lexington high school bans student-directed play about columbine shootings.

taking a break from the oz-blogging for a word about something totally fucked up.
many of you know that i’ve been a flag-waving fan of the drama department at lexington high school.
it’s leader (and reason for it’s general avant-garde awesomeness) and director, steve bogart, was a huge inspiration to me growing up and the drama department provided a very flexible and weird womb for me to grow and experiment as a young director/actor/writer. i’ve since gone back and workshopped a play with the students of LHS (it was called “with the needle that sings in her heart” and was based on an album by neutral milk hotel, you can read about it HERE or WATCH it HERE), and steven bogart came onboard to direct last falls incredible production of “cabaret” that went up at the ART in boston.
and, if you’ve never seen it, bogart arranged a bunch of the drama students to perform in a video for “strength through music” (a song about school shootings from the Who Killed Amanda Palmer record) a few years ago:
those are the halls of lexington high school you see in this video; i actually walk by my old locker.
as you can see: i’ve very fucking proud of my roots, and i feel that lexington and its traditionally open-minded art department produced a lot of brave performers…that’s why this story below strikes me as particularly appalling.
if you saw “with the needle…”, you may remember the girl who played the role of anne frank, emma feinberg. she was a super-talented FRESHMAN (she was 15 at the time, she’s 17 and a junior now). i was a fan at the outset, she was a truly dedicated actor and we watched her absolutely blossom during the run of the show, since her part was incredibly demanding and emotional.
she nailed the part.
here are some reminder-photos from the dress rehearsal shoot:
emma as anne frank (that’s me on the left and alex parish on the right):
photos by beth hommel
me & emma:

here’s the article from the boston globe.

i would simply paste the link, but the poor dears have a subscription firewall:
Student seeks stage for Columbine play
By Brock Parker
Globe Correspondent / February 4, 2011
Lexington High School junior Emma Feinberg was so determined to stage a play about the 1999 Columbine High School shooting that she rounded up support from the performing arts department at her school, planned the costumes and sets, auditioned actors, and readied for rehearsals.
Then she hit a wall. Lexington High School principal Natalie Cohen abruptly canceled performances of the play, “Columbinus,’’ last month after School Superintendent Paul Ash received a complaint from a parent about its language and content.
“I was in shock,’’ said Feinberg, who is 17 years old. “For me it was three months worth of work canceled by one parent calling and complaining.’’
But Feinberg is trying to find a way to ensure the show will go on. She’s working with a teacher at Boston University’s School of Theatre to find a new venue for the play and possibly organize a panel discussion on censorship in the arts.
Ash, through his secretary, said the decision to cancel the play was made by the high school. Cohen said after Ash called her about the complaint he had received, she read the script and told Feinberg and the cast about her “very difficult’’ call to cancel the play.
“I’m not a fan of censorship in any way, and I never thought I would be in this position,’’ Cohen said. “But this play, on its face, is so alarming and so unredeeming; you leave the end of the play with: ‘What do I do? The world is just horrible and out of control.’ ’’
“Columbinus’’ was written by Stephen Karam and PJ Paparelli as part of the United States Theatre Project and played off-Broadway in 2006.
It draws on interviews with high school students as well as a portrayal of the shootings at Columbine near Littleton, Colo., in which two students killed 13 people before killing themselves.
Feinberg said she learned of “Columbinus’’ from a production of the play at the Stoneham Theatre over the summer. As an aspiring actress, Feinberg said she was amazed by the script and how a piece of theater could change her views about school shootings and the students around her.
“After the Arizona [and Omaha] shootings that have happened, I feel there’s need for this play, because now more than ever there’s no taboo about who you shoot or where you shoot,’’ Feinberg said, referring to the massacre in Tucson that left six dead last month and an earlier school shooting in Nebraska.
“I think there’s an issue with that. I think this play faces that issue and makes people think about why that is. What can we do to change this?’’
Feinberg said the script includes harsh swearing, as well as a reenactment of the Columbine shooting in the school library.
A recording of the 911 call made by the librarian is also played over the speakers during the play, she said. But Feinberg said the swearing was based on interviews with the students. While Feinberg said she wouldn’t suggest bringing a young child to the play, she believed the material was suitable for a 16-year-old.
Feinberg said she was planning to put on the play at night at the school in March, and was discussing a performance during school for freshmen students.
Cohen said she had initially approved staging the play because she had not read the entire script when faculty members said they were supporting Feinberg’s efforts to produce the play.
But Cohen said after Ash relayed the parent’s complaint to her, she read the script and felt the language and violence were inappropriate for students between 14 and 17 years old.
While Cohen said she takes pride in the cutting-edge theater that makes the drama program at the high school extraordinary, she said she felt it would be irresponsible for the school to sponsor “Columbinus.’’ But Cohen said she does support Feinberg’s efforts to stage the play elsewhere.
Ilana Brownstein, a lecturer at Boston University’s School of Theatre, who has been helping Feinberg find a new home for the play, teaches “Columbinus’’ to her contemporary drama students at the university.
Brownstein said she sees the value of the play for young people, despite the strong language and topic of a high school shooting.
Brownstein said she and Feinberg have a strong lead on a theater to house the play in April but nothing has been finalized.
Feinberg said she has assembled a group of actors for the play, including current and former students at Lexington High School.
Brownstein said she has been compelled to help Feinberg because of the young artist’s determination to put on a play that she thinks is applicable to her life and her fellow students.
“To me that’s an incredibly powerful reason to do a piece of theater,’’ Brownstein said.
to say that this is all heartbreakingly ironic is a massive understatement.
BAN an intelligent play about school shootings in a HIGH SCHOOL?
are you insane, people?
emma wrote me an email a few weeks ago, while i was in melbourne, and i asked her to send me the script of the play…and it’s really, really good.
there’s no gratuitous violence or language. it’s a very gritty, real piece of theater.
it’s not straight, didactic, bullshit theater…this is a play about approaching the impossible-to-answer-directly question and kaleidoscopic can-of-worms of WHY high-school kids become alienated enough to do something like gun down all their students. this question doesn’t have a direct answer – but the ASKING of the question itself is a huge part of heading towards some kind of enlightenment.
i remain convinced that teenagers have a fuck of a lot to say, intelligently and creatively. i thought i did. people believed me.
i was given pianos, blank paper, and a stage on which i could put the crazy-ass non-dialogue plays that formed in my head when listening to esoteric rock bands.
to be told by your school that “SORRY THIS KIND OF ART IS UNSAFE” because it deals with the realities of life is a BACKWARDS MESSAGE.
that is WHAT ART IS FOR.
we use art to grapple and deal with things with can’t just sit around and chat about.
to give the message to kids that they cannot, should not, do that is one of the most harmful things you can possibly do.
and i’m proud of emma for having the bravery to step outside the school and put the show on in the city, where people won’t squash her, and it’s very nice that the schol is happy for her to explore this staging outside of the school but for christ’s sake: it’s not the intellectual adults of boston and cambridge who should be seeing this play, it’s her peers at the high school. this is their topic more than anybody else. to deny them the forum to explore it, using art, is FUCKED UP.
i want to ask you guys to do something.
writing complaint letters to the school at this point won’t help, it will probably only irritate them.
BUT i’d love for you, in the blog comments below, to share your own experiences of high school art/theater/music departments, especially if you had a good, cutting-edge teacher, program or opportunity that encouraged boundary-pushing and real art-exploring. tell how those experiences changed your life, opened your mind, made you braver, helped you see things.
i’d love to compile THOSE stories and send them along to the principal and superintendent all in one package.
those stories will get the point across much more than “hey what the fuck are you doing? let this kids put on their play!” type messages.
educating teenagers and giving them freedom is so fucking important, especially in the face of the recent school violence that has become frighteningly commonplace in the states.
doing this kind of stuff closes minds and doors and possibilities instead of opening them.
opening those creative doors is the way to salvation, closing them is the road straight into hell.
can i get an amen?
p.s. i’ll keep you all updated about when emma finds a venue for the play, we’re hoping it will mount this spring in boston and things are looking good. we’re also planning a panel to open up a meta-discussion about his whole nonsense in general. more later.
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  • Totz the Plaid

    My school was relatively limited (mostly for budget reasons) as to what we could do, but in my Junior and Senior years, (and for a couple years afterward until my old teacher had to move on to a different school) an experimental project called “30 Plays in 60 Minutes” based on “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind” had Fall and Spring productions. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the original project it was inspired by, we (a hand-picked selection of the best and brightest from the drama program) put on 30 one-scene mini-plays in a random, audience selected order and attempted to get them all in during the course of an hour. No costumes, minimal sets & props, and some of, if not absolutely the most fun I’ve had onstage.

  • Kaelee

    I was an absolute reject all through school. I was pretty much constantly bullied from about third grade to 10th grade. But I found, during high school, an amazing outlet and community where I fit in despite all my quirkiness and oddity; the school wind orchestra. I picked up the clarinet uncannily quickly, and a gentleman by the name of John Hibbard, the conductor of the orchestra, drafted me as soon as he heard me play. John was a hugely encouraging force for me, and he gave me something to look forward to away from classes, and under his tutelage and the support of my musical peers, I came out of my shell and became one of the lead clarinetists, not just in the orchestra, but in the small chamber ensemble and senior skilled arrangements as well. And it was through the orchestra that I made so many more friends, and found that I didn’t have to exist on the fringes of the school just to avoid the teasing and the bullying. My high school orchestra experiences left me so profoundly happy in my own skin that I found the integrity to just keep being myself and be proud of it, rather than try to hide away and avoid the world.

  • Agrajag

    I wasn’t really involved with the art, theater, or music departments at my high school. But one of the things that had a huge impact on me in high school was the Columbine shooting itself. It happened my senior year, right down the street from my school. I knew people who went there. I’d met Eric and Dylan. Columbine was pretty fucking close to home for me. It bothers me deeply that a few lone hyper-sensitive voices crying from the wilderness end up stifling, over and over again, any meaningful discussion of what happened that day. Sure it’s scary. Sure it’s a raw nerve. But it’s something that needs to be explored honestly and openly. And if not by high school students, then who? It’s something that happened to kids just like them, caused by kids just like them, and could actually happen *to them*. How can anyone say it’s “not appropriate” for them?

  • Katc

    Amen! …I wish there had been much more of what you are advocating for in my high school, but I vividly remember my sophomore English teacher’s final essay questions. We were to pick one out of several, and he had included the option of writing Hemingway’s suicide note. I doubt that would be acceptable now, but it was brilliant. It was a way for me to explore my own feelings, and it synthesized my understanding of the author from all I had read of his books and understood of his life. I got an A, but mostly I felt the freedom to breathe without hiding around a subject that was deeply important and smothered in taboo. Art is not the Thing itself, it is a powerful representation of the Thing, thus becoming its own Thing. The true power of a symbol is in its function as a lens through which we can see the things we most fear and revere.

  • Sarah

    I didn’t do theater in high school. Our program was relatively safe, if I recall, though we did do a student directed (and I believe in some cases written as well) series of one act plays every year. I couldn’t tell you much about it just because of my lack of involvement other than playing in the pit orchestra for the musical every year.

    I was in the music department. Our music department was AMAZING. Absolutely amazing. We played all sorts of music, everything from classics to brand new composers to new pieces by local composers. We actually had Jim Bonney, a Chicago-area (at the time) composer, write a piece for a girl who died in a tragic (no drugs or alcohol involed, either) car accident a year after I graduated. You could read about it here: http://jimbonney.com/?page_id=192

    We had musicians and composers from all over come to play with us and teach us, and it was amazing. I couldn’t imagine my band director having said no to anyone for wanting to try something as long as it was something educationally worthwhile…and even then, as long as they didn’t try to do it at a concert, he probably would have let them have a practice room to try it in.

    I miss that program so much.

    As far as what you’ve posted? I can’t even describe my rage. I went to Northern Illinois University. I was there for the shooting on Valentine’s Day 2008. I wasn’t in the building, but I was nearby and saw the police cars and ambulances show up. I had friends who were there, friends who helped victims, friends who saw people covered in blood run into the library and other nearby buildings. A girl who died was in my psychology class. This is a topic close to my heart.

    I fully believe that if a teenager thought the topic needs to be brought out – which it does – that she has every right to perform it as long as it is done in an appropriate manner for a high school. Excessive violence and graphic sexual activity and everything really doesn’t have a place in a public school setting, but subject matter to an extent should not be an issue at a high school level.

    That’s just…so awful.

    Let those kids create. Don’t knock them down. Alienating people is how we get people that feel the need to pull a gun on a school.

    I am so glad she’s taking it somewhere else.

  • http://twitter.com/kllyclaus Kelly A. Claussen

    Wow. This is so close to what happened to me in high school.

    I grew up in a small town in Minnesota. My senior year of high school I was asked to Student Direct a play for One Act Competition. Essentially I was an assistant to my English teacher/Drama department head, who was and is a huge influence on my artistic career.

    This year we decided to do Lysistrata. Bush was still in office and we often talked about how no one really understood what was happening with the war in the middle east. So we decided to take the classical, humorous, feminist approach to it.

    If you know the story of Lysistrata, it is a suggestive play. The women gain control of their cities by seising to sleeping with their men. This allows them to take control of the acropolis, where the money for the city (and to fund the war) is held. This is until the men come to reason and stop the war.

    Being in high school, my drama instructor and a peer re-wrote the classic greek play so that it was less suggestive, and more appropriate. Even at the read though we talked with the cast, told them if their were offended or uncomfortable by any of it, we would change it.

    We worked hard on the piece for about 6 weeks. Finally, we came close to our competition date. We were running a little close on time limit for the piece, and since it was a comedy I wanted to make sure that with the added laughs, we’d still be in the time limit. So we had an open performance for the public the wednesday before the competition (it was at 9am on a saturday). After the show everyone told us that they loved it, and it was quite funny.

    That friday, 5 mins before the end of the day, the entire One Act team got called down to the office to meet with our principal. He told us there were “many” complaints from the performance on wednesday about our subject matter, and would not be performing our piece for competition.

    You could say we were a little more than upset.

    I felt responsible, since I had organized the public performance, so I felt determined to fix it. When I got home I called my Principal at school and I asked him, that since it was an original adaptation of the script, we could keep the title and the characters in the program, but completely change the story, and take out anything slightly suggestive. He told me no, we were too talented.

    I thought to myself, yes, we are talented, and I’m going to prove to you how much. I called the entire cast, asked them to call the principal requesting to change the script. But then no one could get a hold of him, he seemed to disappears. So I contacted a school board member. He was with the superintendent. They discussed our situation. About 2 hours after the show had gotten canceled we were given permission to re-write our entire play.

    Everyone wrote monologues and dramatic scenes to fill the play. It became a serious drama about women as a minority struggling against an abusive government, controlled by men. But it was more than that. It was about how our hirarchy in our school wronged us and our art, without any warning. We performed the next day at 9 am, about 2 hours away from where we lived, with our completely new script. We got 3rd place, a handful of points away from moving on to sections, or to state.

    A year later, my drama instructor was at a Minnesota convention and told our story. Another drama instructor heard our story and asked him if he and his students could meet us. The created an original piece about our story and what happened to us. They won both subsections and sections, and performed at the state festival and shared our story with everyone they could.

    I was in college at the time of the performance, but my mother was there. My old team (that was still in high school) sat behind the state competitors that told our story. One of the judges spoke to the team and audience, pondering allowed, what if this actually happened to someone. The team yelled out it did! and pointed to our team sitting behind them. And then the entire crowd recognized us.

    Although there is a lot of obstruction to art because of narrow minds, we must be strong and find the ones that support us. It is through this support, the small voices can be heard. Those usually are the most important.

    I would also like to say that my college, DePaul University, just performed Columbinus this fall. It created a lot of important discussion throughout The Theatre School. I believe this discussion with worth having, especially in high school situations.

    • Tatterdemalion

      I saw Lysistrata Interruptae, the drama based on your story, twice, and was moved to tears both times.

      For me, high school drama was the only place where I could stand up in front of people and truly express myself. However, it took months of knowing I had the complete support of the director and the rest of the club members before I could get anywhere near that point. An abrupt cancellation from on high like that would have been devastating, an official decree that you had nothing to say and nowhere to say it. No right to be yourself.

      I am sincerely sorry that your show was cancelled. I wish Emma the best of luck in finding a more accepting venue.

  • insignifikunt


    saying amen to you in this comment is a little strange for me actually. See I went to an all girls catholic school where nothing event remotely boundary pushing was accepted. A student swore on stage once during a talent quest – she sung a song with swearing in it – and the repercussions of that were extremely harsh, I think she was even suspended.

    There was an art/theater/music department but it was so sterile that I don’t think the students actually got to express anything through their art. I was told not to do things, or to change things and it just totally took away the whole purpose of taking those classes in the first place so naturally I stopped. The most frustrating thing about it is my school had probably some of the best equipment and facilities to develop the students far more than some of the surrounding, but more accepting/open minded schools.

    My school developed women who went to university to get a degree and become a wife and mother and about 80% of the people in my grade have gone on to do just that. There are NO artists, musicians/songwriters, actors, directors or anyone who has even considered pursuing a career in their art and there were students who attended my school were amazingly talented but they weren’t encouraged. Yet only a few kms away was a school where students were encouraged and their ideas weren’t shot down and censored, they went on to at least try and some have succeeded!

    This is a bit off topic but I am trying to make a point… I had 2 friends who began a lesbian relationship during school and being a catholic one, this led to all amounts of unnecessary bullshit from staff, and a great deal of psychological damage was done to the both of them. Birth control was considered a sin, my friend was on the pill to clear up acne and a teacher threatened to take it off her at a school camp once! So it’s not surprising that teen pregnancy was not uncommon in my school.

    I finished school about 9 years ago but I know for a fact that nothing has changed. It’s backwards thinking because teenagers actually can handle a lot more than what the adults in a position of authority seem to believe, and that is what is wrong here. So what if there is swearing in that play? Does anyone actually believe there is a teenager on this planet who doesn’t swear the moment they are out of earshot of anyone who’d give them grief about it?

    Then the other reason that was given, that it’s content was unsuitable for teenagers. The killers and those killed on that horrible day WERE TEENAGERS so why do people think teenagers don’t deserve the right to be exposed to this sort of stuff, or to talk about it in their own way? It’s life. Some really horrible things happen in life, to everyone, there is no escaping it and sugar coating it early on just sets kids up to an even harder struggle when it is time for them to accept that not everything is rainbows and unicorns.

    I think censorship does far more damage than good. The Columbine shooting happened and no one can deny that. What occurred that day was brutal and by refusing to allow Emma to put on that play about it they are refusing to allow her, and those involved, to express how they feel about it and to make other people think. They are taking away her right to express something and that is just wrong. I think a lot of people NEED that play.

    I first heard you play Strength Through Music live just after one of the shootings had taken place and the hair stood up on the back of my neck and I had to stop myself from crying. That feeling really made me think and that’s exactly what art is for.

  • http://www.starlithome.blogspot.com Starlithome

    “Art heals wounds and does what nothing else can” AMEN.
    Really all I can say.

    Teens should have the freedom of expression and this is not something that should be shut down.

  • http://hybridelephant.myopenid.com/ przxqgl

    i’m 50 years old now, but when i was in high school, we decided to stage a production of Jesus Christ, Superstar, as an “extra curricular” project. we rented the script, arranged a band and rehearsed for a month and a half, and then, just as we were preparing to open the show, it was cancelled by the school, because a (“christian”) parent thought that what we were doing (on our own time, after school, and with no adult direction whatsoever) was “blasphemous”… and it wasn’t a “parochial” school, either; it was a school in an affluent suburb of seattle.

    the next year, exactly the same thing happened with “Godspell”…

    • http://twitter.com/JJ5000 Jim

      Jaysus! It’s not like you were stage a theater production of The Last Temptation of Christ.

  • Laura

    I’ve never had an overly powerful story to tell, nothing that would really get me noticed. Im in high school, and i swear im an extra in some massive production that I’ve never been told about. No one picks on me, but no one says hi, either. But for just a couple hours every day, i get to be a part of something magical. Our band program is electrifying. There’s only a handful of players (40 or so with all four grades) but were one of the best in the province. Were blessed with a top notch conductor that won’t settle for less than perfect. In my freshman year, I found myself playing in our jazz combo, which ended up having a horn section of just two clarinets (myself one of them). I was terrified at the thought of having no senior players to hide behind, but my conductor pushed me to succeed. I used to play as quiet as possible to avoid being singled out, but now im begging for solos. He can be a bit of a hard ass, but because of that, were a group of kids playing at a level most high school bands don’t even dream of.

    Confidence is his number one goal. I can’t count the number of times he’s told us “if you make a mistake, make it one of the best mistakes you’ve ever made.”. He’s helped so many musicians find their voice, whether it’s in our choir, jazz, or concert band. To be able to express yourself without fear of ridicule is an amazing feeling. Mistakes can be amazing things.

  • http://hybridelephant.myopenid.com/ przxqgl

    sorry, double post… 8/

  • http://newageamazon.tumblr.com newageamazon

    In high school, theatre was my love. It was one of the few things that kept me going, one of the only places I ever felt like I belonged or I had any kind of power.
    Our department was fairly standard and boring, other than our adviser/director from my freshman to junior years being generally intoxicated during rehearsals, but maybe that’s more common than I know. Anyway, the point is, we never did anything cutting edge, really, or THAT thought provoking, unless you count the senior year production of “The Lottery” we performed. But drama was something that I threw myself into, it is one of the things that helped save my soul from 14 to 18, and no, I don’t mean that as hyperbole.
    But that part of the story isn’t as important as this part: I was a high school sophomore when the Columbine school shooting happened.
    In the month that followed, two students at my school began to make threats of a copycat crime.
    Our school knew. Our school did nothing. Students were going to teachers in tears asking for help, the teachers passed them off to the administration, the administration…asked the copycats to please not shoot anyone.
    It came down to the point where someone had to do something beyond just tell a teacher. I was in a position to help: my grandfather was the chief of police in our town. So, I called him and told him what was going on…all the while begging him to allow me to stay anonymous. He made some other calls, got back to me and said he’d confirmed that what I suspected was true and that they were going to step in and make sure nothing happened.
    Maybe that copycat crime was a particularly cruel joke on the part of the students threatening it. Maybe nothing would have happened. Maybe I overreacted.
    But maybe a lot of people would have died if I hadn’t.
    My point being: the attempts to protect the students from being upset by anything “bad” could have led to something even worse. And even then, there were no discussions at our school about what happened, no efforts made to stem the tide of the bullying. There were a few “school shooting” drills, during which they locked the students down in classrooms like prisoners, but we never did anything to address the alienation, the bullying, the root of the entire problem.
    If you do nothing, you solve nothing.
    Amanda, I know this is more about my experiences post-Columbine than it is about high school drama and music, and I figure it probably isn’t something you’re likely to send along, since it really does come down to OMG, WTF, LET THE KIDS DO THE PLAY!!!!! But this is still something that shakes me to this day, and I wanted the chance to share my story and voice my support in some way for these kids and for this show. Especially with bullying still being a hot button topic (or is it? I mean, are we still trying to care about teens being bullied or has MTV moved on to some new cause now? After all, you can only support one at a time, really, and you have to go with what’s hot off the fucked up kids runway collection this season. I mean, honestly, dating violence is soooooo 2009 that nobody would be caught dead talking to teens about THAT anymore…but that’s another rant entirely) it seems like right now is exactly when it needs to be performed, especially by a respected theatre department, especially in a high school and ESPECIALLY for the students.
    And now, I’m done. Sorry for the long, kind of useless comment. Keep fighting the good fight.

