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High School Version Of “Rent”: Can The Principal Cancel The Show?

This week’s big excitement in town was that the principal of my daughter’s high school abruptly cancelled the school’s scheduled play. The theater group was planning a school production of the show “Rent.” Yes, its themes revolve around drug use, AIDS, sexuality and homosexuality. This high school version of the show, however, had already been held in many towns throughout our state and other high schools throughout the country. While this musical may not have been as old fashioned as let’s say, “Oklahoma” or “Fiddler on the Roof,” the topics seemed relevant and not so controversial by today’s standards.

The Controversy Over High School “Rent”

I thought it could be educational and a sounding board for discussion. The school had already purchased the play and plans were well underway for the Spring high school musical. It’s a new principal and perhaps he was afraid of flack from the community. Without warning, he simply unilaterally cancelled the play. My daughter’s friends had already invested a lot of time and work on it. One is the set designer and stage manager and the other friend is the director of the entire theater group. They were shocked and heartbroken, as were many other teens.

They set about collecting signatures for a petition and made a Facebook page appealing to parents and to the community. The local media got wind of it and then the New York Times and other national media outlets. Of course, my husband and I signed the petition and were following this story very closely.

The principal claimed that no one had consulted him about the choice of a play. But the Thespians had never been required to clear the play with the principal. The principal announced that he would think over the matter and make an announcement soon. He said he just didn’t think there was enough time to educate the student body about these topics and to handle it thoughtfully. The mayor suggested that the students put on the play during the summer with the town’s volunteer acting troupe.

Thousands of signatures were collected. People were signing online from all over the country and the world in support of our students’ endeavors to go on with the show. Still, the principal held his ground.

Somehow, between all the social media and perhaps pressure from the mayor, the principal agreed to allow the performance of  “Rent.” Prior to the show dates, the school would hold educational programs on the themes of “Rent.” What a relief. I wonder what would have happened if it weren’t for social media. Such media and attention and public response and involvement keep our leaders on their toes. And I bet our high school’s rendition of “Rent” will have record attendance!

Valerie Newman lives in Connecticut with her husband and two kids. When Valerie started mixing up her kid’s college applications with her mother’s nursing home applications, she knew she was part of the sandwich generation.

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