumed it was a one-off. I did not realize at the time that I had found a cause. Each time an incident comes to a conclusion, regardless of whether the outcome was, from my point of view, positive or negative, I think that surely the message is getting out there and this will be the last time. But then comes the phone call, the e-mail, the tweet, from someone I’ve never met and possibly never will, saying that a show is threatened or has just been shut down. And I begin my introductory speech, which is unfortunately well-honed at this point.

“This is no longer about education,” I say, “this is no longer about art. This is now a political campaign.” And off we go.

Howard Sherman is senior strategy consultant at the Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts and was executive director of the American Theatre Wing and O’Neill Theatre Center. He is the U.S. correspondent for London’s The Stage.

  • http://fingertipaudio.net DANonamous

    Point 6.
    This may not now be a free speech issue, but at least two Senators have tried – over the last 5 congresses – to introduce 1st Amendment rights to apply to High School students, currently not covered. The appointment of which to apply to student-produced media and student media in general. Obviously at the outset this covers school newspapers, radio, television and internet broadcasting. Naturally this would trickle down to theatre, poetry and composition clubs and classes.

    This bill, too, shall pass in a matter of time.

  • Gai Jones

    This is a passionate discussion.
    I care deeply about middle and high school Theatre education. I believe in Theatre educators’ and students’ advocacy and process. Having an agreed-upon process in place prior to any censorship is the recommended way to go. Knowing the community, educating administrators and parents about the power of Theatre and what we do is essential for our programs.
    The 21 Century Skills are what we do the best in regards to communication, collaboration, creative and critical thinking. Our job is to empower students with the tools to navigate the college and business world.
    I recommend a variety of shows for various kinds of audiences to be included in each school’s season. I like to see teachers “pushing the envelope” with socially consciousness raising shows within the school seasons; something that is cross curricular and has the support of many departments, including the counselors, and administration.
    We have a duty to educate, educate, educate.

  • Lori Constable

    Freedom of expression comes along hand in hand with responsibility when working in an academic setting. I absolutely adore ‘Spring Awakening’ (the musical AND the Wedekind play) but would not direct it in high school Why? While it deals with the issues adolescents are dealing with, it does so from an adult’s perspective (with all of the theatrical choices made from that POV) and, thus, demands the maturity of reflection from its audience. The high school ‘version’ (and I can’t believe my old college chum Michael Mayer would have agreed to support) circumvents this reflection and, in my opinion, Wedekind’s original premise. Look at what we are doing as high school directors: is it for our students or ourselves?

    • http://fingertipaudio.net DANonamous

      Even when not in an academic setting – but m, in the academic setting, dont forget that many a “test” is seeing how one builds them self up out of failure. So, unless we can allow our students to ‘fail’ in application, how can we expect them to “get” the real world, once school is out?

  • Brian Johnson

    Censorship happens everywhere, at every level. I have no problem with a school board telling the drama department not to perform a certain play. I submitted my play selection every year to the principal at my school for approval — I had it easy, as she trusted my judgment and never once had an objection, but I was still ready to submit (after politely presenting my case if need be) to a “No” decision.

    I can’t even really tell what this author DOES stand for. On the one hand he’s advocating for broader permissiveness, and on the other he says he isn’t advocating every school simply performing anything and everything that comes to mind. Well … SOMEone has to make that decision, and whether it’s the teacher himself saying, “We’re not performing that”, or the principal, or the board, or the community that PAYS THE TAXES and is thus, ultimately, the “shareholders” of the entire thing, censorship does and will happen, and a responsible society censors things on purpose in wisdom.

    “If they are raised on a diet of Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz …. how can we expect more challenging work , new work, or socially conscious work to sustain itself 20 years on?” There is plenty of challenge in doing “Alice in Wonderland” well, or “The Importance of Being Earnest” or “Harvey”. I raised my students on a diet of classic theater, including “She Stoops to Conquer” and “The School for Scandal” – and watched them blossom from year to year without burdening them with “socially-conscious” stuff they didn’t need to be weighed down with at their age, like “Rent” or “The Diviners” or whatever. Doing ANY play WELL will push your students to grow. And if a work needs high school students to “sustain itself 20 years on”, I would suggest that play just isn’t very good. A modern classic will rise to the top over time; all others are more than welcome to lose sustainability.