  • Jade

    I went to a private school so I was restricted. As much as I loved art that was cutting edge, I had to restrict myself, or at least thought I had to. Luckily enough I had a creative writing teacher my Freshman year of high school who taught me how to find my voice. She said we could say, write, whatever we wanted. This was our art, our OWN work and she wouldn’t judge us for it. I felt free. That’s when I started practicing my own art of expressing myself in theatre and in writing. I still write everyday and as a college student I’ve been trying to spread my own message of art giving freedom. I’m currently taking a peer theatre class. I have the chance to go to a middle school and share with them my love for theatre. I get to show them that there are no limits to art. :)

  • Cessa

    The exact same thing happened at my high school. My drama teacher, a fantastic woman who really introduced me to theater and how magical it can be to step outside the box, picked “Columbinus” as our fall play. We had auditions, were assigned roles and were weeks into practicing when they pulled the plug on our play because they didn’t feel it was an accurate portrayal of the guidance staff at our high school.

    But Christa, my incredibly open-minded and wonderful theater teacher, took our anger at our production being canceled and channeled it into another show — this one was decidedly more light-hearted and even slightly ridiculous, rather than truly avant-garde, but as she said, “Yeah, they took away your show. But that doesn’t mean we can’t put up a damn good production of THIS show.” And so we did. We were sold out all four nights and got rave reviews from the school newspaper and even (if I remember correctly) a write-up in the Boston Globe.

    Christa truly changed my life. She introduced me to the world of avant-garde and edgy theater, whereas before I had only ever been in or seen “traditional” plays, which, while important and awesome in their own right, don’t necessarily appeal to an angst-ridden teenager, taught me about script-writing, gave me my love for Brecht, Shaw and Ibsen and then introduced me to Durang. She really brought the world of the theater alive for me in my eighth grade drama class, then continued to inspire, support and guide me throughout my high school years until my very last play my senior spring of high school.

    She taught me it was OK to be myself, and, when I couldn’t handle being myself, she taught me how to escape and just be someone else for a few hours.

  • http://twitter.com/Redertainment Hunter Red

    There are times I think that if I would have been brought up in an environment such as the one described here, I would have flourished as an artist sooner. There are times that I think that if I hadn’t been acting as a rebellious little hellion, I would have delved deeper into my creative potential sooner. There are times that I think that if I hadn’t grown up in the conservative powerhouse that is Utah I would be a bigger, better artist than I am now. I find looking back in such a manner unproductive, but when I see such an environment such as the one described here in danger or being eradicated, I cannot help but feel sorrow. Such environments need to be nurtured, and grown, within the community that it is in, but also the world at large. We do not need another environment like the one I am mired in now. No one does.

  • george

    for a piece of art, created by a high schooler and written about an incident in a high school, to not be shown in a high school makes no sense..
    the context of the issue is high school.
    the context of the writer is high school.
    yet it is somehow justified that the play isn’t suitable for teenagers…
    my head is going to implode.

    at my old high school, i think we were particularly fortunate. although the drama department itself was fairly poor resource/staff wise, the freedom students had content wise (and in other learning areas too) was quite large.
    in drama, there was a short one-man play about the suicide of a student’s father.
    in art classes, there images that were classified to be “in bad taste” by parents, yet they were never taken down.
    in classrooms, student’s were given great freedom for topics of projects, essays and presentations.
    and while the amount of times that “controversial” work appeared at the school was fairly minimal (it was in kind of a school in a well-off, sheltered suburb..), the fact that the few challenging works weren’t removed or censored or fought against made it a good learning environment.

    often, particularly when it comes to “sensitive” issues such as columbine, controversy is quite to arise. somebody always has to be blamed for creative provocative art (which is only, you know, a giant paradox).
    take gus van sant’s film “elephant,” which is also a creative depiction of the events of columbine. the film is shot so beautifully and boldly (the strength through music video always reminds me of it..) yet the fact that, in typical van sant style, the film watched it’s characters rather than depicted them raised concern in the community. it was even blamed for inspiring another school shooting.

    in reality, people can be fucked up. if we can’t look into or analyse or discuss the dark events in our world creatively, it’s just another way of ignoring the issue and an example of failure in understanding why such things occur.
    and that’swhen the darkness fucking wins.

    art triggers responses in people that they’re often not aware they could feel, and we can’t close ourselves off to that because it’s art that fixes problems that nothing else can.

  • KurtBusiek

    My high school drama department rocked.

    But then, I went to Lexington High School.

    Actually, the whole Lexington school system was great for drama. We did MACBETH, THE COMEDY OF ERRORS (and its predecessor, THE TWO MENAECHAMUSES) and THE MIKADO, all in elementary school, and a MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM in junior high school (I was Francis Flute, the bellows mender). I wasn’t in any of the school productions in high school, but I took drama and improv classes, where writing and performing helped give me the belief that I could indeed be a writer (but, ah, not a performer).

    I’m sorry to hear that my alma mater has taken this step. I hope they reconsider, and never do it again.

  • PolitelyOffend

    I had an interesting experience with high school theater. From freshman to junior year, I went to Medfield high school and was in the drama club in sophomore year. We did very ‘safe’ plays that had been performed so many times over by other high schools. The only reason to see them was if you had a child in the play. The casting process was based on favoritism and what grade you were in. This made for some of the driest productions I had ever seen or been a part of. Let me put it this way: My grandmother (a very sweet and patient woman) walked out in the middle of our production of Witness for the Prosecution because it was THAT bad. I and my fellow sophomores got one line if we were lucky.
    In the middle of my junior year, I transferred to a private school. The school was an Opus Dei Catholic school for girls. Opus Dei is a strict sect of Catholicism and not the hellish, self-punishing religion as it was depicted in “The Divinci Code.” The school was tiny and had 130 girls from grades 6-12. My class consisted of 25, including me (I was one of the few non-catholic liberals). Although the school was conservative, the drama department took a different stance. No matter what I think about the rest of the school’s methods, I will always be grateful for the drama dept. The director there knew every girl extremely well since there were so few of them and she had taught them from age 11. This made casting very effective, especially since she casted on the basis of whether the girl was right for the role. The day I was accepted to the school, I went to a play they put on after being invited by one of the girls I met on my tour of the school. The play was “Song of Survival”. I, being unfamiliar with the school, expected something like the plays I had taken part in at Medfield. I was very mistaken. Although the play was religiously oriented and somewhat sappy, it took risks that I had never seen taken in a public school production. The play was narrated by an elderly character (played by a senior student), a survivor of a prison camp, who carried the entire play by telling her story. As she told her story, it would come to life in scenes center stage. The character was a prisoner at a camp in Japan during WWII and the scenes were those of her in the camp. There were middle school students who took part as minor characters in the camp. The set was minimal and the commandant was never seen, only heard as a man’s voice over speakers in the theater. The play was a true story (later adapted as “Paradise Road”) and dealt with issues such as rape, prostitution, brutality, murder, and racism. The girls pulled it off beautifully and I was pretty amazed.
    My first week at that school, I tried out for the musical (Seussical) and landed one of the leads. The experience was fun and the director managed to pull me out of any sort of shyness in performing. I had never sang for an audience (except in middle school chorus) and had never been in a musical. I had to play “The Sour Kangaroo” who was literally described in the script as “Aretha Franklin with more attitude.” I was incredibly self conscious about my voice due to my chorus director in Medfield constantly making comments about how I sounded “like a man” and scaring me by telling me at 12 years old that I would lose my voice by 20 if I kept singing jazz (By the way, that’s bullshit). I had never gotten a chance in Medfield, so my director in my new school had to coax my performances out of me. I ended up letting loose and having a blast with it. I met friends who I am still close with during that play.
    The next year, I took drama class with the same woman who directed in drama club. She had us performing scenes and plays from Tennessee Williams (A director Medfield would have steered clear from) and others. Keep in mind, we were in a small catholic school that was swarming with nuns while we practiced scenes where we played rape victims, abuse victims, mental health patients, and positively portrayed gay characters as well. In the drama club, I was casted in 12 Angry Women (it was actually 12 Angry Men). That year, we performed at Dramafest with an act from the same play (Song of Survival) that I had seen them perform the year before. It was recasted and I was cast as the lead, the elderly woman narrating her story. Many of us were approached after the performance by people from other schools. One girl, who played a “Eurasian” woman, had a man approach her and thank her for her portrayal. He said he had never seen a play dive into the conflict that he faced of being a mix of Asian descent and European/anglo-saxon.
    One production that was student-written was actually not in the drama department. As a part of the curriculum at my little private school, we were all required to take 2 years of philosophy. We studied Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, St. Aquinas, Hobbes, Locke, Marx and Nietzsche. The class was arduous, especially in our junior year, but it forced us to think in ways we had never before considered. The class did not shy away from the most controversial questions and encouraged open discussion. Even though I held different beliefs from those of the school’s, the philosophy education I recieved there actually made me more confident in my beliefs since I began to actively question and search. I am still liberal and not catholic, but I have that education and that confidence the administration had in our intelligence to thank for helping me learn to educate myself beyond was I was told. Our senior year, we had a final that was done by the senior classes. It was called the Meeting of the Minds. We picked a philosopher to portray and wrote our own parts. These parts would make a small play where the ancients would debate the moderns about what happiness is. The moderator/emcee was Socrates. My teacher approached me months before and informed me that I would be playing Nietzsche. Since I knew that the other girls would be choosing their own parts, I asked her why Nietzsche and why I was not allowed to choose my part. She said “You’re intense. REALLY intense.” I said thanks and was set to work on reading as much nietzsche and analysis on nihilism as I could get my hands on. I was also told that my part was billed as the heckler of the event. Nietzsche was invited by Socrates, refused, but then came anyway and storms the stage from the audience in the middle of the debates. I wrote my part, fully knowing that I would be performing this for the very religious parents of the senior class. My teacher read through the seven pages of ranting, handed it back and asked why I was holding back. I should mention that my teacher was devout. She almost became a nun, but met her husband beforehand. This teacher then told me to go more extreme, more controversial. So, I rewrote my seven pages and she approved. The day of the rehearsal, she pulled me aside and told me that I was far too reserved. She told me I had to sell it, to go all out and basically condemn the audience….of devout catholics. That night, I was planted in the audience and dressed in my most “fuck the establishment” outfit, which included jeans that I had covered in sharpie as a freshman, writing quotes and song lyrics (I also added on some Nietzsche quotes for that night). Parents asked why I was not performing and I lied and said I had helped set everything up and took an alternate final. It wasn’t until the middle of the play where I had to interrupt from the audience and speak a part of my piece. Socrates then sat me down next to the podium and I got to heckle every single one of the “philosophers” as they made their arguements. At the end of the play, I take my place behind the podium and I go nuts. I had 4 pages of uninterrupted ranting for that last part. The only thing that made it so it wouldn’t become flat or too long was the fact that my tone grew more agitated and eventually insane as I spoke. Long story short, I got to scream at an audience full of nuns and church ladies, telling them that god was dead and they killed him in the society by being bigoted hypocrites who were worse than the sinners they condemned (this part was mostly me, not Nietzsche) and then went on to rant madly about the “superman” and basically spell out what Hitler based his philosophy on. I saw pictures of me during this after, and in them I am either blurry and banging my fists on the podium or red-faced, screaming at a nun. Weirdly enough, the audience ate it up. I loved playing Nietzsche the most out of any of the previously mentioned roles, mostly because I got to write my own part and go as far with it as I wanted. The fact that my teachers pushed us and expected us to think for ourselves definitely had an amazing effect on us. Many of our teachers saw the discussion of relevant and disturbing/controversial issues as necessary to our growth. To this day, I see people constantly underestimating children. Kids should be protected, yes, but they should also be educated in a responsible way. It is so much more dangerous to send someone out into the world after a lifetime of not being encouraged or allowed to deal or understand it. To this day, I see art as a way to not only entertain but also to give the viewer/listener/reader/audience an experience that takes them out into aspects of the world that they need to know of and also into themselves, into places that they have avoided. This has saved me and I know it has saved many of my peers.
    I actually brought a former classmate of mine who I performed with in that private highschool to Steven Bogart’s A.R.T production of Cabaret. I had just gone through something traumatic a month prior and had seen the play once before. Upon my first viewing, it affected me stronger than any play ever had. I was in a grieving period at the time and the play helped me through that, as well as forced me to face the reality of what I had to deal with. It stuck with me for months, it still does today. A few nights later, I brought my friend, Lona, who had been in drama club with me back in high school. The show amazed us both. Every time I saw it, it was a new experience. Lona was blown away. It was surreal to be back at a theater with Lona. We still talk about the bizarre split between our high school and our drama program. I think it allowed us the space to develop as artists during that vital time as teenagers.
    I don’t act anymore (Lona is still acting) but I create as much as I can in the hopes of creating something that affects people. I certainly wouldn’t have seen theater as being effective if it hadn’t been for my high school. Cabaret just enforced what I already knew: Art gives people the permission to work through parts of life that they have to acknowledge. It is a common tendency to ignore the dangerous parts of life and of oneself, until the darker parts of life surprise us or seep out in ways that are irreversible. People need to have a way to look at these issues and these sides of humanity and art gives us that.

    • insignifikunt

      I wish my high school experience had been as yours was! very inspiring!

  • Veggirl120

    I am currently a sophomore at my high school, and I am in our musical. (We are doing “Grease”.) Even though it is definitely NOT one of my favorite shows, I love performing for the sake of performing. It is one of the only things that I have ever really been extremely good at and is the only thing that I can imagine myself doing for the rest of my life and truly being happy. I am a biological female and I have a very low voice like Amanda does (just one of the endless reasons why she is my hero), and I identify as sort of genderqueer in the sense that I feel like I am a unique mixture of both/all genders. Because of this, I wanted to try out for a male role in Grease as a male chorus member. When I asked my drama teacher if I could, she told me flat out no. She said that if she was trying to get a message across on stage, she didn’t want the audience to be distracted by tring to figure out WHAT I was and WHAT I was trying to be. This really upset me and actually made me cry and feel very lonely, as I often do feel at my school when it comes to my gender identity. I KNOW that I could hit those low notes– I’ve sang Johnny Cash songs just fine, and people are amazed at how much like a man I sound. Mt stepmum even mistook me for my dad once when I was singing in a different part of my house. I LOOK like a boy, I can SOUND like a boy, and I can ACT and DANCE like a boy. There should be no reason why I shouldn’t get the same opporunity to try out as my biologically male peers. Anyway, that’s my story, now I am going to rant about why censorship, especially in theatre and performance, is wrong and about why the play Colombinus is so important and should be seen.

    Theatre and performance and art in general is all about PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES. America is all about freedom of expression, and it should be no different for art. All of the best theatre has pushed boundaries and made differences in people’s lives and made them THINK about society instead of simply walking through life without stopping to question the way we do things and think about things. Think about how The Laramie Project affected people’s views about the issues surrounding Matthew Shepherd’s brutal murder. Think about how Angels in America affected people’s views on the AIDS epidemic and homosexuality. But most of all, Lexington High School, think about how the play Colombinus affects people’s views on a society we live in where it is okay to be so mean and hateful towards people that they feel they have no other choice than to come to a school and shoot other people and themselves. Please, people need to see this. They need to see that bullying is never acceptable and that we must take preventitive measures against bullying so that nothing like the Columbine shooting or any other school shooting for that matter happens EVER again. Bullying needs to stop being sociably acceptable, and this play only highlights that point.

  • Acal88

    I actually was lucky enough to have been a part of a production of this play at my school about 2 years ago. It is a difficulty piece to stage, perform, and experience. But at it’s very heart, it is driven by the question of “why?”. It attempts to present the harshens of high school for every stereotype there seems to be without casting a subjective light on the subjects. Anyone who claims the play offers no redeeming quality misses the point. Having seen the show play out over the course of 2 weeks to full houses, I know that it has a different meaning for everyone person who saw it, but not a single person walked out of the theatre thinking “well, that was a waste of time, and now I’m just angry.”

    It almost always led to an awaken of emotions and understanding that most people did not know they possessed. After the shows, the cast had a talk back with the audience, and the most asked question came to be “how did we let this happen, and how can we learn to stop it from happening.” If this is what it takes to get people asking theses questions, especially in light of recent tragedies, we need more of this art to be seen. It is a powerful work of art, and anyone who has the opportunity to see it performed should. It doesn’t glorify the killers or dishonor the victims. It simply shows us how they lived, and maybe why the acted as they did. It’s not an easy piece, but it is necessary.

    As for the arts? Well, shit, I owe everything I have to my high schol and college drama departments. The best friendships, most useful lessons, and greatest jobs I’ve every had are due to the courage of my teachers there.

  • http://www.youdothatvoodoo.com Adrian Reynolds

    I went to a very conservative grammar school for boys, one of those places that has pride in its long heritage. We even had a school song, that started ‘Where the iron heart of Englad throbs/Beneath its sombre robe/Stands a school whose sons have made her/Great and famous round the globe’.

    It was, as you may imagine, a pretty traditional learning environment, and worked excellently for producing students who did very well academically. Which was fine, but also meant that it was not so good at dealing with students whose hearts and minds were more off-kilter, myself included.

    Into this mix came Gary Hedges, an English teacher with a passion for George Orwell and a former career in the wrestling ring who was the spitting image of the guy featured in the poster for David Lynch’s film Eraserhead. His enthusiasm for literature was contagious, and though some of the students were mean about his appearance, others of us were captivated by his unruly charisma.

    Faced with wading through the treacly prose of The Master of Ballantrae, a Robert Louis Stevenson text that I suspect the school had bought in bulk when it was first published, Mr Hedges recognised that we were resistant to the book’s subtle charms. He did something unheard of, and got copies of a new book: A Kestrel for a Knave, by Barry Hines.

    Filmed by Ken Loach under the title Kes, the book told the story of a young working class boy our own age, a scruffy towndweller, and the relationship he develops with a bird of prey. It’s a raw, vital story a million miles removed from the aura of the very traditional grammar school in which we read it, and Mr Hedges knew exactly what he was doing in giving us the chance to read it.

    That book helped cement the odd-looking English teacher as a powerful influence in my life, one who helped decide its course. Now aged 45, I’ma freelance writer. Some of the time I work in the corporate world, but my heart is in creative projects that Gary Hedges helped ignite a passion for — I’ve written drama in many forms, from tv shows to a play used for training prison officers, and one of my best experiences in that domain is devising a show about dyslexia with a group of actors led by a dyslexic performer who had failed at school because his condition went unrecognised. Performing that play to audiences of school age children and their families was an electrifying experience, as they recognised situations and emotions they lived through every day being turned into theatre before them, and had the chance to share their responses with us in workshops afterwards.

    I did some freelance work at an ad agency once, telling one of their resident copywriters about that aspect of my career, and that led to us talking about our backgrounds. She’d done really well at school, and was full of praise for the English teacher who’d spurred her on. With a little questioning it turned out she’d gone to the sister school of the one I went to, a grammar school for girls. And that inspirational teacher? Gary Hedges.

  • http://www.looseleafstories.com E.D. Lindquist

    No horror stories here. I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by encouraging friends and mentors most of my life. Would that I could give that experience to all. When the passion burns, stoke it high and hot! Stifling art and starve the soul.


  • Chandra

    My drama department was far from boundary pushing, but the forensics team at my school, heck at all of the schools in my district seemed to encourage the pushing of boundaries. We got a lot of incredible stories to think about and a lot of life lessons that came from the pieces that we could choose and that other students would choose. One of my friends was able to basically act out how he would tell his family that he was gay by doing a piece for forensics class. I know that it helped him think about how he felt about his own life, and it helped him to decide how he wanted to live his life.

    I grew up in Littleton, CO and even though I didn’t go to Columbine highschool, I went to school just 8 miles away. I was at school the day it happened, and I went to school with people who knew the students who died, who knew the students who murdered thirteen people, and I know that doing a bunch of bullshit commemorating X number of years since Columbine isn’t doing anything for anyone except the news people who have nothing else to do. Obviously, there needs to be more real, thoughtful, provocative examination of events like this among the people most effected. That is, among high schoolers.

  • Zach

    Art isn’t meant to be comforting. It’s supposed to make the viewer think and feel.

  • Pinkmonkeybirdnz

    I was bullied quite a lot when I was in primary school. I was lousy at sport, always had my nose in a book, got homesick on school camps, was a lot smaller than everybody else and was pretty much a cry-baby. My parents tried really hard to help me. Mum thought taking up dancing might help with my self-confidence (but unfortunately my total lack of coordination put paid to that) and then suggested drama. I joined a local group that did drama lessons and put on the odd production. At 12 years old I was one of the youngest there (the oldest were about 17) but for the first time in my life I was being treated as an equal to people who in my mind were grown-ups. And the best part was it was entirely independent from my school. It became a sort of a life-line for me in a way. I could make it through a really bad day at school if I knew I had drama at the end of it – and I loved it. It gave me huge amounts of self-confidence and I discovered that it was something I could actually do reasonably well. I surprised everybody by getting the lead in my school production that year – and surprised myself even more when I discovered I could actually sing! I had been terrified about going to highschool but because of that kick start I threw myself into the drama side of things and met some wonderful people. I got teased a bit for being a drama geek, but I didn’t care – and it was that not-caring that brought out the creative side of me. By the time I was 15 I was turning up to school on mufti days wearing vintage orange-paisley dresses, big clompy army boots and sporting bright blue hair. One of my best friends used to love making Victorian style dresses out of anything he could find and I would happily waltze into History class wearing a hooped skirt made out of garden hose. I did a sculpture project that involved covering my boobs in red paint and lying down on a canvass and all sorts of other mad things. What I didn’t realise until years after I left school was that when I was a senior, a lot of the junior students looked up to me because I didn’t care what people thought of me. I was really touched by that.
    Now I was never particularly talented when it came to drama and music. I was pretty much just loud and shameless and could carry a tune (which can go a long way in high school drama!) so it didn’t end up launching a glittering acting career or anything like that – but it did give me the confidence to put everything into what I loved and what I was good at – which was writing. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. I became a journalists and at one point was one of the youngest chief reporters in the country. I have a wonderful career, I have met some wonderful people and I have even more wonderful adventures to look forward to and it is all because of the confidence that getting out on stage and expressing myself gave me. And my school supported me in that, with my mad art projects and my crazy performance ideas. Some of them were unmitigated disasters (I won’t even begin to go into the Jedi Horror Picture Show) but it was all a huge part of growing and becoming the person I am today. And I know I was a hideous, melodrammatic teenager through a lot of it, and there is at least one drama teacher out there who deserves a sainthood, but drama was the one place that I felt I could learn and grow without being fettered. It taught me to be me – and noone should have that experience censored!

