High school drama departments across the country are facing a new hurdle: objections from parents and school officials over LGBTQ content in school plays. The New York Times reports that the political climate and social media have heightened scrutiny on high school theater, making it harder for drama teachers to navigate the landscape.
Conservative objections to homosexuality in productions like “The Prom” and “Almost, Maine” has sparked debates, while concerns about race depictions in shows like “South Pacific” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” and gender portrayals in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” “Bye Bye Birdie,” and “Grease” have added fuel to the fire.
Stevie Ray Dallimore, a theater program director at a private faith-based boys’ school in Chattanooga, Tennessee, reveals that three plays were rejected due to gay characters, cross-dressing, and adultery themes. Dallimore sees this pushback as part of a larger censorship effort that combines politics and religion, ultimately villainizing otherness and erasing history.
The report links this phenomenon to an increase in book bans, state laws regarding Critical Race Theory and sexual content in schools, and restrictions on gender reassignment treatments for minors. Teachers lament that plays that were once acceptable are now deemed controversial in certain regions of the country.
A playwright with thirty years of experience working with high school students shares that he had to refuse a Florida high school’s request to remove a gay couple from his play. Stephen Gregg emphasizes that this sends a terrible message to LGBTQ students in the theater program.
According to a survey by the Educational Theater Association, 67 percent of drama teachers say that censorship concerns influence their choice of titles. There is a growing fear among teachers that suggesting the “wrong” play could lead to job loss or funding cuts, regardless of the state’s political leaning.
Ralph Sevush, the executive director of business affairs at the Dramatists Guild of America, warns that a polarized society is fighting out the culture wars in high schools. People are losing their jobs for selecting the “wrong” musical, highlighting the challenges faced by drama teachers.
A recent report from PEN America revealed that nearly 1,500 books were banned in the first half of the 2022-2023 school year, shedding light on the broader issue of censorship in educational settings. Advocates against censorship argue that students should have exposure to a wide range of work, including controversial content.
As the battle over school plays rages on, it is crucial to consider the importance of artistic expression and the impact it has on students. Should controversial content be shielded from high school theater, or should students have the opportunity to engage with diverse perspectives? Join the conversation and share your thoughts on this contentious issue.