    So much more to say, but I’m out of time.

    • Andrew Horn

      In the cases the author is speaking about, permission HAD been given by school boards- it was only later, after the plays had been announced (and, often, started rehearsals) that complaints from parents, teachers, and administrators suddenly come up, and shows are censored or cancelled. This can result in there being no play at all- or a bowdlerized version that is both illegal and, generally, a bad experience for the kids participating.

      • WJ Alden

        OMG. It’s almost as if you’re saying these schools are owned by the citizens, the taxpayers, the people who fund their budgets. How dare the owners, who are also the parents of the children attending the schools, object to what their children might be taught? You wanted a democratic school system, well here goes – you got it.

        I have been involved in theater for 20+ years now, since my high school days. There is plenty of great, meaningful, challenging material that is unobjectionable to the vast majority of parents. You don’t have to do “Spring Awakening” or “Sweeney Todd” or “Rent” to say something meaningful. No one would object to “Our Town,” and yet it is one of the greatest, most profound plays ever written (and by a gay man, no less).

        Funny that many of these people allegedly opposed to “censorship” would crap a brick if a high school theater department chose to perform a deeply religious work, or a play bashing Barack Obama.

        • Andrew Horn

          First of all, I didn’t mention politics at all, so I don’t know why you did. Secondly, I’ve been involved in theater for over 30 years, and have been a professional actor for 28 years, so I guess I have more authority on this than you do, if we’re going to use that reasoning.

          What you seem to not understand is this isn’t about “one teacher” making the decision. Read the article, read my reply. Teachers go through an approval process for the shows they do- in most areas, school boards (which are elected by the citizens) make the decision. It’s only later, after the show is announced (and often after it’s been cast) that a few individuals suddenly raise objections- often based on misunderstandings about the piece. If you’ve been involved with theater for 20 years, you certainly should understand how trying to change a production that late in the process is a waste of time, money, and resources, and extremely disruptive.

          In the case of “Almost, Maine”, the students chose the show, and submitted it to the administration, knowing that the (slight, non-sexual) gay content might be a problem. They received permission, with the caveat that they had to get permission slips from parents of the students involved, stating they knew the play had homosexual characters in it. It was only after some churches in the area heard about the scene (two men literally “falling” in love- meaning they keep having pratfalls as they talk- no kissing, caressing, etc., no talk about lust or physical intimacy) that objections were raised and the school caved. Luckily, a former teacher was able to help them mount an off-campus production, and, since they had no money, having spent it on the rights, they raised money on Kickstarter.

          If a parent objects to a show, don’t go see it, and pull your child out of it. Why make other people’s children suffer because of your beliefs? And, if your children aren’t involved, why should you get a say?

          Honestly, however, if you believe choosing a season of shows, and not doing every play ever written every year is the same as censorship, there’s really no point discussing the issue.

          • WJ Alden

            “It’s only later, after the show is announced (and often after it’s been cast) that a few individuals suddenly raise objections- often based on misunderstandings about the piece.”

            Because the approval process is, in most communities, rather opaque – like so many other decisions made by our political leaders. Most citizens never hear about a play until it’s performance date. Even as a student in my theater program I never knew what we were performing until long after it had been approved.

            I don’t know of any high school theater program that stages more than two major productions a year. Pulling your child out of one of the few chances he may have to participate in his high school production isn’t a decision a parent should have to make.

            There are enough great plays and musicals that high schools don’t have to perform something controversial to perform something meaningful. Leave “Spring Awakening” for the other theaters.