  • Torrey

    So, this is very long. Short version: Theater is what got me through high school and through the aftermath of Columbine, being a high school student in Littleton at the time.

    I was a high school drama student in April 1999, attending Littleton High School. About 10 minutes drive away from Columbine. We were staging Jean Anouilh’s translation of Antigone. If you haven’t read his version, you should. It originally premiered in Paris, 1943, at the height of the Nazi occupation. As I understand it, the Nazis saw Creon as an authority figure who was in the right, unarguably, and firmly in control of his domain. And the Free French resistance saw themselves in Antigone, who refuses and refuses to obey the law, because she knows family and love and her own morality are more important. (We did an English translation of that translation, which was apparently adjusted to make Creon less sympathetic.)
    So there we were, rehearsing this play about challenging authority and challenging the status quo, when the news started coming in. There’s a shooting going on at Columbine, they said. Some of us knew people at Columbine, friends that had transferred or just people we knew. Some of the victims were taken to the hospital an actress’ father worked at. We huddled backstage around a radio, turned down low so that it wouldn’t interrupt rehearsal. And the show went on–people going onstage for their lines and then coming back to hear more. The show fucking went on.
    The next day, school was open, but nobody taught anything. We talked about it and talked about it. There was a school assembly where we all gathered. But it wasn’t until last-period drama class, when our director John Kron played a song with the lyrics “we are not alone” that I cried.
    Some time later, during another rehearsal, Kron talked about the shootings and our play. The heart of this Antigone is a 45-minute scene between Creon and Antigone, after she’s gone out to bury her brother twice. He tells her, I will have to have you killed if you do it again. She says, I know. It is what is right. The whole scene is amazingly powerful and passionate. The student who played Creon in our show is now acting and dancing in Broadway shows and touring companies. He sold the hell out of the play. I don’t know what our Antigone went on to do, but she also was amazingly solid in the show.
    So Kron says, this scene here, this confrontation before Antigone walks to her death sure of herself, it’s kind of like Eric Harris or Dylan Klebold sitting down with the principal of Columbine High School before they did what they did.
    Talk about making theater relevant to our lives. it didn’t make any sense of what happened at Columbine–nothing could–but it made the play even more powerful for us as crew and cast. That show was our catharsis, in the true Greek meaning of the word. The characters and the cast and crew put everything we had, everything we were, into that show, that conversation between rebel and authority, and let the power of theater take it, magnify it, wash it clean.
    I still can’t think of that show without also thinking of Columbine. The opening monologue of the chorus takes me right back to that maelstrom of emotion. “Well, here we are. These people, that you see here before you, are about to act out for you the story of Antigone.”
    Theater is about emotion. It’s about living it, feeling it, dealing with it, fighting your way through it. To censor that is to do a horrible injustice to these students and to the rest of their high school.
    So while I, personally, would never watch a play about Columbine (some scars can be reopened), I fiercely believe they should stage it at their school.

  • Heather Bryant

    in response to the article:

    1. ‘What do I do? The world is just horrible and out of control.’…um…yeah. i don’t see anything wrong with that statement. i pretty much agree with it in context of what the play is about. that’s kind of the POINT of the play from what i’ve read here.

    2. i saw “with the needle that sings in her heart”, and that had a lot of content in it that i feel is just as controversial, if not more, than some things that are probably in this play, and they allowed that one to happen (and i’m glad they did) so what is the deal?

    people are stupid.

    in response to your call for high school theatre experiences:
    i was a member of my high school drama club, and although we never did anything like THIS show (our most controversial material was probably ‘the laramie project’), we did receive complaints from parents from time to time about the content of the shows that we performed. our drama director was a control freak (which usually ultimately worked to our benefit because our shows were near perfect due to his obsessive directing qualities), and put on the shows regardless of people’s complaints. there were a few times when he changed one or two words in a musical song to make it less provocative, but that’s about it. although i got really frustrated with him at times about other things, i always really appreciated his indifference to complaints from parents about show content. he had this attitude that was just like “whatever. if they’re opposed to it, they don’t have to come see it. we’re doing it anyway. it needs to be done.” it was really refreshing to experience that at a high school that served students of three extremely small towns, and parents and authority figures who got bent out of shape about the dumbest things. drama club also served as a haven where i could escape the stress and annoyances of other aspects of high school life, and it is where i met my best friends in high school, who i am still friends with now, six years later.

    • dani

      the first point you make is a very good one, i actually had that reply written out before i got to read your comment:

      ‘What do I do? The world is just horrible and out of control.’ – but the world sometimes, often is just horrible and out of control, even more so after something like columbine. that’s sort of the point of the thing, we all ought to get out of our comfort zone more often.

  • Katlinso

    I’m from Canberra. I went to two high schools. One was a high school where a lot of army brats went, where I was beaten up almost every day for being gay. The teachers did very little and my drama teacher failed me on almost every performance I chose because I refused to back down and pick a monologue or performance of something mainstream or heterocentric. Most of the parts or monologues I chose weren’t even about gays, they were just the least conservative roles.
    When my brother commit suicide I changed schools, I wrote a monologue for English about our relationship (He was the only person in my family who knew about my sexuality) and the English teacher suggested I perform it as my personal monologue for a drama thing. I had never been so nervous in my life but my mum told me that if I did it and the bullying started up again then she would just put me in another school. I got an A, and it was incorporated into that seasons school play. It was probably the most cathartic moment of my life. The drama department at this school was very open minded and supportive of their students did some incredibly controversial plays. But they also turn out a lot of really great people and I wouldn’t be the person I am today without them.

  • Jerry

    “‘I’m not a fan of censorship in any way, and I never thought I would be in this position,’ Cohen said.”

    This line jumped out at me. It’s easy to be against censorship in the abstract. What really matters is what you do when you are in a position capable of censoring something the contents of which you think is unpleasant. Censor or do not censor, but don’t kid yourself.

    As for my experience with high school drama, I’ve seen a number of “challenging” productions, both in high school and since. It is a liberating and stimulating experience for all concerned. It’s not so much that any particular performance deeply influenced me. Rather, it was the atmosphere of openness, freedom, and encouragement. The loss of that is a terrible thing. Having the student body’s wings clipped arbitrarily by authority, and the climate and example that provides, is a harm far greater than any production of Columbinus could cause.

    • Jerry

      I would just like to amplify a little bit part of my comment.

      I am the voice of the general student body. I was never an artist of any sort, never involved with the production of anything. I only participated as an observer.

      When you censor things like this, it is very easy to see the harm to the people involved with the production and to rationalize that as being in service to the greater good. What is harder to see: when you censor things like this, you are harming _me too_. My wings are clipped as well. My intellectual climate is poisoned. I am harmed far more than viewing any particular production remotely likely to be staged at a high school could ever do. Moreover, I am less likely to see you as an educator and a partner, helping meet my educational needs, and more likely to see you as an antagonist, serving the needs of whatever external observer is the most irritable. That is harmful too.

  • http://twitter.com/therevmountain Wes Mountain

    We had a high school drama teacher turn up in the second last year (year 11) of high school who turned around our idea of theatre altogether.
    I had just enrolled in the year 12 class, a year ahead, because as someone who was generally the class clown, reasonably imaginative, etc. I thought it would be a reasonably easy and fun accelerated class to do. And, to an extent, it was. But not for the reasons I thought, and not because I could coast.
    It was also so much harder than I imagined.
    The new teacher expected us to work at our craft. He was always supportive of our work, complete open environment, and willing to be taken aside. We could swear. We called him by his last name, no title. He lent us books, cds, told us about events that were worth seeing, small theatres (La Mama etc.) that were stalwarts of the Melbourne underground scene, but unknown to us or our parents.
    We HAD to go to theatre at least once a month. We HAD to give reports. We had to write, act, direct, costume, etc.
    Our school (Warrandyte High School) was known locally for lavish musicals that were largely down to the fact that the Art teacher was an ex-set designer and stage director, with a choreographer wife. Great, but boring.
    Our school presentation/tour nights were generally dominated by highlights from the previous year’s musical.
    The year this teacher arrived though, our whole drama class participated in a variety of self-directed, very well-scripted (and acted, I believe) skits and scenes. It was a huge breath of fresh air. And liberating to have actual students invested in it.
    The year culminated in an externally assessed group piece, but this wasn’t the highlight for me – the highlight was an impromptu gig (a guerilla gig, in AFP terms) in a hallway at school that extended from lunchtime into the following periods and stopped classes. I ended wrapped in gaffa tape and we all got in major trouble. But the kind of trouble you tell people about for years to come.
    Because of that teacher: I acted, I sang. I’d always sung, but only ever for my own enjoyment. I started a band the following year. I now write and play in a band, almost ten years on, and I know for a fact I wouldn’t have done that otherwise.
    I also learnt something very interesting about myself that I think I otherwise wouldn’t have, and it’s probably the opposite to what you’d think:
    I’m NOT an actor. I’d always thought that would be my kind of thing, that I could do that and I’d be good at it – people would kind of assume that of me, given my personality. Turns out I was more of a writer. This might sound like something silly, or a bad thing, but, on the contrary – it’s helped me immensely. Love to be on stage as myself, love to be the centre of attention – but as me.

    As an afterword – we did go back to school a couple of years later to watch one of the current students put on a piece endorsed by our favourite teacher. It was a self-penned mini musical, complete with American accents (I’m Australian). We scoffed, we wondered why we’d bothered. We implied our disdain afterward to the teacher, and he looked us up and down and said he was supportive of all of his students and that doing something new and interesting, regardless of the content, was what he asked of them. We felt like horrible little people then.
    It’s interesting how quickly you forget, and how easily you can get jaded. I try to not be that person now.

  • alex15


    We staged Cabaret in my high school when we all were 15-17…it included homosexuality, people barely dressed and HARD topics…everybody loved it…and that encouraged us to stage “Spring awakening” (you know?) a great great musical about teenage mostly…it inculded unsafe sex, unwanted pregnacy, homosexuality, bullying…and it’s not a didactic play neither!! it’s just a fantástic XIXth century book turned into a rock musical that teenagers MUST see….I’m so glad of my high school in THAT sense….


    censoship is the dead of the soul… :'(

    HARD with trying!! cheers to emma!!!!!


  • xero


    this is ridiculous. she should go through with it. it would benefit everyone, especially the adults who seem to have forgotten how it was like when they used to be young.

  • Ruth

    My art department was amazing. (The music department not so much – I was in the choir and we sang mostly pop songs and the ocassional ‘world’ music number. At one point our music teacher’ was the brother of a member of Westlife. ’nuff said) But – my personal form of expression is drawing and painting, and I had the absolute best teacher in the world between the ages of 11-16. She said outright that I should pursue art, put my drawings in the school paper etc. I ended up doing a fine art degree, and we’re still in contact.
    I went to a catholic school and she had no problem with my Marilyn Manson and Columbine based art projects, even though most of the teachers there were staunchly religious.

  • Elizabethh

    I’ve forwarded this to Ian Judge at the Somerville Theatre and asked him to get in touch with Feinberg and Brownstein and see if that might be a good venue for the show. It’s certainly closer (physically and logistically) for Lexington High students than a Boston stage would be. I don’t know that anything will come of it, but as you know well, putting cool, creative people in touch with each other is generally worthwhile.

  • http://www.facebook.com/christopher.ohagan Christopher Derek O’Hagan

    Well, at the end of the month my small drama group are doing a production about mental illnesses inspired by Sarah Kane’s Crave.

    We were worried after our fellow classmate/director wrote the script and it dealt with some harsh delusions that people with serious inflictions have and also the message at the end where it basically said “Anyone can have one” we have realistic swearing, drug abuse and declarations of sexual promiscuity that are very true with someone who is inflicted with real depression.
    We have a delusional character thinking religion is talking to him with schizophrenia and we also have a confused storyteller telling disturbing stories with dementia.
    We wanted pill bottles, a ‘cocktail’ of medicines and also to confuse and scare the audience a bit in the pre-show by having two characters in the crowd before it starts, conversing in them in an awkward way.

    We were sure we’d get censored in some way but we were not. It has to be a 16+ audience of course but our headteacher approved it after reading the script and we’re very happy. This is a hard play we’re doing with some realism to a serious issue that can be seen as taboo to discuss and we’re doing our best to make it seem somewhat realistic to extreme cases.

    I think it is one of the first “shocking” plays to get debuted in our school because often not the only productions on are musicals/pantomimes. I’m glad our school is taking risks but I might think the fact I’m from the UK adds to that. We seem to trust children from 16+ to be more responsible and think in their choices and mind because education by that point (for a few years more at least) is optional.

    I have to say our drama department is small (only two/three teachers) but they are dedicated, hard working and extremely supportive to fellow students. They teach some other students music as extra curricular activities to help them nurture a personal special talent as well as supporting them in drama and acting. They let us make the decision to write and do a slightly dangerous play and supported us 110% all the way. One of the teachers is religious but she is very open minded and I respect that so much so I am glad we have them to support our class and any student that has a vision and is working hard to achieve it.

  • http://twitter.com/ndanneryan Natalia Ryan

    When I was in highschool, a small group of friends and I had a really supportive and passionate music teacher. So much so, that she managed to get us funding to start a recording studio and record our own album, with whatever content we wanted, so long as it wasn’t gratuitous. She stayed late, was critical and supportive, and we produced our album with her guidance.

    Of course it didn’t sell many copies, most of them to my mom. But the support, encouragement, and positive criticism still resonates today, six years later, as I keep going through disappointments and setbacks in my creative life.

  • lentower


    make sure she knows she needs at least a medium sized venue for at least several nights

    might see if the ART will cut her a deal on Oberon (hmmm, union shop, adddicted to hugh budgets)

  • lentower

    I hope you help this spineless principal gets the guts and compassion to stand up to soul-less parents, and
    sell them on the educational value of art.

  • http://lillianlemoning.wordpress.com/ Lil

    My high school drama club went up for budget cuts my sophomore year, right as we were doing Woody Allen’s “God.” In an attempt to perhaps pacify the school board, our director adjusted some of the lines in Allen’s script from “Sex is the best fake activity a person can do” to “Flirting is the best fake activity a person can do.” The main female character’s primary obstacle was changed from being unable to orgasm to being unable to fall in love. We should have seen it coming, but we felt condescended to in the worst way. There were many girls getting pregnant in my high school, and the notion of whitewashing sexuality from a comedy that was about the dark moment where you give up on faith was repugnant to us. Despite the changes, the school board cut our funding completely.

    We struck out on our own, fundraising as much as we could. We did “After Juliet,” a dystopic sequel to “Romeo and Juliet” in which Rosaline has a death wish and two Capulet boys have vivid conversations about sexuality. Then we did “Bird of Prey,” a play about a group of teenagers who try to solve the murder of their friend by a pedophile. “After Juliet” and “Bird of Prey” had many things in common, but the most obvious was that both were about teenagers, and treated their problems like real issues that didn’t have easy answers. That’s what real theatre does.

    Losing funding may have been the best thing that ever happened to us because we were forced to rely on ourselves and our aesthetics. But it would have been better to have a school that understood what we were trying to do, who wanted us to take part in our own and others’ education. I now go to one of best drama conservatories in the country as an undergrad director, and I know that I wouldn’t have gotten in if I had done less controversial work or hadn’t felt that I had the strength of vision to do this job. My school theater department should have been a part of that, because I wanted to love my school. But I needed it to love me first. To value my thoughts, and to trust me to depict and understand the complexity of the issues I presented. Our children are growing up so fast these days. Why not give them the credit for free and innovative thought? They will do it without you. Why not be a part of it?

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/zlyoga Zee

    I’m a graduate of lexington high school. I was never involved in the drama department there. To be honest most of the work they did went over my head at the time. We never had “normal” school plays. They were the kind of thing where I’d go and leave without really being sure what I’d just seen. It was never dull though. I always respected though what they were doing and valued that they had the freedom to create this art at a time in life when so many outside forces restrict what people that age are allowed to do.
    There are a lot of reasons I am very unhappy with my experience at lexington public schools, but I’d always been proud of how awesome a drama department they had. I’m really shocked and saddened that this happened and hope they are able to find an alternate venue.

  • http://www.facebook.com/asha.sanaker Asha Sanaker

    I wanted to comment because my experience in high school that involved really boundary-pushing performance wasn’t theater, but dance. I went to a private Quaker high school outside of DC. Our theater program was pretty standard, but we had the most amazing modern dance teacher who actively encouraged all sorts of students, regardless of whether they had studied dance before, to put themselves out there and choreograph and perform what moved them. She’s still there. Her name is Arlene Horowitz.

    My senior year a friend and I took a piece of music by some local friends about Televangelism (sp?) and created a dance piece about it. One of the interesting parts of the whole thing for me was that my friend was the lone evangelical Christian black woman in an almost entirely white, liberal school. But she still gamely dressed up in drag as the televangelist and we created this very complicated piece wherein the televangelist came on with his big bible and preached to all these folks who were drinking and dancing and getting it on, they froze and then went back to what they were doing as soon as he walked away. Then I came on as a prostitute into a bar and there was a very seductive interplay between the two of us, but eventually he(she) won and I followed him off the stage like a zombie.

    It was all very weird and wonderful. It is one of the performance pieces I’ve created that I’m most proud of to this day (and there have been a lot of days between now and then. This was 21 years ago.) But most important to me is that Arlene, my teacher, never once questioned the content or the music (which involved some crazy punk instrumentals behind samples of actual televangelists of the time preaching). We wanted to say something about the mass marketing of religion, its irrelevance and harm both to real, vital life, and she was totally up for it. And at a religious school, no less.

    As a parent now (I have a seven and a three year old) I realize that parents often react to strong material out of a misguided fear or protectiveness. They don’t want to think that those pieces of their heart that are running around in the world would be confronted with violence or sex or anything that might be harmful or traumatic to them. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying it’s true. The reality is that their children ARE being confronted with that stuff and would be better prepared to deal with it without lasting harm to themselves if their schools and religious communities acknowledged the reality of their lives and engaged with them fearlessly about it.

    What I wonder is what attempts were made to reach out to the parent who made the complaint and engage with them about their concerns to see if some compromise could be reached or whatever their fears were could be assuaged. It seems like, ideally, what the administration should be pushed to be is a bridge between the parents and the students, helping them all work together to best prepare the kids for the world they’re moving into.

    Though perhaps Emma rising to the occasion as she so clearly has in defense of her art is its own life lesson. She is clearly a force to be reckoned with and good on her.

    The whole thing reminds me of a quote that I’ve had up in our kitchen for years, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.”- Bertolt Brecht.

  • Unbeautifuldemon

    My school wasn’t one that was cutting edge in this regard, nor was I involved in much. We did, however, have a literary magazine that I was a part of. It was very involved. We didn’t accept everything by way of art and writing, but we would provide an open space to critique what did and didn’t resonate with us. We took the time to work with one another, so that there were more chances for the people who wanted to express to be able to, while providing them input on how to resonate with others further. It was good, and it gave us all a place to be and voice ourselves, as well as our forms of artistic expression.
    During my Sophomore year, the teacher who ran it at the time and myself had an unrelated issue, but she chose to ban me from the meetings. I couldn’t stand it. I debated not submitting any of my poetry for that year, and felt a degree of hopelessness over it. I did submit, and one thing was expressly liked by everyone, but the teacher said it had strong tones of S&M, which I could only see as a farfetched excuse, especially compared to the other themes that made it in. Honestly, it was crushing to me. The next year, two other teachers took over, one of which encouraged me frequently to submit. He reinstated my faith in my own artistic expression, and his encouragement gave me a safe haven to look forward to while I was enveloped in teenage angst. We weren’t heavily censored, apart from swearing, but being able to collaborate and express made it a healthier environment overall.

    I also enjoy art that pushes the envelope, because what is left if you can’t push people to feeling and being moved in the depth of their being? This isn’t something that is reserved for the adult population, who tend to become too wrapped up to even see it with their eyes wide open. This is something that should be instilled in young people, so that they can still see and have more opportunity when the real world tries to rip at them.
    I don’t see how people fail to understand what young adults are aware of, and why they want to shelter them from things that already have an eye open to. Lack of expression just breeds apathy, far more than making it available to them would. There’s no need to nestle back into our own buttocks imprints because things like Guys and Dolls, Damn Yankees, or The Wizard of Oz are safe. They don’t tend to inspire the emotion and thought-provocation that is needed for growing minds. I wish my school was one of the ones that broke down some boundaries, or just didn’t view there being boundaries. It would have done so much good for the student populous.

  • http://twitter.com/klingonpixie Lis

    I was a quiet, scared student when I first arrived at my high school. I wandered one day into the scene shop, looking for a quiet place to process. I pretty much stayed there for the next four years.

    Tech changed how I see the world. It gave me confidence, allowed me to be creative, and made me see that I could build amazing things. Our theatre department was well-funded and the tech department was run by an incredible man. We did edgy, intense productions that explored human nature and the depths of cruelty and beauty and it taught me so much.

    I am mildly autistic, and people’s actions have always been mysterious to me. Theatre has helped me more than any therapy in addressing this issue; doing plays that pushed boundaries and listening to actors struggle with characters that felt real and true helped me break down and understand actions and motivations in a way I never had before. I remember one moment in particular during our production of The Diary of Anne Frank vividly. Our production ended with a group of Nazis coming into the attic, shouting obscenities and throwing the family to the floor before dragging them away. It was a heartbreaking scene that was as shocking as it was sudden. I remember sitting in the green room, helping an actor, who happened to be Jewish, try on her Nazi costume while glancing at the script. He was trying to build a character for this Nazi, and was struggling. Having to step into the mind of someone he believed was true evil was a new experience, and one he was unsure how to handle. So he researched the Nazi movement and the experiences his character would have had and learned an enormous amount about how terrible events are caused by ordinary people. He is a stronger, more confident person now who understands the value of personal responsibility in a way he might not have had he not participated in our theatre program.

    Human nature is complex, and theatre helps kids understand that by making them walk in the shoes of people from any time or place. We all came out of our wonderful department at the end of four years more open to experiences, more compassionate, and above all, more mature in the way we viewed the world. It’s been 5 years since I left that school and I know I will never forget what it gave me.

  • Kelly

    I went to a private Catholic girls’ high school in the Midwest. We had an English teacher who is a very outspoken feminist. She singlehandedly organized an annual weeklong fundraiser for V-Day (started by Eve Ensler to help women in need) that was all around cultivating female pride and fellowship. One of the traditions was the senior Women’s Lit classes would make a bunch of T-shirts with V-Day slogans on them. Naturally, a lot of them had the word “vagina” on them. We also had a sign hanging in one of the windows (and this wasn’t even facing the road; you couldn’t see it unless you were pulling into our school’s parking lot) that said “Happy Vagina Day”. Basically, some parents complained, said it was offensive, and we had to take down everything in the building that had “vagina” on it. Everything. This is in a single-sex high school that claims to promote independent, strong, proud women….and yet by doing that, they were essentially telling us that we should be ashamed of the anatomical word for our reproductive organs, that it’s not one that “nice” people use, and undoing any fortification of female pride they’d managed to construct. I have never felt so let down and misled by adults who were supposed to be looking out for me.

