Playwrights Guild Releases Statement Challenging Recent School Theater Cancellations Over LGBTQ Content Issues (2023)

The union accuses both schools of "relinquishing their responsibilities in education and promoting free expression of thought" and "allowing the most vulnerable children in their care to be marginalized."

The declaration also defines some next steps. In addition to highlighting reports of student activism following these cancellations, the union encourages concerned citizens to attend a Cardinal Schools Board of Education meeting on February 8 to express their response in person. The organization has also pledged financial support through the Guild and its Legal Defense Fund should affected student groups wish to continue performances online or elsewhere.

The union has also created an online form to report cancellations of school plays. The union hopes the form will make it easier for the theater community to support the efforts of writers, students and educators as this troubling trend continues. Find this formHere.

a time of indecency

The Playwrights Guild of America disagrees and is dismayed by the recent cancellation of Indecent., originally scheduled for production at the Douglas Anderson School of Performing Arts in Jacksonville, Florida and the musicalThe 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which has just been canceled by administrators at Cardinal High School in Middlefield, Ohio.

The Dramatists Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit organization established by the Dramatists Guild, previously joined other groups in a statement opposing indecency.Cancellation (see joint statementHERE). Paula Vogel's play tells the story of the 1923 Broadway production of the Yiddish drama God of Vengeance, which led to the arrest and conviction of the producer and obscenity charges, in part due to her lesbian affair.

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The irony of a school that censors Indecent, an article about the censorship of a play, would be simply amazing if it weren't so clever. Director Tina Wilson announced the cancellation the day rehearsals were scheduled, saying the school had "taken a closer look" at the play's "adult content" and decided Chekhov's The Seagull was "better suited for a production school". Wilson offered no explanation as to why such a detailed review was conducted or why she concluded thatIndecentwas inappropriate, or why The Seagull, which deals with themes of sexual desire and infidelity and ends in suicide, was a more appropriate substitute for his school. School district superintendent Diana Greene did not identify the dialogue as inappropriate, did not acknowledge the fact that writers often allow dialogue changes for school productions, and did not distinguish this play from recent Chicago productions and Rent, recently filed at the school. , such works have equally mature themes and no less explicit sexual content than those ofIndecent.

The school and district have denied that Florida has recently implemented it.Rights of parents in education law(the "Don't Say Gay" law) had something to do with the cancellation. To the extent that the production was an extracurricular activity and therefore not subject to the specific restrictions of the Class Curriculum Act, it could be. But the law supports a restrictive view of education that has a chilling effect on free speech beyond the legal limitations of the law. This has certainly happened with respect to the book ban, where litigation is underway to challenge the law.

But besides this attack on the First Amendment, there is something else going on in Florida. At a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise, the school's cancellation of a Jewish play because of the historical implications of another Jewish play, both plays written by Jewish playwrights and depicting a romantic relationship between two Jewish women, has implications. dark. This is of particular concern in a community where it is alleged that a group called the Goyim Defense League may be responsible for the "Kanye West was right" banners that appeared at a local school sporting event last fall. One parent also claimed that Jewish residents in the area, including his own, were throwing stones containing hate literature at their driveways.

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But whether the school fears attacks from anti-Semites, objections from homophobic parents, or both, the result is the same. They legitimize bigotry while denying their students and the community access to a work of art that raises some of the most pressing issues of our time, issues that are particularly relevant to teenagers trying to find their own identity and in an age of. ..survive hate and division.

About spelling bees, the Tony-winning musical from Rachel Sheinkin and Bill Finn, is one of the most produced shows in schools across the country, but one Ohio school found a reason to shut down the production anyway. The children were already in the middle of essays when a concerned parent wrote to the school board to complain, despite using an edited school version that had already been produced by other schools in their area (see a local article on this).HERE). The administration caved to outside pressure from a parent who claimed the show was "tacky," made reference to Jesus, and featured a character with two parents. School board actions, such as withIndecent, they were fear-based and reactive and will have equally dire consequences.

Both schools have shied away from their responsibility to encourage and foster the free exchange of ideas. They also allow the most vulnerable children in their care to be marginalized. Instead of expanding the conversation by allowing plays to progress (they might, for example, host community discussions around these topics to provide more context for productions), they normalize censorship, model it as acceptable to their students, and demonstrate reassurance to factions. oppressors in their communities that these pressure tactics are working.

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This is the 100th anniversary of God of Vengeance and it's frustrating to see that as a society we still face the same issues, not just in Florida but across the country as Ohio's cancellation further demonstrates. More examples come to light every day. Teachers and librarians are losing their jobs and even facing criminal charges for having the wrong books in their classrooms or planning to produce the wrong programs.

But students, parents, and teachers across the country are starting to fight back. Certainly the Anderson students are not going down without a fight (see student response).HERE). So if schools think they can avoid controversy by placating the most reactionary elements in their communities, they have already failed.

The Guild has been helping playwright Paula Vogel and Anderson students find ways to get naughty.delay. Unfortunately, it has been reported that there may be a risk of retaliation if production continues (see this article ongame ticket). We wouldn't suggest that students do something they feel would put them in physical harm, but what a sad comment for their community that they have reason to feel this way.

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Instead, students could present a performance online or offsite or in some other way that allows them to experience that story for themselves without jeopardizing it. The union and its legal protection fund, the DLDF, would like to help you with this if you give us the opportunity. We also invite other artists, students, teachers, and parents to oppose similar censorship opportunities in their own communities, such as Cardinal High School, where there will be another school board meeting on February 8, where people will participate in contests. Of spelling. answerCancellation. When you stand up, we are by your side, because the only alternative is silent compliance...and that is not an option at all.

To keep up with this growing trend and continue to advocate for playwrights whose plays are being canceled in schools across the country, the Dramatists Guild has created a form for playwrights and educators across the country to report recent cancellations of their work. . This form,available here, will help the guild and the theater community in general to support the efforts of these writers and educators to produce theater in their communities and denounce censorship in all its forms.

The Show Must Go On: A Toolkit for Organizing Against Theater Censorship in Public Schools
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