          • Andrew Horn

            No one mentioned Spring Awakening but you. On the other hand, you first said high schools do 2-3 shows a year, but now you say you don’t know any that do more than two, so I guess you’re having some trouble keeping it straight what anyone has said.

            School board meetings are public- the agendas are usually easily available to the public. So anyone who wishes to be heard can be. The fact is, most of the people who make trouble are those who don’t evidence any interest in what’s going on in schools, until they here something they can make political hay about, and get themselves some free publicity.

            When I was in high school, a group of “concerned citizens” objected to South Pacific- because of the inter-racial romance. They didn’t get it cut or changed, because our school wasn’t run by weenies. They were told they could have a table outside the box office with literature explaining their point of view- but no protesting or disruptive behavior would be allowed on school grounds. No one from the group showed.

            There are many opportunities for parents and the community to get involved and have a say- they just have to be willing to actually do the work. Most of the people calling for censorship are more interested in getting their names in the paper than in the students.

          • WJ Alden

            “No one mentioned Spring Awakening but you.”

            It’s called an “example,” Sport. Look it up. Same goes for the 2-3 shows/year

            Have a nice day.

          • Andrew Horn

            Oh, look, someone knows how to look up a profile! Good job, Buddy-boy! Oooh, but he doesn’t want anybody to know what he’s been up to, so he set his account to private. Why is that, Kiddo? Could it be that you’re the troll? Hmm…

            There were plenty of examples in the article. There were plenty of examples in comments. But you had to use an example no one mentioned, Big Fella. Why?

            And you said that you didn’t know any high school that does more than two productions a year, but used “2-3 productions a year” as “an example”? How is that “an example”, L’il Buddy? Squirt? Little Man?

          • http://fingertipaudio.net DANonamous

            Tiny dancer.

          • http://fingertipaudio.net DANonamous

            The problem with that is, if a traveling broadway group wants to perform within a certain radius of your town (and they get shorter approval times), you would have to cancel your plans. Almost every year, submissions of at least 3 plays must be made for rough budgeting approval (not ‘permission’), any one of which may have to be cancelled due to road shows in the area.

          • http://fingertipaudio.net DANonamous

            Local high school here does 7 major productions a year. Fall Musical , Spring Musical, Summer Musical Review, 2 ‘serious’ plays, 2 comedies, and at least a student produced one-act series or student-written plays – one each per semester.

            Many high schools with over 1500 students enrolled do that many.

          • http://fingertipaudio.net DANonamous

            South Pacific – for just one song – is considered inappropriate for high schools, would you agree?

          • http://fingertipaudio.net DANonamous

            You too with the spelling, it’s theatre for stage and theater for films. If you want to be taken seriously, know the difference.

          • E. Nielsen

            In the United States, both theater and theatre can refer to the stage. The connotative difference was blurred long ago and “theater” referring to stage art performance is widely accepted in both academic and professional context. Some may argue that the British spelling “theatre” is more elegant, but “theater” is not incorrect. See http://grammarist.com/spelling/theater-theatre/ , http://www.arttimesjournal.com/theater/July_13_Robert_W_Bethune.html , http://www.theatreinchicago.com/news.php?articleID=7 , and http://blogs.mprnews.org/state-of-the-arts/2010/05/theater-vs-theatre/ .

        • http://fingertipaudio.net DANonamous

          Your argument wold carry more credibility if you spelled theatre correctly.

    • Ace Stephens

      Harvey is, in a sense, about an alcoholic with potential mental issues which features people being wrongfully held against their will. So…I mean, those are subjects for “socially conscious” individuals (as can be Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz and many other things…). And don’t get me started on what The Importance of Being Earnest features…

      Maybe you’re just not looking into the text enough if you think those plays don’t touch on such things or that high school students won’t recognize it. And if your local community, for whatever reason (maybe even just a local news story that has people upset), suddenly said, “Hey, we don’t think alcoholism or mental health issues or people being detained against their will are appropriate subjects to discuss with these students…” are you saying you’d just shrug and go, “Oh, okay.”? And, to go against what the article suggests, if Alice in Wonderland had accusations of it being a metaphor for drug use thrown at and this resulted in people trying to get it cancelled because “it’s inappropriate”…what then?