  • http://twitter.com/Tiljaunique Tilja Xanae

    I’m not an artist, but this subject interests me for several reasons of things that happened, in a manner of speaking, in my own backyard. Back in 2003, I had to choose a subject for my English class (this is foreign language for me and also not on high school, but all the same a teenage environment) to give as a special class and I happened to have some material and a lot of interest concerning Columbine. For the kind of light hearted class we had, it was a tough subject to choose but I went on with it regardless. The teacher was amazed by my choice but she gave me the green light if I could pull it off; everyone else had chosen harmless things like cancer breakthroughs or cultural news (and let me tell you, it wasn’t the only class in which I chose the most unlikely topic and pulled it off with good results). After all, shootings aren’t something that can possibly interest my country; all the way down the other side of the American continent, things like that don’t happen… Or do they?
    As it happens, while I was compiling and finishing my class preparations, A HIGH SCHOOL SHOOTING HAPPENED IN MY OWN COUNTRY. A 12 year old boy took his father’s gun to school and shot the entire class, killing at least 6 people. Suddenly, my impossibly unrelated to current affais topic from the other side of the continent became very much up-to-date national events which journalists decided to relate to (guess what?) that old shooting in Columbine. Fate or coincidence? Whichever the case, my topic got a boost of local info in the mix and went from unrelated foreign lunacy to very close to home national problem. I also got a very good grade for it and a quizzical look from my English teacher, who knew just how long ago I had chosen such an unlikely topic.
    Since then, you can imagine I’ve been very interested in this subject for more personal reasons. The sad thing about all this is that that shooting wasn’t the only one that year. Not the year after or the other.
    If we have the possibility to teach young people about these events inside their own environments, the schools, we should do it. Keeping that from them will only create an ignorance still fueled by the same factors that cause the break, yet with none of the learning that can help them recognize the symptoms and get help to solve the problem instead of ruining their lives. That 12 years old kid will never be able to have a life, he destroyed it early, as well as that of many other families around him.

  • Evandenb

    I saw Columbinus at Round House Theatre in Silver Spring MD, it’s first production. I’d heard about the rehearsal process and development of the play, as I knew some of the actors and the costume designer is a friend. They all expressed how difficult yet healing the process was. The work of creating the piece, looking into the hearts and minds of the teenage characters, was incredibly helpful to them in trying to comprehend issues that surround teens in high school these days. Because the “buzz” was so strong on this show, I decided to bring my theatre students from McDaniel College to see the production. For me, personally, it was one of the most moving, heart wrenching pieces of theatre I have ever seen – the images and sounds of the play still resonate over 5 years later. But for my students? This was one of those shows where the audience sat in stunned silence for a few moments in the dark at the very end, before jumping to their feet in wild applause – and almost everyone with tears streaming down their face. The faces of my students as we exited the theatre into the lobby were incredible – having just experienced something awesome in the true sense of the word, many of them only one or two years out of high school themselves. One student literally collapsed sobbing on the floor – surrounded by her supportive classmates encouraging her with hugs and loving words.
    The classroom discussion the following day was one of the most lively and interesting post show discussions I’ve ever led. Since this was an Acting class, my usual agenda is to talk about the work of the actor – but the subject of the play itself was so raw and emotional, we spent the entire hour and a half talking about the issues itself.
    Censoring the possibility of this type of discourse is exactly what leads to the events depicted in the play itself. For shame.
    Elizabeth van den Berg
    Associate Professor, Chair
    Theatre Arts Department
    McDaniel College

  • JoeyBags1138

    My high school experiences were very tame, but the fact that I had a place to go after school, an outlet to vent my teen angst, made all the difference in my life. I was raised in the theatre department and if it weren’t for that, I’d probably be a very boring person today, stuck in a job I don’t love with a family I don’t really care about. Art teaches us to have passion in every aspect of our lives, not just one particular piece, because the older we get, the more we realize that it’s the sum of the parts that make up the whole. I’m glad that Emma has realized this at such a young age.

    The only time I’ve dealt with censorship was in College actually, where creativity is supposed to thrive. I was directing and producing a play as an independent study and 3 days prior to it running, it was shut down by the head of the department. I was told that the reason we were shut down was because I had emailed a friend of mine about the project, who happened to be an equity actor. They were afraid that they would get a cease and desist from AEA and therefore as a pre-emptive measure shut me down. I wish they realized that equity has nothing to do with the production of a show, especially when it’s in school using college students, but that jaded me towards the whole business end of creating art. It hasn’t stopped me though. I still act, direct and produce today (that was 10 years ago), and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Emma will be a force to be reckoned with in the theatre world in the next few years. And it’ll be awesome to look forward to!

  • http://neversaynikki.tumblr.com Nikki

    i don’t really have anything good to say for my high school, as our administration sounds about as pro-art as emma’s does. like you said, it doesn’t make sense. as a society, we are so fucking afraid of the darkness in life that we let it dictate everything we do. and when someone comes along and tries to draw on that darkness, to open it up and make something of it, they’re held back by classic administrative bullshit. don’t they realize that they’re just perpetuating all the pain by trying to compress it?

    art is the one of the most visceral, heartfelt ways of dealing with it. people like you, and people like emma, and people like many of your fans — they’re the lights. at this point, it’s just up to someone to see it.

  • http://twitter.com/Chelseyblair Chelsey Blair

    The first people who I trusted were my theatre friends in high school. We spent four years making art together. Four drama-filled, painful, stressful, beautiful, loving, giving years. Our teacher maybe wasn’t the most liberal, but she was unique. We put on The Bald Soprano with actors on trampolines. Spoon River with no banjos. Radium Girls, about the mistreatment of women in factories in the 20s, but also about fighting the man and staying true to yourself.

    We spent late nights in the back of the auditorium talking, gossiping, whatever. We were intelligent, driven nutcases and I miss it still.

    We had a show cancelled my junior year. A production of The Crucible called off when our auditorium was destroyed by hurricane Ivan. It was going to be a kick-ass play, with amazing sets, and lighting. The whole cast was close. We’d illicitly watched the movie one Friday, without our director knowing, and bonded over the secret. We knew the show was something, that it meant important things. And then it was gone. I still can’t watch a production, or hear about Salem without thinking of what would have been.

    When I was sick and out of school for a month they visited me. They came to the hospital that one time I broke my knee. And when I realized I needed more help than I thought navigating the crowds of people at state thespian events, they were there.

    My friends from then are still the ones who understand my successes best. They know I’m happy, that things are going well, because they’ve seen me push through the bad.

    And it wasn’t all great. I spent three-and-a-half years not getting cast. Not because I wasn’t good. We all knew it was my disability. Our director loved me too much. Worried about me too much. Jealousy got bad. The pain of exclusion.

    But I still go visit once a year. Because I long for that dusty stage that burnt orange in the spotlight.

  • Francesca


    I had an awful experience with my high school theatre group, becuase of the narrow minded people who ran the project. Now, ten years after leaving the school, I teach there. There’a a friend of mine in charge of the theatre project. She’s one of the most strong, talented, honest, wise and daring women I’ve ever met. Theatre lab has become something totally different from my time. It’s a space for the kids, where they can play with art, and talk, cry, ask questions, experiment, explore, meet other worlds.
    I talk with the kids about the theatre project and they always tell me how they love what they’re doing. And you can clearly feel the affection they’ve got for their teacher, this woman who brings them beyond borders and teaches them something real.
    I’m so happy for them. My friend’s effort with these kids makes me feel at peace with my past in high school. I can see what she gives them, what theatre gives them, and at the same time I – and all the watchers of their shows – also get a lot from their experience.

  • http://mataduvor.blogg.se angelica


  • Kristy

    It would be really great if the final venue hosted one night dedicated to High School students in the area and their parents. It could be followed by a Q&A, panel discussions, and so on. This would allow the folks who need to see this the most the opportunity to do so.

  • http://twitter.com/wndergrl07 Kodi Milde

    I loved theater in High school, but we had one of the most clean cut programs in the world. We weren’t allowed to perform “Godspell” because it might offend someone. The raciest play I ever saw in those four years was “Lestat”. I had a great time performing in “Footloose” and the like, but when I got to college with this strangely wonderful idea of the arts my world was busted open.
    I started seeing shows by Jan Fabre and The New York Neo-Futurists. I had to perform in US premiers of Moliere and act in readings of plays that my high school would have considered offensive. I had my world blown apart by theater in college and will be graduating an entirely different person than the one who entered this school 4 years ago.
    I shouldn’t have had to wait to get a grasp on real acting and non-traditional theater. I’m not saying that all High school theater needs to be a huge art making experience, performing in Jane Eyre was the worst thing, but finding a healthy balance and letting the students express themselves whichever way they prefer needs to happen.

  • kondensatorn

    Hmm. I read an interesting article in the news today, unfortunately it’s in Swedish… you could try to let google translate it for you but it’s a kinda lengthy piece so I’ll try to sum up the main features for you below, but first the link: http://www.dn.se/kultur-noje/pa-chefskurs-med-kafka

    It tells about an experiment that was carried out like this:
    In 2007, 50 subjects were chosen among people who had responded to an ad about a free course in management, stating that “inconveniences may arise due to emotional effects” and that a blood test would be performed.

    This group was almost immediately split in two; a control group that were given a traditional course in management, and the group that was subjected to the experiment.

    They were given no information whatsoever about what was in store for them, were shoved into a dark room where they had to listen to readings of the diary of Etty Hillesum, a dutch jewess who during WWII refused to hide from the nazis, volunteered for charity work in the concentration camps, and was eventually killed in Auschwitz, intermixed with music, sometimes tragic, sometimes violent, instructions for how to execute people in mobile gas chambers and so on and so on.

    This was, of course, no management course; it was an art collage called “Schibbolet” by Julia Romanowska.

    The course consisted entirely in putting them through a session like this every three weeks.

    The blood test I mentioned was not only for the managers, it was for the people they managed as well. They tested the level of this hormone: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dehydroepiandrosterone

    To make a long story short, the levels of the hormone indicates a person’s well-being, the higher the better. The levels for the managers who got art for education increased significantly more than for the ones in the control group, as did the levels of the people they managed. Two of the participants dismissed the whole thing as crap, but both they and the people they managed still showed significant increases in this hormone!

    What happened was that the art basically taught them to assume responsibility, not fear conflicts, and be empathic. And this made them better managers! And it is also suggested that it could not have been effective any other way, e.g. by reading these same texts in calm studies. What facts back this last statement up is however unclear to me.

    A bit off-topic, but I hope you find it interesting. If you have more questions about this study, the journalist who wrote the article could probably give you a reference to the study, you’ll find his e-mail address at the end of the article.

  • Ray

    The school I attended cares more about football than self expression, and the effects are very noticeable. Since I graduated, it has become much worse than it was. Hard drugs, weapons, fights, magnetically locked doors between the lobby and hallways, etc. Small town too; you would think everyone would get along. Chances are if they don’t like people making heavy use of drugs or alcohol as an escape from a censored, confined, and restricted lifestyle they should say “we made a mistake, let’s be a nurturing environment”, and improve. We did have a theatre program, a very good one in fact, while I was there, but now they can’t really afford it and it is run by a math teacher who does everything with calculators. Most of the plays were Shakespearian or suitable for eight year olds. I learned nothing useful from them.

  • JJ

    Heh. My junior year of high school we put on a production of West Side Story. The play itself was pretty much standard, but the director was wonderful and got us to really think about the underlying issues of the play. One of the things he decided was that we would not have a curtain call. The play ends with Maria weeping over the body of Tony. Blackend stage. Basta. I can’t tell you how effective just that one little thing was, and I can’t tell you how much it pissed off so many parents. It was absolutely the most brilliant move possible though. It left you with a very unsettled feeling, which I for one think is part of the point with a tragedy.
    Art is not comfortable, because LIFE is not comfortable.

  • Lara

    While not nearly so heavy as Emma’s experience, my high school did have a censorship issue arise once. The student and community response was amazing.

    Every year, Yellow Springs High School puts on student written, produced, and directed one acts. Students act in them. Students are the tech crew. The only mentor involved is the overall “director,” who is more of an organizer to make sure the damn things get done and put on stage in the proper order on the right day.

    My senior year, my best friend Peter wrote several one acts, all brilliant. The best one by far was “Catcalls,” a clever, stinging little comedy about construction workers catcalling rude things at women, and how those various women got their revenge. The play used such cringe-inducing come ons as “Are you a pokemon? ‘Cause I want to take a pikachu!” And “I may not be Fred Flintstone, but I can make your bed rock!”

    We had a new superintendent, one who hadn’t quite got his feet under him, who didn’t quite get the whole ethos of Yellow Springs (it’s a creative town, full of artists and free-thinkers and babyboomers who protested against Vietnam… you get the picture). The one thing the citizens of Yellow Springs hate more than anything else is censorship. So when the new superintendent found out about “Catcalls,” on the Friday of opening night, and said some changes had to be made (namely, removal of every awful, slightly risque pickup line) or the play wouldn’t go on, the whole town and school was thrown into righteous fury.

    We didn’t make the changes. The cast wrote a manifesto about the evils of censorship and their belief in artistic freedom, and read that manifesto instead of performing the play.

    Sunday, we rented the theatre for the hour after the last showing of the official Student One Acts, we put on “Catcalls” to a full house.

    So that’s my two cents. You can watch “Catcalls” in two parts, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42DSIGtVK88&feature=related and at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=edirUCFMOAw&feature=related

  • Jamie

    I’ve never been involved in theatre beyond playing in a pit orchestra, but I was heavily involved in my high school music program. I had a great band director and music history teacher who greatly influenced me. He was very by-the-book in one sense — he had written his doctor dissertation on essential band literature for high school students, and he stuck to that list pretty closely. So we did all the staples of the band repertoire, which I am also grateful for because it gave me a very solid foundation for when I went to study music in college.

    On the other hand, when I took a music history class with him, he began the class by asking “What is music” and playing devil’s advocate to our responses. In that class, I heard music I had never known existed. I remember listening to Penderecki’s “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima” and being completely entranced. Some of my classmates hated it. I loved it. I learned about more avant-garde pieces of music in college and always gravitated towards them. Even if the music itself is harsh or even scary, there’s something about it that can draw me into it, whether on an emotional or intellectual level.

    Now, I have a very broad definition of what is art and what is music. It’s all a matter of perspective. A painting is a work of art. A life is a work of art. A symphony is music. Static and crossed signals on the radio creates a new, ephemeral piece of music that no one will ever hear again. Sometimes I sit in my car, totally captivated by a techno station cutting into a choral work.

    All a teacher or school has to do is plant the seed in your mind that things may be a little different than you had thought, and that those differences are okay, and are there to be explored.

  • Ardrhi

    Might I suggest a Kickstarter program for it, to gain some backing to put it on in a local theater? That way, she would not be at the mercy of the school system, and would not have to listen to them at all.

    • http://www.davidwolanski.com Dave

      I suggested that too!

  • http://twitter.com/ChesterJSellars Chester Sellars

    This isn’t exactly what you’ve asked for, but ti shows the other-side– what happens when teenagers aren’t allowed to express themselves in these manners.
    In my high school, we have a great theater and oratory department, but censorship abounded. There were teachers who tried to fight the censorship, but when they almost lost their jobs over it, they had to quit fighting.
    I remember one student tried to put on a drag show– not on the school property, but just using some of the people in the school to help plan it during lunch and such. The order came down like an iron fist, and the student who tried to put it on was threatened with immediate expulsion should he continue on with the show. I know it seems a bit outlandish that the kid, barely a freshman, wanted to put on a drag show, but he was at an interesting and vital point in his life when he was questioning gender and sexuality, and trying, just in general, to find who he was. I know this might seem a bit of a stretch, but I know that what that principal did to him, to this day, troubles him. He doesn’t understand why it’s wrong to question these things, and why his extracurricular activity was a threat to the school. For him, that drag show was very much so integral to his development as a person, and I’m sure that, in our small community, it could have helped people who were too scared to question and challenge traditional gender roles, sex and sexuality. Censorship because of language or violence or sexuality is ridiculous when the language and violence and sexuality only help to emphasize the big questions that many of us need to ask. You should never stand in the way of the development and enlightenment these kids can find in theater.

  • http://www.davidwolanski.com Dave

    Well… I’d Kickstart some money towards that!

  • Charles William

    I’m currently a senior in high school and co-directing and producing a play called “Dog Sees God: confessions of a teenage blockhead” by Bert V. Royal. It’s a show about the violence and alienation targeting gay students in high schools today. We’re not performing it at my school, which is an arts school that’s so focused on classical, marketable theater that… well, whatever.

    I don’t really have an inspiring story. Maybe because my play isn’t going up for two weeks and I have no idea what the impact will be. But this inspired me. A lot. Thank you.

  • Sinkwriter

    Amanda Palmer wrote: “we use art to grapple and deal with things with can’t just sit around and chat about. … to give the message to kids that they cannot, should not, do that is one of the most harmful things you can possibly do.”

    This blog post and the quote above in particular speak to me on such a powerful level right now.

    Not about school shootings specifically, but for ways in which I want to express my thoughts just as strongly on other topics. For me, it’s about body image and self-esteem (especially for the struggles of women and girls, but really, for everyone).

    For years I’ve squashed my own feelings — and the desire to express those feelings creatively — out of fear that external forces (parents, relatives, society, all of the above) just wouldn’t understand what I was saying and that they’d want me to *not* say it because it would feel inappropriate or embarrassing or offensive to THEM.

    Because what I want to say might paint some people in a bad light, or because the way I say it might seem aggressive or perhaps sexually oriented in ways they’re not comfortable. After all, what I want to talk about has everything to do with a person’s body and how she feels about it, and how she feels within her own skin. Some people just aren’t comfortable with exploring that, you know? They’re afraid of how it can tie in to sexuality or sensuality or any number of things that make them terribly uncomfortable. And it CAN be uncomfortable. But at the same time, like you say in that quote above, if a person can use art to grapple with such a subject and make people *think* about it in ways they may not have before, that’s a very good thing. It’s important.

    And no matter what a person’s age is, it’s important for them to know that they have the freedom to express themselves in this way, through art, in whatever form they choose (painting, dancing, singing, writing, anything!). And that it’s okay to do so. They should be *encouraged* to do so.

    After years of being afraid, I’m taking a step, dipping a toe in the creative pool, by taking a screenwriting class, and I think — actually, I KNOW — that I want to write about it, because I feel that the film world really hasn’t tackled this properly for women. It’s always in jest for a male-dominated film (like Jack Black’s Shallow Hal), with the heavy women’s lives played for laughs rather than truly getting to the heart of the emotions of it all. I feel like there’s so much to say about the magnificence of a person’s body, no matter what shape or size it is, and I feel like I want to say something about that, through a story.

    But my homework for this week is to come up with a story idea, and even though I know what I want to write about in general, I’ve been struggling with finetuning it into something concrete and focused… because I’ve been like a deer in headlights, so frozen in fear that my family (or people like this article’s superintendent, or the parent who complained) won’t understand where I’m coming from if I write the subject in the raw, emotional way I think it really needs to be written.

    And then I read your blog here. And it’s like a gigantic flashing reminder that I can’t worry about what other people will think, and that if I have something to say, I need to say it, not shy away from it because some teacher or parent might say, we can’t let you say those things. They’re too gritty, too startling, too …whatever.

    To NOT express oneself creatively, to hold it all in, would be a far worse thing, I think.

    You are so right in all that you say here in this blog post, and I’ll reiterate it with my giant, resounding Amen of agreement at the end:

    “educating teenagers and giving them freedom is so fucking important, especially in the face of the recent school violence that has become frighteningly commonplace in the states.
    doing this kind of stuff closes minds and doors and possibilities instead of opening them.
    opening those creative doors is the way to salvation, closing them is the road straight into hell.



  • http://www.xmetanoiax.com xMetanoiax : Francela

    This is long, and a bit difficult and confusing for me to write about, but I’m trying hard to speak my mind more these days, even if only I find my thoughts valid (or comprehensible, haha), and this is something I feel very strongly about:I never did join the drama department at my school, which was somewhat of a conservative Catholic school that would only put on “safe plays” and considered things like “Footloose” pushing the envelope. Instead I hid out in as many visual art classes as I could, helped by two of the lead teachers in the art department (Who I’ll leave nameless), who were some of the most open-minded, blunt people I’d ever met. They were my solace from a school where 90% of the questions and feelings I had were unwelcome and frowned upon. When I was in 11th grade, I was going to present a series of paintings in an exhibition. At the exhibition would be judges, choosing the top 3 series and offering us a spot in a very prestigious exhibition at a gallery in Toronto, ON. The judges previewed our work a week before the show at the gallery. My exhibition was chosen second. One of the judges commented that she thought I had something very important to say about society’s views on “acceptable” and “unacceptable” displays of emotion. I was thrilled.You can imagine my surprise when I showed up at our town’s gallery and my painting wasn’t there. I looked over to my art teachers; they gave me a weary smile. They told me they’d done everything they could to get me there, but that the school had refused to allow my art to be sent to the gallery because it was not “The kind of message we want to send about our art department, and what we do at our school”. I laughed it off, thinking “I still have the show in Toronto, bloody Toronto!” Then I was completely heartbroken when my teachers proceeded to inform me that the judges -had- to choose a series at the gallery, since those were the rules of the contest, and so my acceptance to the Toronto exhibition had been revoked. I still feel I should have fought that one, but I didn’t. I felt small. I was dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (I didn’t know that’s what it was then, though) and a series of anxiety issues. I had few friends, and no one at the school but my fellow art students and art teachers liked my art because they found it “weird” and “offensive”. I lost a lot of respect for the adults around me that day, and fell into a fit of depression. I saw therapists, and was given pep talks, but that didn’t change the things I saw around me- things repressed in so many people, things I wasn’t allowed talking about. The only thing that kept me going were my art teachers, whispering to me to read this or that book, to watch this or that movie, to go to this or that musical or play at the University, and the artists, writers and musicians I found on my own. Art saved my life. The art about things happening miles away from me. The art about the things happening in my family, in my neighborhood, in my society, in my age group. It was the art about the things that I went through, and the things other people went through that I didn’t understand. The art about the things everyone was too scared to talk about.All my school’s censoring did was make me feel alienated, repressed and confused. I am still often alienated and confused, though I don’t feel as small these days.When it comes to ‘controversial’ subjects in relation to teens, I truly believe censorship is not just harmful to students, it’s downright selfish. Why is it selfish? Because it’s more for the sake of the adults than for the sake of the children. Censorship allows parents to feel good about their kids not being exposed to controversial subject matter. Censorship allows the school to feel safe from having to be associated with controversial subject matter. Censorship doesn’t keep the children safe from the subject matter, especially not subject matter relating to them and their peers. So what if they don’t see it in a film or on a stage? They see it in their homes, in their hallways, in the news, in their friends. Teens are having sex, teens are doing drugs, teens are killing themselves, teens are killing other people, and teens are trying to make sense of all of this, or worse, are ignorant of the full gravity of what’s going on in their world. Even subjects that don’t relate to teens directly are not better off censored; these things are happeing in the world they live in, these things are happening to people who used to be where they are now. Parents and teachers talk and talk about all these “dark, untasteful” subjects till the students’ ears fall off, but the moment kids want to talk back, want to answer, ask questions, a lot of adults become afraid. Maybe they’re scared that they won’t have an answer to what the youth will ask them, maybe they’re afraid of what they’ll discuss among themselves. This is normal, and this is ok. What isn’t ok is to pass on your fears to youth without also passing down the knowledge that comes with it. What isn’t fair is to ask youth to keep their eyes closed to the reality of their world simply because you’d rather not face it yourself. I can imagine its scary to see children that you were taught to protect starting to try to figure out their own way of dealing with things, but that’s what they need, that’s growing up. To keep them in the dark, to keep them afraid of expressing themselves takes away from their empowerment and in turn empowers the very things we want them kept safe from. It doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked. Some, like Emma, will be brave, step forth, and find their own way. Others might not be so lucky. I am almost absolutely sure few (if any) will benefit. So the question isn’t about censoring or not censoring. The question is do you want to be part of the discussion, or do you want them to have it without you, and are you willing to deal with the consequences of that choice?And those are my scrambled but honest two cents.

