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PA School Lied About Reason for Canceling School Play

Remember the school in Pennsylvania that canceled a planned performance of Monty Python’s Spamalot? They claimed that it wasn’t done because of a gay wedding at the end of the play, but emails obtained through an open records request show that they were lying.

Keystone uncovered a series of emails exchanged among Principal Jesse Smith, musical director Dawn Burch, and Superintendent Mark Stamm that confirm that the only justification Smith ever gave for canceling the production was its “homosexual themes.” Furthermore, documents show that, contrary to claims made by Stamm that the musical had not actually been canceled because it was only “under consideration,” Smith had already signed a check for nearly $2,000 to order the licensing rights specifically for Spamalot back in May.

In emails sent at the end of June, Principal Smith identified two concerns about the show to Burch: “a guy sending another guy a message on girl’s underwear and a gay wedding being performed.” Burch replied that there was no such underwear-sending anywhere in the script, which was in her possession and which she had already read multiple times. As to homosexual themes, she wrote, “I am fully aware of their place in the script and am not certain what offense they create,” noting that marriage equality had recently arrived in Pennsylvania.

Smith followed up by explaining that he was “not comfortable with Spamalot and its homosexual themes for two main reasons.” First, he wrote that drama productions “are supposed to be performances that families can attend” and that “this type of material makes it very hard for that to take place.” Secondly, he claimed that controversial productions “put students in a tough spot,” adding, “I don’t want students to have to choose between their own personal beliefs and whether or not to take part in a production.”

Burch then reached out to Superintendent Stamm, expressing that she was “very shocked” by Smith’s decision and rationale. “It is extremely disappointing that homosexuality would be the basis of not approving a show,” she wrote, suggesting that “this is how we raise children to be haters.” Stamm replied that he was familiar with Smith’s objections and stood by them: “His decision is sound.”

Not terribly surprising. They refuse to acknowledge even the existence of gay people and view any mention of anything gay as a form of oppression.

Comments

  1. says

    I remember when my high school produced Playing for Time, completely unsympathetic to any students who felt they couldn’t participate because it conflicted with their anti-semitic beliefs.

  2. donkensler says

    And of course it’s inappropriate for families because people can’t conceive of talking about homosexuality with their kids without getting into the subject of sex.

  3. John Pieret says

    “I don’t want students to have to choose between their own personal beliefs and whether or not to take part in a production.”

    I take it Inherit the Wind is out too.

  4. dingojack says

    Perhaps Superintendent Stamm* thought it might lead to — dancing !! [shudders].
    Can’t wait until next year when Smith suggests Footloose.
    @@
    Dingo
    ——–
    * Is it just me, or does this guy sound like a character from a Beckett play?

  5. anubisprime says

    Fear, bigotry and ignorance fuelled by the pompous righteousness of politicians snuffling for votes from a brain dead electorate keen to appear holier then thou!

    And so stunted and twisted by upbringing and chattering fools that surround them, who are equally compromised by fatuous religious influence, that they knee-jerk lest they be accused of being a commie queer terrorist.

    Sad and pathetic, and a reason why parts of American society is so confused and disoriented and frightened by the drip drip of toxic bile, they suffer from birth to death, against anyone that does not conform to the ideal that old, white, ignorant and intellectually challenged mentally retarded fuckwads that rely on Christian privilege and which they promote as the Christian dream.

  6. Chiroptera says

    *sigh*

    There really should be some sort of civil penalty or personal liability for elected and appointed officials who lie to the public.

  7. illdoittomorrow says

    Random thoughts:

    ‘ “a guy sending another guy a message on girl’s underwear and a gay wedding being performed.” Burch replied that there was no such underwear-sending anywhere in the script, which was in her possession and which she had already read multiple times. ‘ Is there, um, a repressed memory in there someplace, Principal Smith?

    [...]“not comfortable with Spamalot and its homosexual themes for two main reasons.” First, he wrote that drama productions “are supposed to be performances that families can attend” and that “this type of material makes it very hard for that to take place.” Secondly, he claimed that controversial productions “put students in a tough spot,” adding, “I don’t want students to have to choose between their own personal beliefs and whether or not to take part in a production.” That’s ONE reason, split into two incoherent sentences. This shitwit literally can’t count, and he’s a school principal… oy.

    Also- two *grand* for licensing, for a high school production? Ouch!

  8. JustaTech says

    When my (all girl) middel school did a production of ‘Once Upon a Mattress” the teachers simply cut out the most uncomfortable song (a piece where the mute king tries to explain the birds and the bees to the prince, in mime). Depending on how you chose to stage it, Once Upon a Mattress can be filthy, or merely silly (it’s a re-telling of the princess and the pea).

    I will grant, it would be a lot harder to cut the wedding out of Spamalot (since that’s the grand finale), but you could fudge it. Or have one of the characters played by a girl, just to mess with people’s minds.

