Local Report: South Williamsport High School Cancels SPAMALOT, Cites 'Inappropriate' Content
The South Williamsport, Pennsylvania combined junior and senior high school in Lycoming County is currently the source of some theatrical and artistic debate as the principal has seen fit to cancel the school's planned spring musical because of its alleged controversial content.
As reported by WNEP-16, school administrators directed the drama department chair, Dawn Burch, to choose a show other than Monty Python's SPAMALOT as the spring musical. Past shows have included PIPPIN and BYE BYE, BIRDIE according to the South Williamsport Junior/Senior High School webpage at http://www.mounties.k12.pa.us/domain/63. Administrators based the decision on fear of "inappropriate content."
SPAMALOT has been performed at many high schools nationally, frequently with edited content, and many bootleg clips of school performances have been posted on the Internet at various times with the editing evident in them.
Reportedly, the allegedly controversial content includes the same-sex wedding of Lancelot and Prince Herbert. A federal district court in Pennsylvania legalized same-sex marriage on May 20, 2014, and Governor Tom Corbett immediately announced that the commonwealth would not appeal the decision.
Members of the Williamsport area arts community have protested the school's decision to drop the musical, calling the decision "insensitive" and harmful to children in the area. Students interviewed by WNEP claimed awareness of LGBT students and friends living in the vicinity. The school district stated that the play would have had to be edited - which, as noted, is a common action by schools that perform SPAMALOT at the high school level not only because of gay themes but because of other sexual themes and language.
The district superintendent, speaking on the matter, has claimed that he wants shows there to be "appropriate" for student performers and for audiences. However, PIPPIN, performed in 2012, has themes including patricide and revolution, while 2014's HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING perpetuates 1960's sexist stereotypes of women, and URINETOWN, which covers government and corporate greed and which refers to scatological topics, was performed in 2010. In recent years the school has also produced NUNSENSE and LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. Local residents have questioned the level of controversy or "inappropriate" content that SPAMALOT contains against some of these prior productions.
A news report that the school's principal, Jesse Smith, sent Burch an e-mail that there was no homosexuality in South Williamsport has been denied by the school administration.
The school's website is located at http://www.mounties.k12.pa.us/domain/65. There is no mention of a student gay-straight alliance or of LGBT safe spaces or classrooms. The guidance office has a program listed for students perceived as being "at risk" but does not identify LGBT students as a possible at-risk category for suicide or bullying victimization. The bulk of LGBT community resources near Williamsport/South Williamsport, including teen support groups, are actually located in the Harrisburg and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre areas.
No decision has yet been made as to what "appropriate" musical will be substituted for an edited version of SPAMALOT.
Photo credit: WNEP-16 News