    • Pinkmonkeybirdnz

      Beautifully put!

    • http://www.facebook.com/asha.sanaker Asha Sanaker

      Not scrambled at all. Well-written and true.

    • Lilli

      “Censorship doesn’t keep the children safe from the subject matter, especially not subject matter relating to them and their peers. So what if they don’t see it in a film or on a stage? They see it in their homes, in their hallways, in the news, in their friends.”

      Yes. Thank you.

  • Becca

    I go to a public high school in a very conservative community. The art I was exposed to was trite, stale, and very “safe”. A good part of it was related to local religion, but it was all very saccharine and very black and white, good and bad. People would get uncomfortable at an actor saying “hell” or “damn” one too many times, and once the swears got a bit higher up there they would walk out. Later I remember the director of my high school’s theatre department telling us that he had a proposal of producing “Urinetown” shot down, because, well, it had the word urine in it.

    So it must’ve been a stretch to get school administration to allow him to produce Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children”. It wasn’t so much the message of the play, although I did garner important insights about what war is and how it works. The more important thing it TAUGHT me was that art, especially theatre, is a valid medium. That you can explore difficult ideas in ways not possible anywhere else. And that you HAD to explore those difficult truths. I have been struggling with anxiety and depression for my whole life. It taught me that I could express and explore and come to accept my own issues.

    Another time he produced a rendition of cuttings of several Shakespeare plays in a way that explored some of the misogynistic issues within the plays and then address the misogyny in our culture. We took it to a Shakespeare festival, and, honestly, the judges hated it. They hated it because it challenged their own preconceptions, because it was too “feminist”, because they thought that Shakespeare shouldn’t have been interpreted that way. But it was a valid interpretation.

    All we did was present was the words of the plays, and it was the words put in a specific context. It was powerful. And in a conservative community where misogyny was an issue, it was more important that it did challenge their preconceptions than that it garnered any awards or admiration. Of course they didn’t like it, and that’s because it’s doing what it’s supposed to do. To censor something because somebody “doesn’t like it” proves your ignorance and unwillingness to examine your own beliefs. The more a person, or a community, “doesn’t like” an idea the more reason for it be presented.

  • Eve Condon

    I attended a very conservative, stifling high school. We had little in the way of arts programs: funding was taken away, all of the theater needed to be cheerful and PG, and our literary journal was heavily censored (my senior year, when I was supposed to act as editor, it was cut completely due to teacher strikes). My high school was also rife with problems: behavioral issues, truancy, substance abuse, a student-teacher affair, faculty screaming at each other in the hallways, and a high percentage of students being held back or simply dropping out.

    I urge the princial of LHS to think of this from both a pedagogical and an executive perspective. A school needs to have an open and respectful dialogue between students and faculty in order to function properly. The faculty already support the play, which means that this decision is going to cause a rift between the teachers and the administration. Students need to feel secure and respected in order to learn. This decision to censor a play that inarguably has social as well as artistic value sends a dangerous message to its student body: certain ideas and types of social expression are unacceptable and must be quashed. This is antithetical to critical thinking, which I can tell you as an educator is a vital issue for the current generation of students. It also insults them: does the principal think they are not intelligent or mature enough to see this production? Adolescents are sensitive–they know when they’re being patronized.

    This decision also sets a precedent. Once one instance of censorship is enforced, more are sure to follow, and given LHS’s tradition of a strong and adventurous theater program, this could very well hurt the school in the long run.

    I hope the school will come to an agreement about this issue before more damage is done. There are ways around concerns for the audience: warnings, panel discussions, and encouraging parents to see the intrinsic value not only of the play, but of allowing the students to stage it in their own school. I was blown away when I saw “The Needle That Sings in Her Heart,” and one of the reasons was my pleasant surprise that a public high school would create a space for its students to stage it. I am deeply saddened to see this happening to such a unique and vibrant arts department.

  • http://twitter.com/JJ5000 Jim

    I was involved with 3 theatre productions during my 4 years at high school. I can’t claim that I did anything nearly as groundbreaking as Columbinus (Meet Me in St Louis, 42nd Street and Joseph) but I do understand the enormous amount of work that goes into a high school show. I think I can honestly say that I know how it would feel to be told after 3 months of hard work that you can’t stage a show you’ve been working on at your school. That’s one big kick in the teeth. I had never heard of this show before but from AFP’s description, this show should be aired at high schools across the US. I don’t see a problem with a bad language and violence warning attached to the show. Everyone is made aware of what they’re going to see and they can make up their own minds if they want to see it or not.

    Maybe all the students can go see it at the other theater but there is a certain principle (no pun intended) that it should be shown at the high school. I also wonder if there’s more to this complaint from the concerned parent. Is this parent a very influential or politically powerful member of the community that a school principle would bend over backwards to please? That’s all just speculation but I can’t help but think about that as we didn’t hear much about that side of the story.

  • Bladeybug


  • tor

    When I in high school, violence in schools and the community I lived in was a random isolated occurence. Or so it seemed because there was no internet, and it certainly did not make the news.

    Perhaps that was because society wanted to shelter kids from the outside world. So I grew up fairly naive, putting up with the bullies and the creeps, knowing that my little sister in 7th grade did such unforgivable things like smoking in the boys bathroom and swearing in front of teachers. I simply observed for the most part, withdrew into myself and said nothing, because we had so much violence at home to deal with. That was just how it was back then.

    Band and drama were things the nerds and freaks were into, and nobody paid them much attention as the budgets were cut again and again in favor of math and science. We had little voice, and were not encouraged to speak out for ourselves, just accept that this is how it was. So we did.

    But that is not how it is now. Violence intrudes into our worlds every day; the jerk in the class who beats you up or calls you names, the nutcase in the news who went ape-shit with a gun, the rhetoric of radical politicians, the latest suicide bomber. To one degree or another, they are all terrorists.

    The parents of my generation who believe that children need to be sheltered from this need to get a clue. Your kid knows more than you think, and they need help sorting it out.

    There is so much need now for a community forum where young people can feel free to express themselves about the events going on in the world today, one that integrates the young and the old. I believe it’s imperative that every student be encouraged to express themselves in a peaceful manner without criticism or censorship. To discuss violence in their lives, and deal with it on a personal level so that they can be aware that it is a harmful thing that needs to be acknowledged and resolved, not pushed under the carpet like it doesn’t exist.

    Theatre and performance art are ways of presenting a sensitive topic on a less personal level, of bringing the controversial into consciousness. Art is a great mediator. Every day I feel the “lack” imposed by my upbringing; wishing I were more creative, that i had someone who had encouraged me to speak out, so that expression was a natural thing that i could do without concious effort or embarrassment. So that it would not have taken me the better part of my life to understand WHY, and to deal with my own lingering issues of violence, anger, helplessness and regret.

    And for the parents and the teachers and politicians who tell you that children are too young to understand, that they don’t need to know, tell them that these children will become parents and politicians soon and the learning needs to start some place. And the children who were forgotten or abused, who grew up without a voice, will one day grow up one day into intelligent adults who can drink, drive, vote, and carry firearms. And that pain, anger and confusion of unresolved childhood violence festers in memories.

  • Bridget

    i’m not saying art should be censored for us to learn from it, but even through this play being silenced, people are still learning, people are now reflecting, people are deciding what they would and wouldn’t want to see, people are revisiting their high school selves they might’ve left behind decades ago.

    they might not be asking the question of “why would things get to the point where children would consider killing people” but they are asking the question of “why is it ok to silence art”. and sadly both questions have a lot of weight and a lot of relevance. i’m guessing more art is silenced than teenagers turned killers.

    obviously it would be way better if we could ask these questions without reasons of this magnitude, but usually we don’t ask questions without controversy. and for a lot of kids who go through high school or theater with the main intent of making it big (for whatever reasons or cost) they don’t necessarily care about the underlying art. they get to college and they move past high school. they stop caring. but something like this might make everyone remember, or question, why a high school play was deemed worthy of censorship in the spring of 2011 and the repercussions of this might have longer lasting effects than the play itself ever would have.

    obviously none of this is meant to belittle the experience that Feinberg is going through right now. on the surface she’s having her experience or dream crushed…but really, she’s now got more backing than most high school students -ever- have, and she is most likely going to put the play on somewhere else. Even though she was silenced, art is still giving her a huge avenue to explore. so it sucks that this has happened, but there are still valuable truths being uncovered.

    and honestly, for me, art in high school was sub par. our school cared 100% more about our sports teams than our theater department (which was only allowed to put on cookie cutter musicals every year) but we still made it through. many of us still made it out to go on to art school, found art outside of high school, outside of college, into our 20s, 30s, etc. it doesn’t make the fact that this is happening okay by any means, but sometimes you do have to just realize it’s high school and we will all walk away.

  • You Already Know

    I went to LHS and was on the Improv Troupe with Mr. Bogart, though was not otherwise involved in the drama department. I will always admire him because he was so dedicated to maintaining a thin line between drama and gratuity. He lectured us on the merits of swearing and of violence and aggression in our scenes and similarly has an eye, and an ear, for the necessary within scenes and within theater. Because of this, I trust his sense of what is and isn’t appropriate for High Schoolers. I was also in his top-level drama class called Drama In Social Issues, which performs during school and is open to any and all students and teachers. The class, though it is top-level, is open to everybody — many personalities and motives collide and often result in questionably appropriate scenes. He addresses these as they are, simply gratuitous splurges of sex and drugs in an attempt to milk a few laughs, and dismisses them. Bottom line: Bogart knows exactly where this line between gratuity and necessity lies, and is adept at adhering to it.

    Ms. Cohen does too. She knows exactly where this line is, and loves to see it pushed and bent, yet conformed to as only Bogart can do. However, she has been annoying the drama department (and everybody else) for the past few years now by folding at the first display of discontent. This is evident in the cafeterias, where food is nearly inedible due to parents of allergen-suscetable and obese children blaming the schools for their problems, as well as in the drama department. Whenever she gets lip from Dr. Ash (the superintendent), she fixes the problem immediately in the easiest way possible — catering to the lowest common denominator: people who complain.

    That being said, I think that Amanda Palmer and the rest of you have blown this totally out of proportion. This is not a matter of art being denied to starving, creativity-depraved high school kids that would be totally lost without this play — this is a matter of a principle who lacks the disposition needed to be a principle. She understands full well that high schoolers are by no means innocent, and can surprise adults with their intellectual ability and artistic capacity. What she doesn’t understand is that by catering to the singularities who complain she is damaging the potential development of a few hundred kids (many who go to LHS are lost causes). She may be a year or two away from reaching tenure by using her pathetic policy of passivity, but she is not helping the students as she once swore to.

    So here is what I want others to understand after reading what I have to say: This is not the matter of censorship you all think it is, it is simply a local principle that needs to change her policy. Though it is easy to misinterpret this as a heinous act against art, it sounds like Emma and Bogart have this under control. Cohen, on the other hand, needs to simply grow a pair.

  • Pantheal

    I am the Psychologist at Columbine. The tragedy we experienced has become part of America’s mythology. “Columbinus” provocatively examines the events from that epic point of view; I have heard. (I have not read it or seen it performed) The sad truth is that nearly every year in nearly every school, students tragically end their lives early. Adults often worry that if we talk too much about it, or have plays about it, or allow “sinister” music into our milieu, we will encourage more self-destructive behavior. My experiences tell me that the opposite is true in many of our schools. Our students are used to deadly self-destruction, they expect it, and remain much too self involved to bother wondering why such things happen on a regular basis.
    The decision not to have the play in Lexington may is probably more complex than we know. There are many reasons I can think of not to have it performed at CHS. It has been performed here in Colorado, however and the sky did not fall. Every day in multiple high schools across the nation, a foundation created by the family of Racheal Scott, a Columbine victim, pleads with students to reach out to each other and improve tragic aspects of their culture. Nearly every district in the nation supports some sort of “challenge day” where superficial boundaries are broken down to encourage students to create a positive peer culture and be supportive of those who are hurting. Some schools do allow “Columbinus” and other provocative art, but not enough seems to stick. I keep going to funerals, only the kids seem to be caring less and grieving less and becoming more accustomed to fatal self destruction.
    Art reflects culture, but also changes culture. If a group of students anywhere cares passionately enough about other student’s lives that they are motivated to perform this play, or write one of their own, or make music about it, then we should support them. I don’t know if Mrs. Cohen is able to find some compromise or not when it comes to the play being performed in the school – but I hope the students will still perform it somewhere. Please let them know that I am proud of them and I desperately want more students like them to step up and shout, sing, play, dance, create…. get the attention of those in pain and more importantly, those who don’t care and those who seem to take pleasure in others’ demise.

    • Evewc

      Absolutely. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Beautifully put.

    • Noah

      It’s interesting to note that the Lexington middle schools have participated in Rachel’s Challenge this year and last year.

  • Michelle Belle

    I went to a performing arts high school, which sounds pretty great. There were many musicals & Shakespeare & everyone did Waiting For Godot but that was really it. It was supposed to be this uber creative, nurturing environment, but I never fit in as an artist because I was too “obscure”. Huh?

    I remember being kicked out of music class because I didn’t find it comfortable playing guitar standing up – I wanted to sit on the floor. Oh, & I had multicoloured hair. Although there wasn’t a rule against it, the school had many a time tried to persuade me into dying it a normal colour by calling me into the Art Deans office for meetings on how it wasn’t appropriate. Not appropriate? For an arts school?

    I had my artwork complained about so many times I still haven’t felt like I can go back to painting yet. It just tainted my fucking love of it. Made me feel ashamed of the way I wanted to express myself as an artist.

    I didn’t even do musical theatre at all at that school because they made me feel so uncomfortable about my whack hair. I now have a career as a performer & one of my great loves is musical theatre. But I was never made welcome to express that – in an arts school!

    So I guess my point is, you shouldn’t be half-arsed in trying to nurture creative talents out of your students. If you’re going to have a Drama dept & an Art dept etc – don’t be so naive to think that just because the kids aren’t over 18 (21 I guess for you guys?) that they won’t have adult brains/ideas bubbling away up there. Give them the freedom to actually move. Be mature enough to understand that some of the best art is provocative, & the material that is a bit difficult, that does make the audience slightly uncomfortable is brilliant for young actors as it matures them, helps them grow & come out of their comfort zone. I adore all the classic theatrical plays, but people have really done them to death & most people are so well-versed & comfortable with the material, they won’t really struggle to find themselves in it.

    Not to mention all the things I have to say about supporting new, original art!

  • Armanioromana

    Through out elementary and middle school I went to a small charter school that had an excellent art and drama teacher, who I still keep in touch with. In a middle school of only 75 people I had very close relationships, and never felt out of my element. So when I started high school it was like I was thrown into a pool without knowing how to swim. I didn’t know anyone, and had never really been taught the social norm.s I was extremely self conscience and remarkable awkward. My freshman year I signed up for both the art and drama classes. As the year progressed those became the only classes I truly felt comfortable in. I could actually talk to the teachers, and didn’t feel like my odd social habits were a problem.

    I continued to take classes with these teachers through out high school, sometimes taking two or three of each a semester (if I could manage it). It if because of these teachers, and the haven they gave me in and out of their class rooms that I was able to develop into the person I became at that school. Because of them I was able to become comfortable in my own skin, despite my initial discomfort.

  • Electra

    I definitely didn’t have a good drama program in my high school. I wanted one badly. I took drama as an elective, and found the teacher to be a harsh, crotchety woman, whose life clearly did not turn out the way she had thought it would have when she was younger, thinner and prettier.

    I wanted to be creative and saw the joy of all kinds of arts, and all she wanted to do was torment us with extremely dull movies and old plays nobody liked. I once made a mistake in an exercise meant to teach us how to memorise lines, and tried to stop and start over. She went ballistic. ‘YOU NEVER STOP IN THE MIDDLE OF A PLAY!’ She went on and on. There was nothing serious about this exercise at all. It was just a simple exercise, nothing to do with anything. She was like that all the time. I’m still (nearing 30 now) rather bitter about the fact that she, I am guessing, took out her unrealised dreams on us. It isn’t my fault she gave up and made herself unhappy. Needless to say, at the vulnerable point of being a teenager (particularly in my case), I never took drama again. I was really good at it too.

    Didn’t have much chance for it before that time either. I didn’t have much schooling, as I was too busy being heavily abused and neglected by my batshit fundie parents.

    I really could have used something like a good drama course. I needed to express myself. I needed art. I needed some kind of intelligent escape from my crazy white trash parents.

    If I had had something like that, in that vulnerable part of my life, maybe I wouldn’t have turned into a kid with an alcohol and drug problem going from one abusive boyfriend to the next.

    Both the middle school and the high school I went to were absolutely awful. I wasn’t allowed to go to school (until I’m guessing the city forced my parents to send me), but I loved to learn, so I taught myself. I read every book I could get a hold of. I walked a mile to the library nearly every day. (Maybe you begin to understand my attachment to Neil. The long hug. He’s the only father I ever had. And the best I could have ever hoped for.)

    When I got shoved into the sixth grade suddenly from nothing, yeah, I did pretty okay (school work wise), but I learned next to nothing. They didn’t give a shit about us. They didn’t give a shit about learning. School was just a place where people put their kids so they didn’t have to deal with them for a good portion of the day. It was a prison and we were being punished for being young, for being born even.

    I hadn’t grown up going to school like the other kids had. I’d hardly grown up with what I would call people, or any kind of stability at all. I was smart, but I was practically feral. I was just going through puberty. Everyone was. They were cruel. I wasn’t right and they knew it. Every single day was hell for me. Go to school, get treated like… I don’t even know what, go home, get beaten up. Every single day. My only outlets were the books I wasn’t allowed to read and the rock and roll I wasn’t allowed to listen to.

    I’m okay now, if you wonder. Hurt, but okay. I mean I don’t do anything harmful to myself anymore (no drugs, no alcohol and no shit people), and I don’t even live in the same country anymore. But everyone else I grew up with, who lived in similar situations, is still there, wasting their lives away in squalor (the ones that aren’t dead, though I’m not sure I would call that living anyway). I just mention because I don’t want anyone to think that just because I’m okay (if you can call it that), that it’s okay to ignore kids who are going through shitty times and acting weird because of it. Those kids usually don’t have anybody and they don’t feel like they have an outlet or any hope for any kind of future.

    Amanda, thanks for being someone I can tell this to. I feel so vulnerable, but I feel like I can be that with you.

    Let me state the obvious: Pretending something isn’t there or hasn’t happened does not make it stop happening.

  • Seb

    Seriously fucked up.

    Hope this helps.

    As a freshman in HS (in Madison WI) I started working with a group called Proud Theater, its a group of LGBTQ & allied students to meet weekly to discuss our own realities as queer youth. From those discussions we improv and then create poetic, theatrical and musical pieces that portray our experiences. We cast direct and perform them in an annual culminative show. In the 10 years it’s been thriving PT has proven to be a multi-issue group. We’ve dealt with issues as hard as racism, interracial dating, the holocaust, divorce, abuse, suicide, gender dichotomies, sexism etc. It isn’t your average gay and lesbian theater.

    Last year I was the youth artistic director and besides being a leader within the group I had the responsibility of writing, casting, directing, etc. a piece on my own. I pushed even the Proud Theater directors to do a piece that explored the origins of abuse that so avant-gaurde it was out of even PT’s comfort zone. If I were in Emma Feinberg’s position, there would be hell to pay. That aside, I cannot even conceptualize what my life would be like without the experience I had as the Youth Artistic Director, it has played such a vital and integral role in my human development that I wouldn’t even know myself. And I know the same can be said for all the youth who’ve been involved with Proud Theater.

    Not only for the youth, but also for the people who’ve seen the shows- for the impact it makes on the community. I remember when I lived in Madison and I’d be stopped on the street by someone telling me how much the performance meant to them. People break into laughter and tears in our audiences. Proud Theater was the reason one of my friends didn’t kill themselves. I remember my friend who is transgendered and had an emotionally abusive mom who did not treat him with respect make a complete 180 turn around because of a piece that proud theater produced. Proud Theater and programs like it save lives.

    Check it out: http://www.proudtheater.org

  • Nita Gafaro

    I went to South Broward High School and the Drama department, as much as we loved to complain about it, was unbelievably supportive in all kinds of ways. No one ever blinked an eye at women playing male characters, or males playing women characters. Crossdressing for fun or for art. Our director always pushed for us to help each other become better actors, singers, directors, musicians. She encouraged alumni to write musicals and perform them at the school. She invited us back over and over to teach workshops and encourage a new range of learning. She never said no to theater. So didn’t say no to violence, suicide, rape, coercion, or themes just as equally disturbing as long as the piece meant something to us. She put weapons in our hands and cap pistols. That was just the actors. The technical theater students were handed a directory and told, buy what you need. Sledgehammers, tablesaws, drill bits, a fly system for the auditorium…They were given unbelievably dangerous tools and an endless budget to do whatever was needed. Gay, Straight, trans or cis….none of it mattered as long as you could do the job. There wasn’t even an issue on dressing rooms. School policy was men in men and women in women. We ignored that completely. People stripped down next to each other in the most conveniently place and that was that.