      Social consciousness doesn’t stop and end where one arbitrarily draws a line and treating young people (generally those of high school age) like they “can’t handle it” (by suggesting that it’s a “burden” to deal with the thematic content of plays like RENT) isn’t going to enable them to grow to handle real world situations. It’s going to lead to deadened minds and leadened hands.

      • Brian Johnson

        Don’t get you started on what “The Importance of Being Earnest” features? It was Oscar Wilde poking fun at the conventions of the British upper-class. I’ve seen it, acted in it, and directed it – I can pretty assert there’s nothing in it to “get someone started” on its supposed “features”. Unless you’re meaning the myth that “earnest” was euphemistic for “gay/homosexual”.

        • Ace Stephens

          One could suggest I was meaning that but does it matter what I am (or, indeed, any play is) specifically talking about as long as somebody perceives it and others consider the subject taboo enough to latch onto that for a campaign against it? (Even potentially) homosexual subtext in a play about such things as the social convention of marriage? Some people could argue that’s “propaganda for gay marriage” or the like and, as a result, has no business being something young people take part in. It doesn’t matter if that’s a valid reading or not (or it’s valid to apply that rationale regarding why it shouldn’t be performed) – it just matters if somebody could perceive (or “mistake,” as the case may be for some perceptions) it for that enough for it to become something they believe shouldn’t be performed. It becomes about hollow moralizing and it’s complete and utter nonsense to cater to that perspective, as you essentially suggest you would do.

          • http://fingertipaudio.net DANonamous

            For now, in the law, the only thing that matters regarding perception is in matters of sexual harassment – it doesn’t matter the intention of the “harasser” it only matters the perception of the harassed that constitutes sexual harassment.

            This argument can not be applied when deciding on a PUBLISHED work to be performed. Not legally at any rate.

          • Ace Stephens

            Was I speaking about law? I may have referenced it at some point but that wasn’t the context I was meaning to speak in regardless. Social pressure does not apply in the same manner as law. And just because a venue or group could put on a play does not mean the community will think they should. Consequently, due to having to continue to exist within and perhaps trly upon the community, a work could be shut down due to these pressures.

            While I understand “the reality” of it, my argument is that they shouldn’t be.

      • Brian Johnson

        If people raised a ruckus about the plays I put on during my time as a teacher, I would cancel or change the play, yes. But people know that “Harvey” is not “about” potential mental issues and being held against one’s will. Not to mention, the being-held-against-one’s-will in “Harvey” is viewed as wrong – certainly in a comical setting, but it’s hardly endorsed or encouraged.

        One has to see what a play is advocating, not just what it contains. Consider the film “12 Years a Slave” which has multiple uses of the word “nigger” – but no one would say the film is advocating the use of that word. It is ALWAYS in the mouths of the antagonist slave owners and slave traders. And everyone I know who has seen “Harvey” knows that it is not seriously advocating anything objectionable.

        As for handling real-world situations, I will stand by my comment that high school is too young to be considering “Rent” as suitable material. Plenty of people have grown into well-adjusted adults able to handle real-world situations without being part of a “daring”, “envelope-pushing”, or “challenging” drama department. In fact, as much as I enjoyed teaching drama, I would concede that it is one of the least-useful programs in a school. The real-world application of what I learned in high school plays (and later while directing them) is minimal compared to the fundamentals of reading, writing, mathematics, history, science, and even sports. If my school faced budget cuts, I would even SUGGEST that they start with the drama program in an effort to save more important departments.

        • Ace Stephens

          If people raised a ruckus about the plays I put on during my time as a teacher, I would cancel or change the play, yes.

          One would hope you wouldn’t go against a given contract in order to change the play. But, regardless, one might suggest that it doesn’t show much conviction to allow the whims of what can sometimes be a rather petty or misguided populace to dismiss or demean one’s art.