    $2,000 is a lot for licensing, but I think that means you get it for several years, and can make as many copies of the script and sheet music as you need.

  9. elly says

    First, he wrote that drama productions “are supposed to be performances that families can attend” and that “this type of material makes it very hard for that to take place.” Secondly, he claimed that controversial productions “put students in a tough spot,” adding, “I don’t want students to have to choose between their own personal beliefs and whether or not to take part in a production.”

    I found this bit to be unintentionally hilarious, for personal reasons.

    Back when I was a junior in high school (1974), our school put on the play “Cabaret,” which – while somewhat different than the movie – still contains plenty of risqué scenes. For example, I was one of the chorus girls and was featured as one of the “Two Ladies” (a ditty about the joys of ménage à trois). The girl who played Sally Bowles was a Mormon – and her parents were absolutely thrilled that she was playing the lead role. Suffice it to say, no one was upset – I have zero recollection of any complaints. Parents pitched in to help make costumes and provide props (my mom contributed her fur coat for “Sally” to use to pay for her abortion); and there were plenty of parents/family members in the audiences we played to. But it seems – at least in 1974 – our parents, teachers and administrators understood that it was just a play; and that high school students weren’t hothouse flowers who needed to be protected from exposure to sexualized content.

  10. wordsmatter says

    I looked up _where_ in PA this took place. Northern middle. I believe it was James Carville who observed that Pennsylvania is “Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the west, and Alabama in the middle.” Yes, that’s snarky and painting with a broad brush, but recall that this high school is just up the road from Dover, PA, home of the “Intelligent Design” school board shenanigans. Gays and science seem to be equally unwelcome in that part of the state.

  11. anubisprime says

    I recall that in the first year at secondary school..(High school in the States) one of the best assignments I can remember was the re-writing of several of Geoff Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales into modern English, I was in the group that got the Millers tale to interpret with drawings and modern text.

    From pokers up bums to the mockery of religion it was a roaring success at the school evening when it had to be read to the assembled parents and teachers…not one complaint…mind you there were absolutely no teh gheys back then ;-( …maybe that is what it missed to get banned?

  12. dugglebogey says

    The existence of gay marriage is not really up for debate. Just because it’s “against someone’s beliefs” doesn’t nullify its existence. You don’t have to agree with gay marriage to be involved in the production. I don’t agree with Nazis but I would still participate in a performance of The Sound of Music.

  13. raven says

    Maybe they should do Miller’s The Crucible instead. It’s all about witch hunting so that should go over really well in rural Pennsylvania.

    For those who might not know, it is a dramatization of the Puritan witch hunting and killing of 25 alleged witches in Massachusetts. The high point of American theocracy.

    We read the book in my HS and also saw a movie of the play. It stayed with me until now. It surprised me that not so long ago, people hunted down and killed alleged witches in what became the USA.

    Oddly enough, they still do although the witches have other names these days (most but not all the time). Commie, Atheist, gay, scientist, Pagan, Democrat, liberal, Moslem, Unitarian and so on.

  14. Chiroptera says

    Oddly enough, they still do although the witches have other names these days (most but not all the time). Commie….

    In fact, although ostensibly about the Salem witch trials, The Crucible is actually about the McCarthy’s anti-communist crusade. (PS. I played the role of the Reverend Parris in my high school’s production.)

  15. dingojack says

    ‘They say he gave them but two words — ‘more weight’ he said and then he died’
    Dingo

  16. whheydt says

    Perhaps they should stage the 1928 Broadway adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’ _Elmer Gantry_. It’s probably out of copyright, so it’d be cheap to do.

  17. Matt G says

    When you’re lying for Jesus, it’s OK. Any time you do ANYTHING dishonest, unethical, immoral, etc., for Jesus, it’s OK. Being a Christian means *anything* is permitted. Same goes for Jews, Muslims, etc. of course.

  18. forestdragon says

    Frankly, I’m stunned that anyone would find gay themes in musical theatre.

    Hmm, you mean something like ‘Gambling, establishment, shocked’?

  19. yoav says

    “I don’t want students to have to choose between their own personal beliefs and whether or not to take part in a production.”

    Accept it involves forcing them to join a TrueChristian™ prayer, then they should just shut the fuck up.

  20. eric says

    First, he wrote that drama productions “are supposed to be performances that families can attend” and that “this type of material makes it very hard for that to take place.”

    Monty Python may not be to everyone’s taste, and that’s okay. But if you advertise that you’re doing a Monty Python play, no reasonable audience member should complain that they got Monty Python style humor.

    Secondly, he claimed that controversial productions “put students in a tough spot,” adding, “I don’t want students to have to choose between their own personal beliefs and whether or not to take part in a production.”

    So, you don’t want your drama department asking actors to play characters different from themselves?
    That’s baloney, of course. You don’t want your drama department asking actors to play characters different from what you like. I’m sure you’re perfectly comfortable asking non-christian actors to play in Joseph or what have you.

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