    It made me a better person for it. I think, when you give kids that much trust, they don’t want to abuse. They can’t abuse it because it’s automatically become the safest place for them. I wouldn’t have become comfortable with my sexuality and the sexuality of my friends if it hadn’t been for the characters I got to see struggle with the same things. I wouldn’t have gotten the courage and self confidence I have if it hadn’t been for that constant safe place. Even when we were all a second away from murdering each other, there was a safety in knowing that they wouldn’t go too far. That you could talk about attempted suicide and dead family members, divorcing parents, and monogamous/polygamous struggles.

    This new TV Show…glee…is like watching a foreign movie to me. our drama club had this respect equal and in the eyes of some teachers, surpassing the status of the sports teams. We got to shoot people on stage. We got to shatter windows, scream racial slurs, throw daggers, skip class to use a blowtorch? We were the fucking envy of 3/4rds of the people we knew.

    We also had a scandal. There was a regional competition were a different school performed dystopian play that called for an American flag to be cut up into pieces. The students cut a real flag and were disqualified from the competition. Every student attending was disgusted. The actors were good. The language wasn’t strong, but cutting an American flag was considered a line crossed. The kids who had done this piece knew what they were doing. They knew it was a federal offense and they did it anyway because they felt it was the right thing to do.

    Can you imagine the courage they must have? The emotional strength to go out and stand up to the laws of a nation because they wanted to make an art pieces that showed the world what kind of things happen under dictatorship regimes? I can’t imagine those people are anything less that successful in life because during the entire investigation over the validation of this disqualification, they never did anything other than stand by their art.

    Theater is moving. Theater gives strength.

  • http://twitter.com/loveslastbreath Todd Herman

    My high school years were some of the worst years that I can remember. I wore all black, I rarely showered, and I had a (albeit, typical for that age) piss poor attitude that alienated mostly anyone that tried to communicate with me on any level. When I was a freshman I randomly tried out for a production of Romeo and Juliet and was to my own surprise cast as Romeo. This experience gave me confidence that I didn’t have before and without it I wouldn’t be the person that I am today.
    My high school’s drama department was about the furthest thing from ground breaking that one could get. We staged productions of Annie, Guys and Dolls, and what turned out to be an incredibly toned-down version of Romeo and Juliet. To say that we played it safe is an understatement. We didn’t really play anything. Productions weren’t meant to be moving or intellectually stimulating in any way. They were meant to entertain parents and friends of cast mates who came to see productions. I was reluctant to even be involved with the department to begin with.
    This is why when I first started reading Amanda Palmer’s blogs about her drama department during the production of “Cabaret,” I was fascinated. A drama department that stages plays where people get killed? Where productions are weird? Where an artist makes a relevant cultural statement? THESE ARE HIGH SCHOOLERS? WHAT?! A high school student doesn’t know how to comprehend such complex concepts!
    When I went to see Cabaret at A.R.T. I was floored. This was done by a high school teacher? What would have happened if I had the ability to make this type of art as a high school student?
    The main issue I had with my own high school drama productions seems to be the main issue here. Instead of allowing for the kids creating the art to be in control of their own art (what a novel concept), the parents and faculty find it necessary to be the ones in control, and frankly, it’s a blatant abuse of power. At any age an artist needs to be in full control of their work or else their intent is not fully realized.
    The faculty at Lexington High School probably doesn’t realize what a horrible mistake they are making by hindering a student’s ability to make the art that they want to make. Not only that, but the artist, Emma, will be missing an opportunity to reach an audience that she could not have reached otherwise in this setting, her own peers. My belief is that if a student or parent doesn’t want to see a production then they have the option not to see it. In my opinion, they do not have the right to prevent an artist’s growth in an environment that so significantly shapes a person from such an early age.
    When I got to college I discovered the benefits of staging work that is challenging and often times controversial and provocative as I found it to be the most moving and inspiring. I performed in bizarre movement pieces, I directed Sarah Kane’s “Blasted,” and the avant-guard was an incredible influence on my final thesis paper. These types of performances stimulate not only the artists but the audience as well and provoke the audience to look at the world in a different light which to me is the most effective way to reach the ultimate goal of art. Through these works I found what I’ve realized is my niche in the world. I can’t even begin to imagine how different my experiences would be at this point if I had started on this path in high school.
    Although I wasn’t immediately connected in any way to what happened at Columbine, when I got to high school a year or two later I was affected by it tremendously. We had a cop who was regularly on our campus, our school was locked during the day and we couldn’t wear trench coats (of all things). My older sister who went to a nearby high school during this time told me that none of these issues were present until after April 20, 1999. Due to all of this, I’m sure that a production that touched on this subject would have been incredibly moving and beneficially to me as a student. It’ a shame that because of what seems like one persons complaint that an artist’s growth will be stifled and a larger group of people will not have the ability to be affected by her art. It’s a real fucking shame.
    Art should be about collaboration and connectivity, and it just seems like whoever complained about this is intending for the opposite. I hope she gets it produced, as I would be more than willing to make a trip from Maryland to Boston to see it.
    If I was a teenager and I was told that I couldn’t do something at that age without the confidence that I have now I would not have fought to do so.
    All I can really say is that I hope she keeps fighting for what she believes in. I assure you that it will be worth it in the end.
    Amen, Amanda Palmer.

  • http://twitter.com/loveslastbreath Todd Herman

    My high school years were some of the worst years that I can remember. I wore all black, I rarely showered, and I had a (albeit, typical for that age) piss poor attitude that alienated mostly anyone that tried to communicate with me on any level. When I was a freshman I randomly tried out for a production of Romeo and Juliet and was to my own surprise cast as Romeo. This experience gave me confidence that I didn’t have before and without it I wouldn’t be the person that I am today.

    My high school’s drama department was about the furthest thing from ground breaking that one could get. We staged productions of Annie, Guys and Dolls, and what turned out to be an incredibly toned-down version of Romeo and Juliet. To say that we played it safe is an understatement. We didn’t really play anything. Productions weren’t meant to be moving or intellectually stimulating in any way. They were meant to entertain parents and friends of cast mates who came to see productions. I was reluctant to even be involved with the department to begin with.

    This is why when I first started reading Amanda Palmer’s blogs about her drama department during the production of “Cabaret,” I was fascinated. A drama department that stages plays where people get killed? Where productions are weird? Where an artist makes a relevant cultural statement? THESE ARE HIGH SCHOOLERS? WHAT?! A high school student doesn’t know how to comprehend such complex concepts!


    When I went to see Cabaret at A.R.T. I was floored. This was done by a high school teacher? What would have happened if I had the ability to make this type of art as a high school student?

    The main issue I had with my own high school drama productions seems to be the main issue here. Instead of allowing for the kids creating the art to be in control of their own art (what a novel concept), the parents and faculty find it necessary to be the ones in control, and frankly, it’s a blatant abuse of power. At any age an artist needs to be in full control of their work or else their intent is not fully realized.

    The faculty at Lexington High School probably doesn’t realize what a horrible mistake they are making by hindering a student’s ability to make the art that they want to make. Not only that, but the artist, Emma, will be missing an opportunity to reach an audience that she could not have reached otherwise in this setting, her own peers. My belief is that if a student or parent doesn’t want to see a production then they have the option not to see it. In my opinion, they do not have the right to prevent an artist’s growth in an environment that so significantly shapes a person from such an early age.

    When I got to college I discovered the benefits of staging work that is challenging and often times controversial and provocative as I found it to be the most moving and inspiring. I performed in bizarre movement pieces, I directed Sarah Kane’s “Blasted,” and the avant-guard was an incredible influence on my final thesis paper. These types of performances stimulate not only the artists but the audience as well and provoke the audience to look at the world in a different light which to me is the most effective way to reach the ultimate goal of art. Through these works I found what I’ve realized is my niche in the world. I can’t even begin to imagine how different my experiences would be at this point if I had started on this path in high school.

    Although I wasn’t immediately connected in any way to what happened at Columbine, when I got to high school a year or two later I was affected by it tremendously. We had a cop who was regularly on our campus, our school was locked during the day and we couldn’t wear trench coats (of all things). My older sister who went to a nearby high school during this time told me that none of these issues were present until after April 20, 1999. Due to all of this, I’m sure that a production that touched on this subject would have been incredibly moving and beneficially to me as a student. It’ a shame that because of what seems like one persons complaint that an artist’s growth will be stifled and a larger group of people will not have the ability to be affected by her art. It’s a real fucking shame.

    Art should be about collaboration and connectivity, and it just seems like whoever complained about this is intending for the opposite. I hope she gets it produced, as I would be more than willing to make a trip from Maryland to Boston to see it.

    If I was a teenager and I was told that I couldn’t do something at that age without the confidence that I have now I would not have fought to do so.

    All I can really say is that I hope she keeps fighting for what she believes in. I assure you that it will be worth it in the end.

    Amen, Amanda Palmer.


  • Martha

    Like many of the people who have already commented here, I was an art geek as a teenager and I was bullied for it. I went to junior high and high school in a conservative town where I never felt like I belonged and art was my outlet.

    When I was in junior high, one of our art class projects involved painting ceiling tiles that would be placed in the entrance way to the school. My tile design was inspired by the Breakfast Club and addressed the way that students classified each other. It included insults that I heard everyday walking through the halls – sexist, racist and homophobic insults. The art teacher told me that my tile would not be installed because a) visual art should not include words and b) the language was inappropriate.

    The whole experience was incredibly frustrating. I believed I could help change the school’s atmosphere by encouraging people to discuss the name-calling and bullying that were part of everyday life for students.
    Being denied the opportunity to even start a conversation was just disheartening.

    These discussions need to be had, or nothing will change.

  • http://twitter.com/_ambo am33r

    There is no doubt in my mind that without art, I would be dead.

    The teachers and staff of my high school understood it’s importance, and encouraged us to be open, be receptive, and grow as much as possible. It is because of those experiences that I view the world differently. It is a necessity in our schools and in our society.

  • http://javieraladren.com Javier Aladren


    I graduated from the East Brunswick Vocational and Technical High School’s School of Performing Arts in 2010, and our program has performed its share of cutting edge theatre. We were always aware that if the school received a phone call from a complaining parent that our shows would go down without question, and yet it never happened.

    I’m talking about this because most of who I am today is thanks to this wonderful program and the theatre teacher, Maria Aladren. She had the courage to put up provocative theatre and had the firm belief that we, as high schoolers, were capable of producing brilliant work as artists.

    She directed “Neighbor 3: Requisition of Doom” by Jennifer Haley last year, which discussed video games and the lack of communication between children and parents who have mutually stopped caring. The play was dark and rather vicious, with the children ultimately killing their parents. She also produced Caryl Churchill’s “Top Girls,” which talked about feminism and Tony Kushner’s “A Bright Room Called Day,” which examined the german people during the holocaust, and how immobility can destroy people.

    Though she was able to put on these provocative works, she was alway receiving resistance from the administration. They would often implore her to put on something that is “safe” and “audience friendly.”

    I am struck through the heart with this story concerning Lexington High School, as many of the students who went through Aladren’s class grew and developed into mature, intelligent people with ambition to move forward in their education. We need art to ask the difficult questions in our society or else how are we expected to start finding answers?

  • http://twitter.com/JasmyneTea Jasmyne Middleton

    I wasn’t in drama in high school, but I was in music, and I remember in year 10 I was asked to perform a song for the annual showcase night. I organised a band to back me up on “Thoughtless” by Korn, and my music teacher and showcase coordinators LOVED it, but the minute the principal came to a rehearsal and heard “why are you trying to make fun of me/ you think it’s funny what the fuck do you think it’s doing to me?” he refused to let me say “fuck”, and tried to get me to change the lyrics to something more supposedly suitable for people my age. The word “fudge” was suggested. I won’t tell you how much I laughed my arse off.
    I, and people that supported me, spent the next week trying to convey how allowing us to say the word “fuck” was really allowing us the express ourselves – that allowing us the perform the song in its entirety was allowing us to express the anger, rage and frustration that we regularly feel and that we felt was a central theme of the song. We had petitions, we had meetings, and we even had a fair number of parents supporting us, but the principal still refused to allow it, and even requested that I change the song altogether.
    So on the night, we started our song with the first few bars of an Evanescence song on keyboard (I think it was My Immortal), then rocked out with “Thoughtless”, and every time the word “fuck” was used, half the audience and everyone on stage screamed their hearts out.
    It was an amazing performance, and probably my favourite to date.

    • http://twitter.com/JasmyneTea Jasmyne Middleton

      Also, I recieved a written warning, but otherwise didn’t get into much trouble because there were no complaints :)

  • http://rocklawnarts.com claire

    I went to a tiny high school in Lenox, MA that also happens to be home to Shakespeare & Company. We didn’t have a theater department; we had professional actors and designers from Shake & Co. serving as adjunct faculty.

    I never really fit in at school, but when I was working on plays, I did for a few weeks. I saw possibilities of a broader life, one with people who understood me and liked me for it, through the young directors who worked with us. Though I was shy, I found my voice through all the work we did.

    I love and still miss our voice classes even though it’s been 20 years. Even though one afternoon senior year, I burst into tears (very unlike me) while doing a speech in my upper register. I recall being mortified at a workshop that evening when I ran into a director I’d worked with years before because he’d heard about my breakdown. He gave me a big hug and was soooo proud of me. And rightly so, in retrospect. So many of those rehearsal days were great therapy.

    I wrote about how playing a king seeped into my life here and how Hamlet was my undoing (in the best way possible).

    Typically, we put on a Shakespeare play in the fall and something more contemporary in the spring. The Shakespeare plays influenced my speech and love of language. The spring plays weren’t always a good fit for me as a performer, but I got to break new ground in my school, first as an assistant director junior year and then as a director senior year. That lead to my decision to study film in college and grad school.

    Working on the plays challenged me in so many ways. I had to confront my self-consciousness, my stage fright, my shyness, my fear of sharing my creative ideas. I learned how to interact with people (whether I liked them or not) and to lead them. I learned the value of an ongoing process.

    Perhaps simplest and most important, I got to spend time with some very cool people I wouldn’t have had reason or the courage to meet otherwise.

  • Lilli

    These comments are amazing. I know it’s self-flattering to say, but Amanda, you have the coolest fanbase.

    Like other people have said, the high school theatre in my home school group also chose only to put on ‘safe,’ happy plays. I believe an abridged version of “Twelfth Night” was the riskiest thing they ever staged (unless it was the whitewashed rendition of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”). In this circle, the supposed cure for sorrow or any kind of discontentment was to listen or watch or read happy things. Later, while I was recovering from a long, severe depression, I began to come across more angry and despairing music, film, and other kinds of art. I remember listening to one CD with my headphones (so no one else in the house would have to suffer my ‘depressing’ music), and thinking “where was this stuff a few years ago when I really needed it?”

    Thank god I came across The Dresden Dolls shortly afterwards.

    I agree that art breeds empathy, but I would add that at times, a song or poem or even a piece of street art can be the only empathetic voice someone hears. The first song I ever heard of yours was Half Jack, and I immediately though, “wow. someone else gets it. I’m not just some freak.” People feel like that all the time. We don’t know that we’re experiencing something that many others have struggled with when we’re surrounded by sanitized Shakespeare and cheerful Christmas plays. Not that those don’t have their place–they do. But refusing to acknowledge the questionable, or horrible things that are all around doesn’t make them any less real. It just makes them harder to understand and deal with.

    I understand that Columbine is a very difficult issue to look at. It’s painful and confusing and we’d probably all rather there was a definite answer to the ‘why.’ And it *is* a duty of parents to protect their children by exposing them to certain issues at the appropriate times. I doubt I would take a seven-year old to this play. Or a ten-year-old. But someone in high school, for whom the reality of school shootings is a serious problem? I haven’t read the play, but that seems like an appropriate audience.

    This seems like unusual behavior from what I’ve heard of Lexington High School, and it’s a shame that they’ve canceled this show. I hope it’s a one-time mistake. God forbid they should ever turn into one of the many schools that hide references to real pain and suffering. That sort of ‘protection’ certainly didn’t help me when I needed help.

  • Seltivo

    I don’t understand why they think censorship is an appropriate course of action. It seems to me the epitome of irony that a school thinks the best thing to do is keep its students ignorant.

    I’d love to be able to share a tale of my schools art department, and I would, save for one small detail. It never had one. The only way I managed to peruse art was by spending my free time in the library, drawing pictures. In spite of the fact that drawing has always been one of my favorite pastimes, I often went months without producing so much as a doodle. It wasn’t till I joined online communities like deviantArt that I really started taking drawing seriously. People need a community to inspire and motivate them. Without it, we loose incentive very easily.

    In a community which idolizes art, artists thrive. In a community which treats art with indifference, artists loose interest. Does this trend apply to communities which actively discourage artistic expression? Thankfully, I’ve never had the misfortune of finding out…

  • Kelly

    I went to school in Warren, Ohio. As far as schools go, it’s not very progressive. We didn’t have money to update anything, and really.. who cares? It’s a bad area with apathetic people.
    I always wanted to be in drama. It was my dream when I was a child. I also really wanted to play music every moment I could.
    I thought High School would be the answer, since Middle School was so terrible.
    Unfortunatly, the drama club was very elitist. They only accepted people they knew. They did not branch out, ever. You had to be best friends with the drama teacher and every member or they would simply glare at you. Despite this, I tried out. I got up on stage and sung/acted my heart out for an audition. Afterwards one of the girls actually came up to me laughing, “you thought you would get in, didn’t you.”
    So, I’m very jealous of any person who gets to go to a nice school with an interesting, even challenging drama program. To hear that even Lexington is getting censored? It hurts to hear.

  • http://twitter.com/KeiKunGuitar Peter Bergstrom

    Honestly i’ve tried to forget my high school days. I didn’t have many friends, i didn’t speak much, and i was the kinda kid staring at the floor as i walked down the long hallways in my little town of Ashland, MA. I didn’t really take to many school events or activities. I wasn’t into acting, but i spent a number of classes in the art department, and found out i was pretty bad at painting, it just didn’t feel right for me, but i loved to sketch. So i doodled in notebooks, ignored homework assignments and day dreamed often. I was taunted and teased, and looking back there were quite the number of individuals that played with me like a puppet for their amusement. So i stared at the floor, and the only thing lower than my hanging head, was my self-confidence. So i was depressed, i cried, and felt like general shit like i didn’t matter. I didn’t paint my nails or left my hair in my eyes or got tattoos or moved to drugs and alcohol, i just hurt. I hurt for years. I remember my high school crush making a statement about suicide: “You can’t do it. You think you could now, but when you get to that point, you start shaking and you just can’t. “I remember thinking, “Is that so?” Luckily i wasn’t foolish enough to believe i could, i never attempted. No visits to the hospital, no 911 calls, no psychiatrist for me. But now if i were to hear those same words I’d think, “That’s a horrible thing to say! Not that anyone CAN’T do it, it’s simply they SHOULDN’T! There’s always a place in this world for someone, and someone will love you for who you are.”

    If you couldn’t tell, i didn’t shoot up a school, i didn’t commit or even attempt suicide, and i didn’t really lash out against anyone. I survived High School, and that’s all i needed to do really. Since those days i took an interest in philosophy. I see that as The Art of Thinking. In my depression i did more thinking about my own self-worth and came to the conclusion, I’m no different from anyone else, but in ways I’m everything and more. I understood that my life won’t always be people pulling strings over my head, or harassing me about this and that, or just completely ignoring me. I realized everything cliche that adults say is, for the most part, true. My outlet fueling my emotional destructive nature was Music. When i was pissed off, depressed, self-loathing, happy, indifferent, whatever the case, I listened to music. I started the guitar in high school. I was pretty bad, but it helped me vent the day away. Still does. I’ve developed a supportive and comedic personality. And the most important thing i’ve realized, the friends i’ve made, the ones that still last and still support me. The friends that are like family, even when i hated my family for their RULES and PUNISHMENTS for my actions. Those people fuel my hopes and aspirations.

    I haven’t any idea of what more to say except Art has helped me, and to limit Art is to hinder Hope itself.

  • http://amandapalmer.net/ Amanda Palmer

    thank you guys all so much for all the thoughtfulness in these comments. keep it coming.
    we’re working on a plan.

  • Ivana

    “I’m not a fan of censorship in any way, and I never thought I would be in this position,’’ Cohen said. “But this play, on its face, is so alarming and so unredeeming; you leave the end of the play with: ‘What do I do? The world is just horrible and out of control.’ ’’

    I wonder… world IS just horrible and out of control. Here in Croatia, after the war, new values came to the surface: God, country, family and tradition. We raise nice Catholic children, we keep quiet about pedophilia and other nasty things, we cherish our saint war and our nation, we shut down any attempt of homosexuals to fight for their rights (omg what perverts), we actually have no school plays, and official theatre plays are rarely provocative. In the end, thanks to censorship, we have children that stopped to think, brainwashed children that were never confronted with different attitude, opinion..etc. Our wonderful Catholics are full with hate for other nations, they think less of them, so we do have increased violence among teenagers with significant rise of murders, complete intolerance to homosexuals, other races or nationalities or anyhow different people.
    Teenagers have no interest in politics. The news on the tv will not keep their interst for longer than 2 minutes, however, art will (music, and yes: school plays). This is our only chance to try to make free people out of them, with no inner frustrations, anger and violence. Being quiet about what is going on in the world today is not only stupid, but also contraproductive.
    We may sing about love and butterflies, but what if a decade later our beloved one (or our father?) comes drunk and beat us? We may sing about our beutiful country with green hills and deep blue sea, but what when you ( or our parents?) later stay unemlpyed with no money for food and bills while you see politicians traveling around in expencive cars with big bellies ?
    Would you not be angry, even violent, because noone told you that the world actually is horrible and out of the control???

    p.s. Sorry, my English is not the best, but I hope I managed to express myself:)

  • Chloe

    Last year, I completed my final year of high school. I did a lot of great subjects, but one that I really really enjoyed was my visual arts class.

    Myself and the other thirty-odd people who were taking VA spent a lot of our year in the VA department – getting to school in the early morning and staying behind until after it was dark. I think that as much as our art was an assessible part of our course, it was also an outlet, and a meditation.

    We were free to choose any topic we wanted to centre our bodies of work around. And I mean free. There were students making art about everything – war, political oppression, censorship, suicide. One girl created a series of beautiful paintings which were an exploration of the mindset of a serial killer.

    I feel so lucky that I had that opportunity to make art, freely. Censorship is anti-art, and it’s hypocritical, especially in a school setting. We’re told that art is about expressing yourself, and then that freedom of expression is taken away. It doesn’t make sense.

    It’s also anti-education. Isn’t school about preparing yourself for life? Removing all traces of anything remotely confronting from the school system is NOT preparing anyone for later life. There is a world outside of school, and it’s kind of ironic that a place of education is missing out on so much of what the world has to say.

    Having a lot of ‘controversial’ art around last year was fantastic. Rather than warp our precious, innocent young minds, I found it sparked so much conversation, so much discussion of issues that are very much a part of the world we live in. Isn’t that what art is about? Providing a platform for new thought and expression? We were exploring the world, thinking about our society and our place in it. Isn’t that what being a global citizen is about? Burying issues doesn’t make them go away, and it doesn’t keep anyone ‘safe’. Everything has a place in art – art of every medium.