          But people know that “Harvey” is not “about” potential mental issues and
          being held against one’s will.

          Oh, people know that, do they? You take that for granted. Depending on the size of the community, all it takes is a few people who don’t know that hearing what occurs out of (or even possibly in) context for it to become an issue. And yet you insist that if there was an issue, you’d basically just cave in and not do it.

          Not to mention, the being-held-against-one’s-will in “Harvey” is viewed as wrong – certainly in a comical setting, but it’s hardly endorsed or encouraged.

          That’s moralistic perspective being applied which is problematic for a number of reasons but does, indeed, go along with many of those put forward by those who campaign to stop productions. Regardless of that, numerous controversies have arisen in association with comedies or comedic performers in recent years, often on the basis of individuals mistaking the subject of the comedy for the target of its mockery. So what if people began saying that you were mocking the mentally ill or making light of people being held against their will? With due consideration, one can likely easily see how they might get those impressions despite the text and direction not being heavy on such things. You’re suggesting that, if a decent amount of people seemed concerned or distraught about the matter, you would just alter or not do the play. And you don’t see the issue there, even though many clear-minded readings of the text might suggest that those people are wrong?

          One has to see what a play is advocating, not just what it contains. Consider the film “12 Years a Slave” which has multiple uses of the word “nigger” – but no one would say the film is advocating the use of that word.

          Some people actually have (And I’m surprised you’re unaware that what you or I might consider complete “misreadings” of something – then resulting in “public outcry” or “public outrage” – occur regularly. And, even then, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are misreadings or that they don’t have validity regardless. But at what point do you stop catering to these things?). According to what you’ve put forward, it’s just a matter of having a concentrated enough group of those people in a specific area which would cause you to cancel a production.

          It is ALWAYS in the mouths of the antagonist slave owners and slave traders.

          You keep leaning heavily into this moralistic perspective as though it’s protection against those people or perspectives which might campaign against something. While it is often the case that “moral crusaders” latch onto such matters as whether the protagonist or antagonist is or did something (Which are acts/traits/etc. that, in fact, can often be called irrelevant in themselves or some might argue, morally, aren’t wrong in the first place – for instance, if ire is directed at RENT because, “Ugh, they’re gay!” – many would say, “Yes. While some fixate upon it, this isn’t actually a moral issue.”), there are many cases where it simply doesn’t matter and all that does is their reading or perception of the work’s subject, themes, dialogue, etc. in general. For instance, if one is doing a play similar to – to follow your example – 12 Years a Slave, some could say, “It’s about the horrors of slavery? While they can read about that in books, high school students acting that type of thing out onstage could be extremely traumatic. You shouldn’t do this play. Besides, it’s insensitive to people whose ancestors were slaves.” or similar. Although some (who probably wouldn’t campaign as much for various reasons…) would argue that canceling that play is actually a means of diminishing discussion, thought, consideration, etc. of the influence of such factors in our society as race, racism, institutionalized hatred and violence…and on and on. But you’re indicating that you don’t care and, if the former party makes enough noise (and the latter doesn’t), all that really matters is that, in the end, you don’t have to deal with the “drama.”

          As for handling real-world situations, I will stand by my comment that high school is too young to be considering “Rent” as suitable material. Plenty of people have grown into well-adjusted adults able to handle real-world situations without being part of a “daring”, “envelope-pushing”, or “challenging” drama department.

          Yes – just as might be said to be the case for any number of things or concerns (that they weren’t relevant to the majority regarding development in some form) – but you seem blissfully unaware that the example you’re indicating you set in your stated approach to “controversial” material is one of backing down from adversity. Which, in the current climate, if one follows that lead in any notable form, easily leads to people without backbones who fall over themselves to cater to the perspectives of others without truly self-examining why those other people’s opinions matters so much. And, while you might say, “But RENT is too ‘envelope-pushing’ for people at this level in personal development!”…you then ignore that watching someone they would (hopefully) respect be a pushover (to potentially quite misguided perspectives) as though it’s a matter of principle would probably harm their development more than consideration that gay people exist and AIDS is a real thing.

