Update: Industry Professionals Speak Out Against South Williamsport High School's Cancelled SPAMALOT
As BroadwayWorld reported earlier this Summer. South Williamsport, a high school in Lycoming County, PA, had been forced to cancel their spring production of Monty Python's Spamalot due to "controversial content," which includes a homosexual marriage. According to WNEP, the school administrators thought that the musical's subject matter was too inappropriate for students.
Since then, emails have been revealed uncovering the nature of the conversation between school Principal Jesse Smith and Superintendent Dr. Mark Stamm, according to a blog by industry professional Howard Sherman. After seeking access to their correspondence through Pennsylvania's 'Right to Know Law,' Sherman received further information again referring to the show's 'homosexual themes' as the reason for the show's cancelation.
The story has now gained the attention of several concerned citizens- one of which being Dane Rooney of Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. Rooney, a high school drama teacher, shared the story of his school's productions of Spamalot and The Producers, both of which have 'homosexual themes.' He wites:
As an educator, it is my duty and an honor to provide my students with everything they need to succeed. It is my job to ensure the safety of my students, and that means creating an environment free of judgment, prejudice, and hate. This story of how the SV Drama Club includes gay characters is one that I'm proud of, but the fact of the matter is, it never needed to be explained or justified over a year ago when we produced it. I am happy to share our story if it means that a high school may stop and think about the harm they are doing upon their community and student body if they decide to exclude a show based on the show's inclusion of gay characters.
The fact is this: Spamalot is a perfect show for any high school, and if you're lucky, it will have an astounding effect on your students, community and organization as it did at Shenandoah Valley High School.
Mark Shenton of The Stage has also spoken up against the censorship, paralleling the situation to government regulations of theatre in the England of years past. He writes:
During the dark days of the Lord Chamberlain's Office, which controlled British theatrical output between the years of 1824 and 1968, all new plays were read for "unfavourable or corrupting" content, so that "vulnerable" audiences might be protected. This included plays depicting homosexuality, which until 1967 was illegal in the UK (at least in its male variety - legend has it that Queen Victoria insisted that ladies didn't do such things).
America, the "land of the free", has had a rocky history with anti-homosexuality law, too. But homosexuality has been legal in all states of the union for over a decade, 19 states offer same-sex marriage recognised by the federal government and 21 states ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. So, it was astonishing to read, in these relatively enlightened times, a dispatch from my New York-based colleague Howard Sherman.