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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