          • Brian Johnson

            Wow, you have a lot of time on your hands for what amounts to a VERY trivial element of our society. I love theater, but you’re absolutely right: If people in my target audience – the parents of the children, the taxpayers of the school – wanted the play shut down or changed to a different play (my apologies for leaving out the word “different” and implying I would violate the publisher’s contract, which would be wholly unethical and I don’t do), then I would do that.

            You’re busy homing in on specific examples and trying to deconstruct my comments regarding, say, “Harvey”. Here’s my ultimate point: The school play is for the students’ experience in theater production. Its existence is not so that they will be able to wrestle with life issues (by putting on “Rent”) or anything else. The students’ experience in theater production. Period. I can give them that experience with ANY play, so if people object to one, I’ll pick another. Very simple, very easy, and not worth any more of my time trying to explain.

          • http://fingertipaudio.net DANonamous

            People that understand things out of context generally are not taken seriously by most school boards.

          • Ace Stephens

            I disagree. In the case of art, the current political and cultural climate (often including schools) caters to these individuals or groups a great deal if there are enough of them and/or they make enough noise.

            Doesn’t matter if their reading makes any sense or not – if enough read it that way (possibly because they were instructed to or “told what it’s about” rather than reading or seeing it or whatever) and seem upset enough, they tend to be “heard.” Squeaky wheel and grease and all that.

          • http://fingertipaudio.net DANonamous

            “Bent” (no, I didn’t misspell Rent) would be a good example of this “out of context” treatment. How many groups are offended when they hear that play is being mounted?

          • Ace Stephens

            I know the work. Quite a few might be “upset,” as far as I’m aware.

      • http://fingertipaudio.net DANonamous

        “Bull in a China Shop” is a comedy about covering up MURDER, should that be banned, too?

        • Ace Stephens

          No. My entire side of discussion was opposed to such things so I don’t know what direction you’re coming at this from.

    • Angie Marie

      You said it all. Bravo.

    • http://fingertipaudio.net DANonamous

      How does it matter what the author “stands for” if they are merely presenting as many sides piratical? It does not matter. Often people attribute the author as “god” when they, themselves, cannot make up there own mind or want to duck the spotlight on their own, stronger, less likely opinion.

  • RichardReuther

    Fifty years ago, we had to change the lyrics of “It Depends on What You Pay’ from “The Fantasticks” for our high school production because the vice principal didn’t like the use of the word “rape.” Same high school 25 years later, plays were being produced from scripts of movies without payment of royalties (with the knowledge of the principal who claimed to be a “performer, too” because she did some singing). I know of several other examples of administration interfering with the “right way” to do a play- as written. I think it is more a function of their need for power and control, in an unhealthy way, as opposed to an attempt to maintain “community standards.”

    • WJ Alden

      You are probably less likely to hear the original rape song from “The Fantasticks” today than you were 50 years ago, shortly after it was written. The first two versions of “The Fantasticks” I saw had the song. The last performance I saw, two years ago, changed the word to “raid” – a change made by Jones & Schmidt to accommodate changing times. Censorship, or just dealing with reality? I prefer the original version, but it’s probably the latter.

      • RichardReuther

        We substituted the word “play,” as in “you can get the play emphatic, you can get the play polite.” Also needed a little script tweaking to have it make sense. We knew at the time that it might not fly and it really wasn’t an issue, except that the VP failed to give us the benefit of the context and teenagers are always pissed off when adults try to tell them what to do. Which, of course, is the theme of the show. And yes, I would agree that times change, especially if the play is not produced because of the word, money being the force it is.

        • http://fingertipaudio.net DANonamous

          OK, that is just stupid. OMG.

    • http://fingertipaudio.net DANonamous

      Even colleges have been doing that lately. Some professional groups have done that as well.

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