CMU School of Drama

Friday, March 03, 2017

Two High School Shows That Couldn’t Be Saved

Arts Integrity Initiative: When incidences of high school theatre censorship arise, the point at which they occur, and when that breaks out beyond school walls, can be central to efforts to reverse the decision. At other times, one finds webpages like the one above, from Danville Area High School in Pennsylvania in late January.

The recent debate in Cherry Hill NJ over Ragtime is an excellent case in point. The decision by the school administration to alter all “offensive” language in the play, without permission from the licensing house or the authors, arose while the show was in rehearsals, six weeks before performances were to begin.


Simone Schneeberg said...

I simultaneously understand and do not understand the choice of high schools to avoid sensitive material. I understand the desire to cater to family friendly audiences. I understand that kicking up a backlash is not fun. I understand that not every age is prepared for certain sensitive material, but that is why school productions exist. School productions of heavy shows allow material to be toned down such that they can play to more family oriented audiences, such that they can be better digested by concerned parents, such that they don't overwhelm the students in them. However, not allowing any sensitive material does not help nor protect the students, especially seniors about to go off into the world. It is important to at least begin to tackle the problems that our society faces before having to deal with them alone, head on. We cannot pretend they do not exist until people are "old enough." There is no magical day when you suddenly become an adult and can handle the heaviness of our world. We should celebrate schools that allow students to begin to look at these issues, not begrudge them because they are preparing us to better handle life as it really truly is.

Marisa Rinchiuso said...

It is such a two faced coin of a topic. Here's the thing: it is our job as artists to ask the hard questions and bring these issues to the forefront of attention, but also, you need to know who you are dealing with. If you are a small high school in rural Alabama- odds are Rent is not going to fly. What I believe is the real issue is the fact that schools are not making these deliberations ahead of time. It's okay to say "we can't do Clybourne Park", but don't tell them you can and then take it away a week before load in (real thing that happened my senior year). On the whole, students understand censorship in high school, it is to be expected in a public setting, particularly in conservative areas. It is such a shame that the student's senior show, No Exit, was cancelled after opening. That was a case where someone should have taken a look at final dress and say...."huh, maybe a little dark.." Instead of waiting until all the hard work is done and denying the most invigorating part of a production- sharing it. It is a shame to see this happen in so many places. My high school is putting on Ragtime next year as the all-school musical, and just had to jump through many hoops to be able to announce the show. It will be interesting to see its progression with regards to censorship.

Evan Schild said...

Schools really need to do more research before they approve a show. Avenue Q is just simply not appropriate for a high school to do. The jokes are understandable just not appropriate in a school setting. And even if they did the school version of the show, it’s still does not make it better. However almost canceling a production of ragtime because of the use of a racial slur. Or canceling No exit because of gay characters is simply unacceptable. It is 2017. Let students do work that reflect what is going on right now. If schools keep censoring material nothing will be able to get better in society. The schools are doing a disservice to the community when they do this. Also it shows for some schools that Bigotry and hate will win. It SHOULD NOT WIN. In the case of No exit, just because an audience member had a problem with the gay character does not mean the school should have shut down the show. I am proud of the director for speaking up for what had happened.

Ali Whyte said...

I think is's slightly amusing that 18 year old hight school seniors cannot do shows like No Exit in high school, but a few months after graduation might be doing that same show at a university, where faculty and their families might want to attend shows put on there. This was always an extremely hot topic at my high school as well had 8 student board members who pushed for more modern shows or at least something with more of a social message. The director my freshman and sophomore year sided with students, and he pushed for shows like Dog Sees God to be done, though it was in the end censored slightly, but after his departure, we went back to the "safe" shows. I think it is important for school shows to be a balance, but eliminating potentially controversial plays entirely is, in my opinion, not the right thing to do.

Zak biggins said...

I don't know if I agree with Ali when she says its amusing that highschoolers can't do certain shows, rather its infiroritaing. This art form is about expression and learning how to embody a time/place that isn't now. Improper censoring of shows is so harmful to the art form. It changes the words of the playwright and more importantly changes the intentions of the piece. Although I strongly disagree with the language in Ragtime, it is important that people understand this is the way groups of people are marginalized and under represented in our country, and to censor or change that is simply unacceptable.

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