    Teenagers are rarely given the credit they are due. Teenagers are not children any more. We are young adults, and we are fully capable of thinking and reasoning. We can tell the difference between fact and fiction. Yes, you might not let a three-year-old go and see a scary play. But we’re not three-year-olds any more, and the world is going to be in our hands one day. It scares me to think that there are important issues – school shootings being just one of them – that might one day slip under the radar because they were deemed “inappropriate” when a new generation was being trained to take on the world.

    Education should be about a full and complete education.

  • C Perth

    Back when I was in my last year of high school, I was studying Drama & Theatre Studies for my A-levels. We were working on an entirely self-devised, site specific piece of theatre based upon the Ipswich Murders juxtaposed with the Jack the Ripper killings.. (If you are unaware of the horrific events that happened in my hometown there is a link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ipswich_serial_murders ) .. We decided upon this to demonstrate the female’s vulnerability in society regardless or age, situation or era. The portrayal was brutal, elegant and poignant ESPECIALLY since being at an all-girls private school. We put the brutality of the murders against the beauty of burlesque In the Victorian music halls.. And the play was virtually dialogue free.. Simply based very physically on the music of the band ‘Bellowhead’s’ album ‘Burlesque’ (this was one of the stimuli given by our teacher.. ideas flowed and ‘Ripped at the Seams’ was born.
    To this day it’s the piece of theatre I’m most proud of.. It was raw, necessary and really portrayed the real life suffering of these troubled women whom we had probably seen in our town mere weeks before the terrible events of December 2006.
    Despite the teaching staff being hesitant at the sensitive subject matter (and more likely.. the opinions of the upper-middle class parents who would be viewing the piece) they reluctantly let the play go ahead and it went down as one of the most successful events in the schools history. We were sold out three nights in a row and received praise at the portrayal of something so close to home so eloquently. Ultimately it was a success and I truly feel that self expression through art is vital to exploring difficult subject matter & portraying brutal experiences that would otherwise be ‘taboo’.

    Charlotte Perth, age 20, from Ipswich, Suffolk, England.

    Long live the punk cabaret.. <3

  • http://twitter.com/misserskine Zoe Anderson

    I didn’t do drama in high school. But that was because I didn’t go to high school. I was home educated. But reading these stories and listening to accounts of friends who got to do drama, by Godot I wish I had. Fortunately the brand of home education I was involved with was permissive and encouraging in terms of drama and performing arts, and I know what it’s like to be up on a stage bearing your soul, and why that experience should be a common one.
    My educational ethos is all about permissiveness, self direction and independence. Humans tend to learn better that way. Also, censorship never really works out as a good thing. I really hope these teachers see the value in letting this play be performed.

  • http://twitter.com/hudsonkmusic Hudson K

    One of the most ironic things that struck me while reading your blog was this: i teach teenage students how to play the piano. Mostly though, I teach them how to think about life through the art of making music. What I have learned in this process is that teenagers are generally more introspective, more sensitive, and more intelligent then I am! They are the ones that would most likely benefit from taking some of these thoughts and emotions out of their personal head-space (where the turn INTO destructive behaviors) and releasing them through a art. I do not think teachers and administrators give these young adults enough credit when it comes to the ability to critically think and analyze difficult issues FOR THEMSELVES. They are going to do it anyway, why not make it a safe place to do so?

    I also attended a private catholic high school where I studied drama and art. There was NOTHING at my school that encouraged me to pursue difficult topics in my work. NOTHING. I had to go out searching for counter-culture…and I found it in the form that nearly became my downfall. I spent most of my early twenties traveling the country in a pickup truck following bands around and experimenting heavily with drugs. It was the only place where I felt I could express my weird ideas and not be frowned upon. I nearly lost my life.

    After many years, I recovered from that destructive lifestyle and went on to pursue a Masters degree in music, but honestly I lost a good deal of time and now find myself free to express my thoughts and feelings. I currently live in a conservative bible-belt town in the south of the good old USA, but I am proud to make music that stands out against predictable cookie-cutterness. I just wish I had had that support when I was much younger…don’t doubt the youth! They are more engaged and tuned in then we know!

  • IsabelTaylor

    I’m both an LHS alum and what a friend calls a “drama mama” in town here in Lexington. My kid was one of the group who made Needle Heart–and it was a life changing experience, for her, and I know, for most of the others. She’s since graduated, but the experience of doing that kind of intense, collaborative art that stretches you in every way has informed her choices and colored her world view. It has made her see what is possible. I’ve been so proud of the collaboration, of the Drama team at LHS, of the kids and their fearless leader. When I heard about the experience Emma was having I just thought about the hypocricy–these kids are told every day that they have to strive, to try to expand their horizons, to do better more, jump higher, follow their passions, on and on. And here’s an example of one student doing just that–and I believe she did get all the appropriate permissions initially–and, after pouring months of work into this project, it gets shut down on what really sounds like a capricous whim.

    As a parent in this town I am too well aware of how bullying other parents can be. I am shocked and saddened that the work of a group, and Emma’s leadership, could be so undermined by an anonymous parent. I feel that at least that parent should step forward and own her or his actions so that a dialog could happen. Nameless accusations are no way to run a public school system. If the evidence is strong enough to cancel out all that student work, it should be able to withstand the light of day, and be owned by the people who made the objections.

    What kind of object lesson is going on here for the next group of kids who want to do a project, even if it’s not theater–say they want to work in a “dangerous” part of town as tutors–will that project get shut down too, at the 99th hour, because some complaining anonymous parent decrees it?

    Bad policy making, bad example, bad administration. Really, a disappointment, and a true failure to support the important constituency, the students and faculty of the school.

  • drummerGee

    I guess I was lucky. I grew up in a small market town in the smallest county in England and I grew up with a love of music but at secondary school (12 – 16 years old) we had one of those teachers.

    He ran the music department with a passion and skill that was inspiring and amazing. I was an awkward teenager, I hated an awful lot of school and a lot of the people around me but I got a shot at the instrument I’d always wanted thanks to that teacher, Mr Dawkins. I got percussion lessons through the school and the deal was I played in the school band, which was a big deal as they had a big reputation through out the county.

    I was encouraged, I learnt so much about how to prepare for a concert, how to practice, how to put a band together, how to work with people you didn’t naturally get on with. Except that, music was a unifying force and yes we were band geeks, but we came in a lot of different shapes.

    I was allowed into the rehearsal rooms every lunch time even when we weren’t practising with the band. Walk past on the right day I’d be drumming along with an Oasis covers group doing Keith Moon style drumming and then I’d be laying some jazz beats down for a piano and sax.

    The long suffering Mr Dawkins accepted my improvisations when they were appropriate, tolerantly
    correcting me when I over stepped the mark and specifically choosing pieces to allow me to demonstrate what I had learnt.

    He encouraged me to join the county music youth bands and after I walked in on my first rehearsal totally unprepared for what I had got myself into (the standard was amazing, they were the best young musicians in the county, talking about re-taking their grade 8 pieces as they weren’t happy with their grade and I just hit things) he gave me the confidence to go back and learn even more about what it takes to sound good.

    It wasn’t so much that I was ever encouraged to be controversial as I was given the space t explore my own music, my music GCSE encompassed computer compositions that apparently sounded like Conan the barbarian coming to conquer or an attempt to write a movement of a symphony. My performance pieces included performing a piece called rock n roll hall of fame, complete with Wipeout drum solo, exerts from West Side Story played with the county wind band and xylophone rendition of Bach .

    He fed what has been a lifetime obsession, I still play in bands today and love music more than ever and the skills I learnt apply to the real world. Art is how we try to make sense of the world. I remember how much of my time as a teenager was spent learning through music and I’m still at it to this day. All my best friends are musicians, I work to support my drum habit. It’s a fundamental part of who I am as a human being and I was allowed to discover this at school.

    I think it is vitally important to give anybody the chance to discover this for themselves and a part of this must be the freedom to explore any form of art fully, without censorship so that you can try to make sense of your own experience and others around you.

  • Michelle

    At my high school, an alternative one called Community High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in my junior year we did a production of Mark Medoff’s play, Big Mary. The play is an ensemble piece that on the surface is about the hanging of a circus elephant for the murder of her keeper in 1916. Really, it is about social injustice, racism, sexism, and the oppressive beliefs of those who have power in society. As a cast, we had numerous discussions about the play and our feelings about it, namely due to the difficult language in the play. It was written in dialect, and we (the white members of the cast) had to use the word ‘nigra’ which we were all uncomfortable with, but which was necessary to the play. We performed the play at state theatre competition for the International Thespian Society, and were invited to perform it at the National conference in Nebraska. The main reason we were asked to do so? Because the play makes everyone who sees it incredibly uncomfortable. My character, a 4 year old girl named Heather-Louise screams and is horrified by the fact that she has ‘nigra blood’ on her dress, and pays no mind to the fact that a young black girl has just been shot for no reason. Audiences at nationals did not know what to make of it, and many were outright offended by the play, because they took it at face value. Working on this tense, painful, difficult piece of theatre opened my eyes to the possibilities of theatre to teach, to show what’s wrong, and to do it in an unsettling way, because most of the time, that is what works. If you don’t use art to disturb at least occasionally, then there’s no point because no one gets anything out of it. It is partially because of my experience doing this production that I decided I wanted to become the director of a high school theatre program, and I am currently at the University of Michigan pursuing that goal.

  • Clsell

    Why would I listen to anything being said by someone who stole content – stealing an entire newspaper article and republishing it not only without permission but solely to bypass them getting paid for their work is theft. Why can’t you respect their work as content creators and let them get paid for the work they created in the way they wanted to?

  • abrokengirl

    Fear won, this time.

  • ramblingmads

    Amen! These things are important to discuss. The play Punk Rock also explores the issue of school shootings and was really powerful theatre. I wish Emma and her cast luck.

  • Greg

    I have worked professionally in theatre in Chicago for 30 years, as a director, actor, and in management. I discovered “columbinus” while on vacation in Denver in 2006 by reading about it in a Denver paper. I contacted PJ, one of the playwrights, and he sent me the script. This was one of the most powerful pieces of work I have ever read. I became determined to direct it and bring it to Chicago. I found a respected professional theatre in Chicago that shared my passion for the show, and it opened in Jan of 2008. It was an immense critical success, and garnered much press.

    In the research for the show, I traveled to Columbine, walked the halls of the school, and met people who were involved in the tragedy, and they are still friends today.

    In the process of rehearsals, I wanted to work with a school and have my cast talk to some of today’s high school students. I was stunned to hit roadblocks with every turn. My old high school told me it would be “inappropriate” for them to be involved with a project like this. If it is inappropriate for high school students to be involved with an exploration of high school violence, bullying, and problems of adolescence, when and where will it ever be appropriate?

    We also tried to get high school groups to come see the show – one school said it wasn’t relevant to high school kids any more, and was just a historical event by now. In the midst of the run, the shootings at Northern Illinois University occurred, less than 1 hour west of Chicago. So much for not being relevant.

    Luckily, we were able to hook up with the teens of the Piven Theatre Workshop just outside Chicago. Once we got them talking, it was no holds barred and they opened up to us completely. We invited them to the production, and they all said it was like watching their lives onstage. Several of them came more than once, and one came several times, each time bringing friends with her. And her father brought them every time.

    This is a show that should be seen by everyone, but especially teens. It is their lives. Yes, there is a lot of swearing, but to think this language is unknown to teens is absurd. And I disagree that there is a lot of violence in the show – it is talked about, but rarely shown. The library shootings are not re-enacted – they are described. Harrowing? Yes. Violent? No.

    Teens need to be listened to and encouraged – not censored and repressed. When Marilyn Manson was asked what he would say to Dylan and Erik, the Columbine shooters, he said he wouldn’t say anything, he would listen, because no one listened to them. No good is coming by telling these students they can’t present the show – the only good would be to listen to what they have to say by presenting this show.

    Greg Kolack

  • :)

    I am extremely lucky to be going to a high school with an absolutely stunning drama department. Our acting teachers are marvelous, the tech crew is amazing, and the costume designer is incredibly talented. All of our productions are really very good.
    I was recently a part of our freshman/sophomore play, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. We didn’t do anything that ground-breaking, although our production of “Rumors” by Neil Simon maintained all of its original cussing (including five f-bombs and dozens of other “dirty” words). When the school purchased the copyright, my director was informed that she couldn’t change anything in the play.
    Unfortunately, when they did “From Up Here” (a drama/comedy about a fictional teen who brought a gun to school after being bullied), a lot of the swearing was cut. However, the integrity of the play remained mostly in tact. The whole idea that they had censored the play bothered me, though.

  • Tahlula

    My former Highschool. Directed by friends and former classmates. I’m very proud of them both.

  • Kat

    I was always artistic with an intense interest in the performing arts. I have gone on to major in acting at Auckland University, and work professionally in the acting and dance theater scene; dancing, acting, directing, and writing. During high school my work became a little darker and more sexual as I was a teenager discovering existentialism, punk music, burlesque, and my own ideologies about life.

    To me, a schools’ primary responsibility is to foster the talents, interests, and future career prospects of its students in a safe and accepting environment. By stifling or banning the interests of a certain student, the school is failing that student.

    During my time at school I wrote and directed, and even self-funded many shows and productions without the active ‘support’ of the staff or school. My school never actively encouraged me. No teacher lent a helping hand. The principal didn’t ask what my work was about unless it was to tell me to wear more clothing on stage or ask that children not be allowed to attend. At the time I thought they had failed me.

    With a little maturity I can see that though I would have loved for an amazing existential teacher to mentor me, the school at least did their duty to me. They may have not agreed with the content and opinions of my work. They may have at times objected to my depictions of depression, self-harm, sex, and violence. But at no point did they ask me to take my work elsewhere. They understood that the opinions and views of the student did not necessarily represent those of the school – and were not necessarily wrong. At times they censored the audience and would not allow juniors to view my work. At times they printed a warning or disclaimer on the programme. But, in the end, the show always went on.

    My school provided me with a platform to explore my creativity, and what would become my future career. They allowed me to use their classes to rehearse in, and hosted my plays and showcases in a professionally equipped theater. They printed the programmes and advertised on the school noticeboard.

    This is the singular most important thing they could have done for me.

    Above maths, and P.E. and science classes, it was the simple act of providing me with an environment to explore and create (relatively) freely that proved to be one of the most formative experiences of my teenage years. Those experiences of directing, and creating, and taking the initiative to create something, often on my own, were what lead to my choice in career. Had I not been allowed those opportunities, I firmly believe that I may have taken a much less fulfilling route, and may have wasted my talents.

    Lexington’s opportunity is not unique. They have a talented and driven young student who has taken the initiative to produce something creative and meaningful. They have the opportunity to play host to her formative experiences. They have the opportunity to meet the needs of their students. They have the opportunity to filter the audience; print a disclaimer; take a stand; meet some sort of compromise.

    They have the opportunity to make sure no student is left behind.


    A Performing Artist, intensely grateful for her roots.

  • http://twitter.com/grow365 grow, changing.

    i went to a conservative Christian college.

    at a school where it was all too easy to skate by on the surface, too easy to pretend things were all right, put up a front, of course i’m being a good person, the theatre department was alive and crackling and REAL.

    the community.
    the intensity and trust of relationships.
    the profound love, and grace, and acceptance for each other.

    and this trust allowed the theatre to dive headfirst into things that did not fit the neat, pretend boxes on the rest of campus.
    there were real, heartrending, passionate discussions about war, rape, body image.
    also real, heartrending, passionate discussions about joy, beauty, circus, love.

    they threw themselves into exploring these things and loving each other, and then pouring it all into art to share with us.

    i was not even part of the department. i was on the fringe, hanging out as much as i could because i wanted some of that community, some of that love and acceptance and belonging, to rub off on me.

    and it did. it changed my life– it was that powerful, even from the fringe. that is the kind of community, and the kind of theatre, i now strive to create.

    the mantra of the theatre was:

    to see, and be seen.
    to know, and be known.

    and, implicitly, to love, and be loved.

    i defy you to find a human alive who does not long for that with all their being.

    that is what the people of the theatre did for me.
    that is the kind of love that keeps people from falling through the cracks.


    theatre has power.
    we are all just playing make believe. but we are playing making believe as hard as we possibly can. as though it’s life or death. usually it is.

    really, what is theatre? a few people talking to each other in a black box for a few hours? why are we so scared of it?
    and yet theatre has this power over us. words and ideas have power.

    people recognize this, or they wouldn’t bother to ban things.

    so it is precisely because of this power that theatre is so vital.

    exactly what forums do teenagers have to discuss hard, awkward, terrible things in a safe place? in what society is it all right to just bring up the subject of guns, abuse, suicide, depression, and start nonchalantly diving into those issues?

    you don’t. you can’t. and if you are a teenager, and you have burning questions about things like this, you need a community to catch you before you go down in flames.

    theatre provides a vessel, a catalyst, for these conversations; it is a vehicle for probing difficult and wrenching questions safely. we can observe, or be, people and things and attitudes that we would never approach in real life. and then we can see that perhaps immigrants are not so scary, or that leaving someone alone in the lunchroom really is.

    to see, and be seen.
    to know, and be known.

  • Kat

    My own high schools were all either very conservative and boring or had very strictly regulated teacher-approved musicals and theatre performances. However, a friend of mine had a production with her grade 12 class that was based on Butoh theatre.

    The traditional way of doing it is people painted white who are naked and bald.
    The point of it is to have no point or meaning at all.

    The act itself has many emotions and expressions, all combined into the most twisted and bizarre behaviour (In this case, taking a fake flower out of a bottle then pouring discoloured paint-water all over themselves). Some looked sad giving the audience a flower, some happy and one very very creepy looking fellow (Amazing actor!)

    It progressed with scenes that depicted violence, rape, falling, suicide and many other things in its own abstract way, but the entire point of the show is that what it meant was entirely up to the viewer.

    That production will stay with me forever, Miss Saigon has nothing on that shit.

    Expression is absolutely everything. I left my friend’s production feeling moved, conflicted, confused, at peace and like everything in the world fit together. I cried in places because of just how powerful this bizarre, abstract theatre is.

    It’s no columbine shootings, but it will never, ever, leave me.

  • http://twitter.com/markoleary markoleary

    Banning the exploration of school shootings through art will be just as effective at preventing future school shootings as banning sex education and contraceptive advice is at preventing teenage pregnancies.

    Ignorance is not bliss, sadly.

  • http://twitter.com/bostonturgy IIana Brownstein

    Hi everyone,

    I can’t thank you enough for posting your thoughts about this event — and be assured, Emma, Steve Bogart, and I are reading all of your stories. I am only a tertiary part of this project as I work with Emma & Steve to find a new venue and organize some events to address arts censorship, but I feel this issue so deeply that I am heartened to see others out there echoing my feelings about the power of art. I teach dramatic literature to BFA theatre students, and I talk with them a lot about the power of dangerous, provocative art, about the need for courage if you’re really going to speak your heart and mind on a stage. Emma’s refusal to be deterred from telling a story she finds vital to her community has been an inspiration to MY students.

    So please, keep your stories coming. I’m asking my theatre students to read YOUR words, and to realize the vast ripple effects art can have in people’s lives.

    All the best,
    Ilana Brownstein

  • Jeff

    I was in a production of “columbinus” this summer at the Stoneham Theatre and it changed my life. I’m not exaggerating in the least. Everything this show could have possibly done for me, it did. I grew as a performer. This was an alien type of acting to me, and allowing myself to explore the technique completely changed how I prepare for a role. The show also changed me as a person. I became much more thoughtful when it comes so such difficult matters. After completing the show, I truly became aware that this could happen anywhere to anybody. I believe the audience got the message as well. We ended each show with a talkback and the audience was tuly moved, as we had hoped they would be. I think this is precisely the kind of show high school students need to see. It taught me so many lessons I didn’t even know I needed to learn. I love this play, and it is really one of the most beautiful pieces of theatre I have ever experienced.

  • vocalistdude

    So I live in Central Illinois. If you’ve never spent time, or even driven through this patch of country, here are some words to help you visualize what type of place the Land o’ Lincoln is:
    Rural out of tradition, not real pastoral sentiment
    Urban out of convenience, not fervent human reactions
    Plus my town has the largest number of restaurants per capita in Illinois.
    The point: this is the environment almost EVERY adult I know propagates—those in my church, school, neighborhood—which certainly does not mean that the entire populace of Bloomington-Normal are bad people, but does mean that I, as both a product and component of my community, am indelibly and indisputably affected by their tendencies. Incidentally, the most relevant venue of this communal symptom is my high school.
    I am involved in theatre, music, and visual art at school, and like many of the people making these posts, I wish that my artistic experience could be anything like Amanda’s. And part of the reason that my school can never be such a free realm of expression for me is that I am so unlike all my teachers and parents. It’s not unbelievable that a high school student would have staggeringly different views than a forty-year-old; that’s how it is many places and that’s how it should be; that’s what being a teenager IS. Like every artist (and like every person who can attempt to be called human) I die to give life to the novel and live to bring death to the tired through my art. But here everything is done in such decency and good order so that no new artistic icon is ever held and no risk is Society ever posed. The sounds in the music room are mostly unremarkable; the shows on the stage mostly unexploratory; the products of the studio mostly unadventurous. To say that I am not blessed with wonderful programs and inspiring teachers is a falsehood, but to say that I am completely happy with extension of the curriculum is yet a greater lie. I wish that my school would go little further to uphold student-directed theatre, student-written music, student-driven art. A miniscule change in strategy might be all we students need. In that small way we could experience art more fully. That way we could learn infinitesimally more about ourselves and the world in which we live. That way we could leave high school true artists and genuine human beings.
    As you might suspect, I am so fortunately not the victim of any specific or malicious artistic suppression, but I do feel a sort of de facto censorship every day, promoted by not only my Central Illinois-minded teachers but also by my more coy, careful peers. It doesn’t act as a sharp force, but more of a mute pressure, a weight pinning me to a level just below my desired potential. And it is neither a singular villain nor a large-scale conspiracy that is responsible for this unobservable phenomenon, just a fateful case of the wrong person in the wrong place. So I send my love to all of you who are truly and purposefully censored in your art, told that your ideas are worthless, that your actions are futile. You are so much stronger than me, that you can continue going on and fighting even with those winds of censorship blasting your face at each step. So keep going on. For the world’s sake, keep fighting. Never stop

  • http://twitter.com/MariahMacCarthy Mariah MacCarthy

    When I was a senior, my drama teacher Mr. Allen decided to stage “The Children’s Hour.” I got the role of Martha — a.k.a. the closeted lesbian who kills herself. I loved the role and the play; we tended to stick with high school standards like “The Odd Couple” and “The Crucible” (though our dear Mr. Allen would often tack his own avant-garde final tableaux onto the ending), so this was a bit of a risk for us. Sadly, a few parents whose kids didn’t adequately explain the play to them–“It’s about lesbians”–withdrew their kids from the class. I’m pretty sure not a single one of those parents actually read the script.

