Sunday, April 01, 2007

They'll have a play! We'll all have a play! It'll be anarchy!

I know, I know, two Breakfast Club references in two weeks, but bear with me. It's called for.

I've never really been much for grabbing bits of news and expounding upon them in this blog, but damn fucking hell, every time I read a story about some school administrator who decides that his school's theater department is up to something that's just too controversial, I can't help but take it personally. It seems like I run across one of these about every couple of months or so, and it always pisses me off, and I always think "oh, must blog about this!" And then I never do. But something about this latest example out of Connecticut really takes the cake:
"Wilton High's performance of 'Voices in Conflict,' an original work of collected Iraq war stories, was canceled because of questions about the content's 'political balance.'"
Get that? Notice a few key words? An original work of collected Iraq war stories? Basically, high school theater students collected war stories from Iraq war veterans and put together a piece that was new and original. Go, read the story, see what I'm talking about. All that work, only to have it canned because the principal decided it would be easier to tell the losers in the drama department to fuck off than to stand up for them and take some heat from the community. Okay, sure, that's an unfair characterization, but in this context, the principal represents The Man. And fuck The Man.

I know there's a certain stereotype of theater kids. They're, well, dramatic. They dress funny. They're different from everybody else. Some of them might even be gay! But thinking back to my days in high school theater, I can honestly say that every play I was involved with brought together a wide variety of different kinds of students, both in the cast and the crew. And when the play surrounded something of real substance rather than just a crowd/administration pleasing *ugh* musical, it created a situation where serious dialogue could and did take place about matters of substance between people who might not otherwise have occasion to talk to each other. You know, like a community.

And there's that word. Community. I can barely talk about Theater without uttering it.

See to me, theater in its ideal form is about community. Whether it's a new play, Edward Albee, William Shakespeare, who the hell ever, the event of the play if not the play itself is something that's created within, by, for, and is ultimately a reflection of the community. It's about both the players and the audience...neither matters without the other. The artists essentially initiate the conversation, and the audience responds by joining in. And when the play is over, the conversation goes on. It doesn't always happen, but it can and it does. And it's real. That's why even though high school theater is hardly the pinnacle of dramatic quality, it's an institution worthy of protection that shouldn't be forced to just churn out "safe" material so that nobody gets upset. In a ready-made community like high school, if you can get some people together and get them thinking, maybe even talking, then maybe you've accomplished something. But by shutting a play down out of fears that the conversation might be unpleasant, all possibility of anything resembling dialogue is tossed out the window. And to take it a step further, since the play used the words of Iraq war veterans, it seems to me that censoring this play is censoring the veterans as well. Not exactly supporting the troops Mr. Principal, sir.

Every time I read one of these stories, I think back to what is probably the most hilarious example of high school drama censorship. Back in 2003, students at a Washington high school attempted to mount a stage version of "The Breakfast Club." Can you guess what happened next? Oh yes indeed, they were shut down on the basis of inappropriate content by their principal, a man who apparently has no ability to recognize life imitating art. But that story had a happy ending. A Seattle theater company heard about the cancellation and agreed to produce the play. Good guys win.

I'd like to think the same thing could happen here. I can barely imagine how crushing this has to be for the students and their teacher, to have spent the semester researching, writing, creating, delving deeper into this war than most of us ever will, undoubtedly being affected by what they learned in the process, becoming more and more passionate about the project with every passing day, only to have it shut down by that ever-present uncaring third party, The Man.

Damn The Man. And do it without irony.


Jason said...

This is infuriating in so many ways. Did the principal not know what drama was going to do? Did he (or she) know and cave as soon as soon as they figured out they might catch some flack? Not cool either way.

I'm concerned that freedom of speech is getting the beatdown from 'political correctness.' There's been a disturbing trend to censor anything that might offend someone, somewhere, even if the offended is a complete shrieking nutjob.

Whit said...

When I was in high school, back in the 40's, we had a principal that was a huge fan of our drama department. We were able to do some fairly controversial stuff, dealing with teen sex, suicide, homosexuality and child abuse (this was all in one play), and not only did he rave about it, but allowed us to take it on the road and win some contests with it.

I feel sorry for the kids that have to deal with the paranoid and ignorant.

David said...

We did Man of La Mancha when I was in High School and I was Don Quixote. That was pretty controversial, I suppose, since it has the rape of Aldonza by the Muleteers. Granted nothing terribly bad happened on stage, but there was no holding back on what the implications were of the scene, and there was plenty of slapping her around before she was carried offstage, as it were. In fact, when the touring version came to the Paramount some weeks ago I went to see it with some friends and left feeling our high school had actually done a more vivid and scary version than the professional tour. It was more of a dance scene and somehow seemed tame in comparison. I guess I'll actually have to give some props to our principal for allowing it when I think how things seem to change more and more as far as restrictions in schools are concerned. Hell, back then it seemed perfectly normal to me for us to be performing it.