    So, Mr. Allen panicked a bit. He asked his leading ladies to meet in the classroom at lunchtime and said he was considering changing the climax of the play where Martha confesses to her best friend, “I have loved you as they said,” and more or less comes out of the closet. We were livid. “If you’re going to remove the climax, the part of the play we’ve been building up to this whole time, what is the point?” we asked. “Why do this play? And if we change or remove that scene, why does she kill herself?”

    He shook his head, frustrated. “You don’t have to talk to me about dramatic structure, I KNOW that. But I didn’t expect parents to take their kids out of the class.”

    Eventually, through sheer stubbornness, we talked him out of it. I remember seeing his face change from, “I’m fucked,” to, “Let’s do this thing.” I remember him looking at me and saying, “Full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes.”

    The play rocked. Most nights I cried onstage during the pivotal scene that we’d almost cut; when I didn’t, my co-star playing Karen did. To my knowledge, no one who actually saw the play was offended. And playing the role of Martha helped me to come out to myself as bisexual later that year (which, in high school in 2003, was a big freaking deal to me).

    This story about Emma being prohibited from staging this incredibly relevant, important play reminds me of the kids in Queens who were banned from performing their adaptation of Antigone: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/school-turnaroundsreform/a-student-play-criticizing-sch.html

    This play was the true story of the events that were happening TO THESE ACTUAL KIDS. You don’t get much more relevant and vital than that. Yet this school was threatened by this portrayal of ACTUAL EVENTS. Which, delightfully, backfired: The Washington Post would probably not have covered the story had the school just let the kids do the play. Their efforts at silence have resulted in giving this play a much larger voice than before.

    Censorship can have one of two effects: It can make you that much more determined to get your voice heard, as it did with me and my classmates; as it seems to be doing with Emma, or with the students from Jamaica High and Queens Collegiate.

    Or, if the censorship actually works, it can make you believe that your voice is irrelevant and unwanted. That some things “can’t” be done. That you are powerless.

    Why on earth would you want to teach a young person that? Or anyone, for that matter?

    “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Clichéd but true. If you block conversation, block expression, block an attempt to grapple with a difficult topic, the topic doesn’t go away. It lingers, but in a less open, more private, more devastating way than if it had just been out in the open–and there are consequences for that stifling of expression. I guarantee that there are high school students right now–at Lexington High School, and every high school–grappling with the exact same feelings that the Columbine shooters were feeling. They need to know that they’re not alone. They need to see the real outcome of what they’ve surely fantasized about. If you’re in denial about those fantasies, you should read some of the stories I was writing at 14, 15, 16… and I was an honors student who never even cut class.

    When you think you’re alone with your feelings, you’re perilously close to thinking you have no responsibility to anyone else. What do other people matter? They don’t know what you’re going through.

    When you know you’re not alone, there is a possibility for connection, and empathy, and healing, and on and on. Shared experience makes us responsible to one another.

    And when you have the gall to censor kids in 21st century America, you should not be able to do so silently. Let there be an outcry, a backlash, much louder than the voice you tried to shush in the first place.


    Mariah MacCarthy

  • http://twitter.com/MariahMacCarthy Mariah MacCarthy

    Oh, and one other thing…

    I strongly considered killing myself my junior year of college. One thing that kept me from doing so was creating an original theater piece for the Academic Festival that strung together pieces of Neil Gaiman’s “Portraits of Despair” (from Endless Nights), Mark Schulz’s “A Brief History of Helen of Troy” (about a teenager reeling from her mother’s death who keeps conflating love with sex and fantasy with reality), and Sarah Kane’s “4.48 Psychosis” (which is sort of like a long suicide letter-poem-play-thing). Through the act of creating, through putting the reenactment of my pain outside myself, I was able to even laugh at myself and my pain, to laugh with the cast, to think about my pain as something fictional and not something that was actively threatening my life. This theater piece was literally the only thing bringing me any happiness at the time.

    “4.48 Psychosis” especially is a “dangerous” piece of theater. It’s nearly hopeless in its outlook. But instead of dragging me down to its level of despair, it allowed me to think, “Well, at least I’m not as depressed as Sarah Kane was.”

    Express, don’t repress. If I’d been told that this piece of theater I was creating was too “unsafe” to be seen, I don’t know if I could have handled it. I’m just grateful that I didn’t have to find out either way.

  • Acarey1000

    Thank you everyone. I am one of the many people here at LHS who has been touched by Emma. She asked me to help her with movement for “Columbinus” and be a sounding board for some of her ideas. Emma wanted empathy and understanding to be “Columbinus”; not the guns. Her work seems to have been shut down by this superficial view we have when we see teenagers; shame on us for not seeing the fringe and the kids willing to go there. As a high school teacher I am so ashamed by the “spin” teens are given by we adults. The promoted imagine of the vacuous, sex-driven, silly, flighty, vapid, wasted— when what I am lucky enough to experience everyday is the reality of the Emma. The deep, caring —creative energy that drives these kids to, not only keep going in this harsh world, but to thrive looking for ways to actually change it. She did everything right- she gave perusal scripts to the various administrators, defined the extent of the play’s realism, had students involved get written permission from their parents before they even started. Beyond that, she thought, and thought, and thought about what directing this play meant. What she told me were ideas about the people on the fringe—voicing the pain and loneliness of existing there. We worked on a movement idea for the first scene wherein an unknown was buffeted about by unseeing others, as if walking past a piece of trash. never, ever did she think of vindication, revenge, and out-of-control teen agnst . This is what a teenager really is—an Emma, the life force that makes us human and wants to create that which is in our minds and hearts with raw feeling, incredible joy, and at times abject despair. Portayal is not Promotion. Art is Life.
    Thanks you,
    Anne Carey

  • http://twitter.com/ChuckEye Chuck Ivy

    I went to the High School for Performing and Visual Arts in Houston, TX. We used to say “It’s like “Fame”, but we don’t spontaneously break into song and dance on the tables in the cafeteria (much).” It was definitely the right venue for me. In junior high I’d been bullied, beat up, had kids piss in my gym locker onto my clothes, you name it. When I went to PVA MOST of us were the outcasts from our zoned schools. There weren’t racial tensions; there weren’t issues if you were gay, because probably at least 1 in 10 of your classmates was too. Nobody hated on anybody else because of who they were or where they were coming from. It was an amazingly formative experience. I’d gone as a vocal music major, but hung out with the theater folks (ran tech on a few shows); played keys in a band; did lunch with the art and media students. I got exposed to so much. Now, 20 years later, I’m working on my MFA in “Interdisciplinary Practices & Emerging Forms” (new media art when you can’t figure out what “new” means…) and I’m hoping I can give back to the community at least some of what HSPVA gave to me.

  • http://twitter.com/diggersjcb Alice Diggory

    When I was fifteen (which I think was 2004) the drama teacher at my boarding school in the UK decided to ask all the students in the school how much they knew about 9/11 and the implications and repercussions this had had for the people involved, their families and the world around us. She soon realised that most of the students knew very little about it and that those who were interested were often told not to worry themselves about it when they asked questions. I’ve never been sure why but she chose our GCSE class to perform an altered version of Steven Berkoff’s Requiem for Ground Zero. The first thing we did was discuss 9/11 in great detail and she got us to read and watch as many things on it as possible. We then altered the script because we wanted it to reach our audience (an all girl audience from 14 to 18) rather than Berkoff’s Fringe audience. We didn’t censor anything but we did cut out the parts about his own personal reaction as a successful actor and then included our own reactions making sure to include the fact that when the event first hit British television we were not allowed to watch the unfolding news story as it happened and were told not to bother ourselves about it. We staged the play for a few hundred students and were amazed by the reaction. So many of the girls (and teachers) watching were moved to tears and told us afterwards that they had no idea how horrific the event had been. Unfortunately two girls in my year complained about the play (without watching it or reading the script) and told their parents that it was violent, contained bad language and was unsuitable for under 18s. The next day the head master told my drama teacher that all school performances must be run by him first and from then on we were only allowed to perform musicals which could be watched by the whole school (girls from 11 upwards). So many of us were devastated because we felt like we had really achieved something for once and that we had been able to teach something to people who were usually so sheltered. We tried talking to the headmaster and protesting outside his office but unfortunately nothing worked and from that day on all plays performed at our school were censored and lacked any real content (apart from a secret performance of Our Country’s Good in our final year). It also meant that a lot of us who went on to do A Level drama lost our love of the theatre pretty quickly (all of our theatre trips were also vetted after the headmaster found out we’d seen a play which contained a whole three seconds of full frontal nudity and that three of us were 17 at the time). Personally, I’ve not acted since I was 18 and I know many others who feel the same. It is almost as if you get to the stage when feel that there is no point to it when someone can just censor you. From my experiences of censorship I’ve found it to be the most destructive thing you can do to a group of creative students. It also takes an opportunity away from the audience. If they watch something and they don’t like it (or do) then they are at liberty to say so to whomever they wish. By censoring art we are presuming that students don’t need to see the world how it really is but what do we do when something bad happens in their lives? We can’t censor reality so why censor the art that portrays it for us in a way that can help us to make sense of what is going on around us.
    From personal experience I know that art and literature were the only things that helped me when something that would have been censored in my school happened to me in real life.
    x x x

    p.s. I may not act any more but I do write so there is hope for my creative spirit yet :)

  • anthony

    As a kid, I grew more and more disillusioned with school, the world, and life the older I became. It got to the point that I would fantasize about going into school with a gun myself and blowing everyone away. When I hear about a school shooting I don’t experience any level of shock or dismay. I don’t contemplate doing things like that anymore, I’ve made peace with the world and though I still think school (at least in my country) is typically a child-torturing disaster of epic proportions, I am perhaps evolved enough to realise violence isn’t any kind of a solution so much as more of the same problem.

    However, I understand – completely – how the kids who do these things feel, and why they would do what they do. Or if thats not my place to say, then at least I understand why *I* would have done it and it probably bears some resemblance. I will not try to explain any of it in a few sentences. But what I can say, from that point of view of understanding, is that if I was back in time, at school, feeling that way, and someone put on a play on this subject, using my language, and with some fucking level of HONESTY about it, you have NO FUCKING IDEA WHAT POSITIVE IMPACT THAT WOULD HAVE HAD UPON ME.

  • Filterdebri

    I am a visual artist. When I was 16 my mother told me to stop drawing, because I made an image of a huge brain full of junk. It scared her. At that point in time I stopped creating from my own imagination and stopped using colors. I switched to black and white and only made copies of Japanese ink drawing and photographs. Eventually I became a therapist and studied the brain. I never stopped drawing, though. My life was shaped by that act of censorship. Who knows what it would have been like if I was simply encouraged, supported in my art. I hope Emma, like me, will never stopp creating. That will protect her, she will be fine. But the wound inflicted by censorship is very cutting and very deep, it subverts us. I feel for her. Well, Emma, the pain deepens you. Let it not deaden you. Please.

  • CeciTart

    I went to a high school for the visual and performing arts. I got into that high school by doing a monologue from The Diary of Anne Frank. (Do you know that there are people out there that still believe the Holocaust to be a piece of propaganda?) I read the Diary of Anne Frank when I was twelve. It had a profound effect on me. My mother gave me the book, she thought it was an important thing for me to know. She was right. It was hard, and traumatic, and has stuck with me deeply. Just like knowing and experiencing, through art, the hard, traumatic, and deeply touching things like Columbine are to us now. We explore our own lives and our own morals through art. That is the way we have always been and always will be. Just like a little girl hiding from the Nazi’s and finding her creativity through writing, art is always there, censoring it because you are uncomfortable is just wrong.

  • DoeJury

    My brother is a teacher there, and I can tell you, most teenagers have very little to say – maybe 10%. I suppose those 10% are part of the drama club. Seriously, having spoken to anyone born after 1990 is a trying experience.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mpearsonality Mari Pearson

    I am very sorry to say that I went to a high school with the most prosaic, uninspired, insipid drama department EVER.
    In a school FULL of rich-kid cliques, the drama geek clique, where ordinarily a freak like me could gather with fellow freaks and find some solidarity and companionship, was just as snobbish and exclusionary as every other clique in the school (except for our group, which consisted of less than dozen Dungeons & Dragons nerds. :D) What really pissed me off is my best friend, an overweight girl from the poor section of town, ADORED everything drama and performance. She was a very talented actress and had a beautiful, larger-than-life personality and sense of humor. She tried so hard to be friends with the drama snobs, and in return for the gift of her presence, they snubbed her, they insulted her… and they eventually wrote a story about how repulsive she was ending in her being blown up inside a local casino. (But I digress.)
    The teachers (we had 3 drama teachers in the course of my high school career) ranged from overlooking to encouraging this snotty behavior, and of course were responsible for the selection of equally uninspired, insipid plays. We did The Sound of Music. We did Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. We did You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.
    I think the only really interesting play we did was 1984; even the teen-oriented play Love, Death, and the Prom only touched lightly on real-life issues such as suicide and generally played off the teen experience as unimportant.
    I confess I am very disappointed by my high school theater (and even band and choir, but that’s a story for another time) experience, and I’m very jealous of those who had the opportunity to actually express themselves and do something that has relevance to themselves and the community at large, something that does indeed ask the gritty, no-easy-answers questions that art does indeed boldly address. I’m also a little sad at the idea that my school might have had another AFP if she hadn’t been relentlessly ground down by hordes of skinny, blonde, rich idiots.
    HOWever. I am very proud to say that Reno does (did) host a wonderful community theatre scene. Although I’ve always experienced Bruka to be a little elitist, Reno Little Theatre and the now-defunct Gothic Northe theatres were always very welcoming of new talent, very interested in a range of plays and musicals that would challenge as well as entertain the audience, and very much a good environment for aspiring performers and artists of every slant. Aforementioned theatre-loving best friend has told me that the community college also has an excellent drama department (but demands that you pay tuition in order to perform.) Thanks to our general community theatre scene, I was able to experience REAL performance arts, with gritty plays such as When You Coming Back, Red Ryder? and light old-fashioned melodramas such as Curses! Never To Be Foiled Again.
    However, I do agree with AFP that although art in the general community is a good thing (Reno hosts ARTown every summer, which is always rad), things that address teen-specific issues need to be more generally available to teens. We generally did not have a lot of under 18 (or heck, even under 40) audience members– while a high schooler might go attend a school play as a way to hang out with friends, they probably wouldn’t take the initiative to go see a play in a community theatre environment (no matter how much that would delight their moms.)
    Working in community theatre, I obviously had more motivation to go see plays. The different (and artistic) ways in which different views and ideas are expressed have certainly enabled me to appreciate other views (and art!) in a way that my high school was never able to teach me. Instead of less funding and encouragement for high school theater, we need even more!

    • Sapphire_dollface

      I only wish I felt my community theatre programs were as wonderful as that. The only thing I can say for my community theatre is that I am impressed with what these religiously intolerant people allow us to play here. I mean, I live in a city here, but I still feel highly unwelcome as a gay “artist.” Bleh. Lol

    • https://socialcheap.univerhome.com Emilie ferry

      Interesting story thanks ” HOWever. I am very proud to say that Reno does (did) host a wonderful community theatre scene. Althought I’ve always experienced Bruka to be a little elitist, Reno Little Theatre and the now-defunct Gothic Northe theatres were always very welcoming of new talent, very interested in a range of plays and musicals that would challenge as well as entertain the audience, and very much a good environment for aspiring performers and artists of every slant. ” will said

  • Sapphire_dollface

    I live in Wichita, Kansas. I am 21, and consider myself a musician, though I have had a rough time of it as of late. I can’t seem to keep a band together. But anyway, I discovered the Dresden Dolls when I was a high scho0l student. Back then it was the self-titled album that was available, (the A is for Accident was as well but I did not know this until later) Anyway, my ex, (a female, i am female as well, shock, yes?) she was who introduced me, and who the hell knows how she had heard of you guys in our hell of a city (“you are condemned for listening to good music and/or being an individual!!!)
    Anyway, everyone in our high school drama program ended up singing songs by the Dresden Dolls before our shows. The directors had no idea what the hell we were on about, but we all sang, and laughed, and when anyone forgot the words to a song, someone else would pick up where the other left off. It was amazing.
    More relevant to the blog, our drama program FINALLY fucking did a play about Matthew Sheperd, a kid that was killed in Wyoming for being openly gay. This was the most important play to me in my high school career, and meant even more to me since I live in Kansas of all fucking places, I am very gay, and I also have artistic aspirations, so as far society is concerned… i’m just fucked. But hey! This play meant so much to me bc for one I was shocked we were allowed to perform it, and also bc i was in it! (i didn’t stay in it bc of family emergencies… i’ll just say cancer was involved) but i saw it! and i was blown away by the performance. i was happy just to know a midwest city has performed a play ab0ut it at all.

    anyway, that is my best story of my high school theatre class, and luckily it also had a lot to do with my favorite artist/band amanda palmer/the dresden dolls. you have done more for me than you will ever know.

    much love. =)

  • Sparxx

    Good Luck to Emma, I hope she ends up getting the production up and running and performed to the public in the USA.

    If not, we’ll pass the hat around and some how get it performed in Canada or England or Australia ^_^

  • jay

    My experience is not unusual, but I’d like to add it here.

    I was very depressed in high school. My mother had a mental illness and there was pressure at home, my dad had remarried.

    My English teacher was an amazing, open minded woman who encouraged every type of art I produced, even rambling dark stories about suicidal magical maidens.

    I used that as an outlet for emotions I couldn’t always cope with, and English class was the happiest time for me in that period of my life.

    Thank you

  • Mog

    I once read an interesting quote somewhere:

    ‘We spend the first two years of a child’s life teaching them to walk and talk and spend the next sixteen telling them to sit down and shut up.’

    It’s a reflection of how we perceive younger generations – older generations think the youngsters have nothing useful to say because they’re uneducated, boring, shallow, obsessed with useless things…but they were young once as well and their elders probably also thought the same. Each individual is bright, special and interesting in their own way and each young mind needs to be allowed to explore, or we arrest their development. As a child care practitioner, this is always foremost in my mind and it’s very important to me to listen to the stories a child has to tell me, and the questions they have to ask. ‘Why?’ is the most important question anyone can ask, because suddenly they’re learning about themselves and the world around and within them – this is vitally important to toddlers, teenagers and adults alike. We should always ask why, we should always say “yes but…” and the stifling of a message such as this relevant and evocative high school play could not only knock the creative confidence of the young people involved but it could also mute a message that other people need to hear.

    When one person asks why, another one does the same and then another (I’ve experienced the noisy and confusing version of this in a pre school!) and suddenly we might break a cycle of disdain and unfair censorship. Perhaps if the people that say “sit down and shut up” had instead asked “why don’t you want to sit down?” they may have learned something and opened up a new world to themselves.

    In short – and I apologise for the ramble – we should listen to the “why?” and the “how”. No one is more important than anyone else and young minds are wonderfully capable at educating older ones. Degrees, certificates and qualifications are just pieces of paper and by nurturing young creativity and accepting it we can gain something much more important and vital to our own development.

  • http://twitter.com/CaitlinNielsen3 Caitlin Nielsen

    In my senior year of theatre arts in high school, we were asked to team up and write a play. My friend and I wrote a play about a man struggling to find his identity as a hermaphrodite, and when he does and dresses up like a woman to make himself happy, he gets rejected by his wife and co workers. So he gets a sex change to become a full woman. We called it “Hermie.” Granted the play was not to be taken too seriously, but we were told we could not perform this piece because of the content involving a hermaphrodite. It was not suitable for New Bern, North Carolina and our high school.

  • tracie

    As adults, it seems to become increasingly easy as we get older to begin viewing kids/ teenagers/ younger people as “less than” adults. As if their experiences are not as valid or too immature to be taken seriously- like adults have got it all sorted out and kids just need to look to them and follow and trust and not question and everything will be ok. In schools, this can be the influential environment that kids are growing up in. Many (not all ) teachers spend their days just trying to control the crowd and get through the coursework on time so they don’t get grief from the admins above. There’s not much time to go off on a tangent discussion about anything much that’s actually important about how this world, how life or living in it, really is. Any teacher who can manage to subvert the paradigm of “the set curriculum can teach you everything” is a treasure.

    Young people feel the world intensely, something so many adults lose. Young people are trying to make sense of the world in momentous ways (it’s an amazingly momentous place), many adults are too stressed with the grind and issues of daily life and they switch off to the meaning and wonder of it all. It’s very sad. Young people don’t know everything, they’re testing it out, always learning; we should try so hard to understand that and support them. Adults don’t know everything. Textbooks don’t teach us much of anything except facts.

    Art is one of the best ways I know to be able to feel what life is all about- to be able to roam all of its twists and dark, lonely tunnels, to run around barefoot in its summer meadows and dive into the depths of its oceans. When we can experience all of that in a community, be it school or afp’s blog or your front porch, then the results can be life changing.

    We all, especially young people, deserve the opportunity to work through the fear of living in a world that’s often hard to understand. Hiding bad things under the carpet just makes them go live under your bed. If the students at Lexington don’t get to put the play on at school, it’s my sincere hope that they will be able to find the support necessary to stage it somewhere so that they can pursue what’s really important to them and hopefully in finding their own way down that path, they can inspire us to do the same.

  • RiverVox

    I wrote about my experience with high school shows here: http://rivervox.tumblr.com/

    The basic premise is, if we can do Oliver, why not Columbinus?

  • http://marvelousadventures.wordpress.com 13thsongbird

    I feel like this is very late to the party, but I do want to add my two cents:

    I went to an all-girls Catholic high school, but I think we still managed to have an open, if not particularly cutting-edge, theater department. My sophomore year the spring play was Dead Man Walking (which I unfortunately was not involved with; I was in a musical at another nearby school), and not only did the school allow it to be performed, they whole-heartedly embraced the entire issue the play raised. For most of that semester, there were signs up in the hallways with statistics about the death penalty, we talked about it in our classes, and when the play itself was performed, I was blown away. No punches were pulled, as far as I know nothing was cut from the play in an attempt to make it more acceptable to a high school or religious audience, and the result was a play that affected me more deeply than anything I’d ever seen before. We saw a man (the actor was a senior from a local boys school) die of lethal injection onstage, and heard recorded the brutal rape and murder of a teenage girl. The play asked important questions about what is forgivable, and whether redemption is possible in the face of unthinkable crimes, and it made me intensely proud of my school for breaking what I think is a stereotype of religious schools: that they cling to what is safe and wholesome, and have a fear of controversial issues or students being given the opportunity to think for themselves. I attended a school where, while it was understood that a certain belief system was to be presented to us, we had every right not to believe in it as long as we respected that others did. We were encouraged for the most part to do our own thinking, and to be strong women who didn’t blindly follow without understanding why. Maybe this is as much me saying that my high school made me feel welcome and safe and let me explore my identity as much as it is me saying those things about the theater department, but that’s my point – it wasn’t this artsy little part of the school at war with the rest of it; everyone was in it together, and for me at least that made the theater program not so much a haven as a home-place in a larger community where I felt free to be myself.

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