Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Page: 1



Austin, Texas School District Withdraws Support For H.S. production of "Rent"

Patti LuPone FANatic Profile PhotoPatti LuPone FANatic Profile Photo
Patti LuPone FANatic
Broadway Legend
joined:3/4/06
Broadway Legend
joined:
3/4/06
Austin, Texas School District Withdraws Support For H.S. production of

Hello. I read this interesting article in this Saturday's Austin American Statesman. Apparently, a local high school is mounting the first licensed production of the show in Texas. Here's the article and accompanying link. "Don't shoot the messenger." from RC in Austin, Texas

EDUCATION

Austin district cuts off support for 'Rent'
Content prompts officials to halt financial backing, but high school production will go on.
By Laura Heinauer

AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF


Saturday, July 12, 2008

A summer school production of the musical "Rent" will go on, but without $10,000 in assistance from the Austin school district after administrators decided the production might not be well received in all campus communities.

The Austin production is expected to be the first licensed high school production of the musical in Texas, according to a national theater licensing group. The school version of the musical includes scenes involving drug use, HIV, prostitution and homosexuality but is more toned down than the Broadway production.

Students from across the district are involved in the musical, which will be held at McCallum High School in North Austin on Thursday through July 20 — though without all the props, costumes and faculty advisers that were planned before it lost district support.

This was supposed to be the first in a series of annual districtwide summer theater productions for students, district officials said, after a successful trial run last year with "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," a comedy set in ancient Rome in which a slave tries to win his freedom by setting his master up with a courtesan working in the brothel next door. Now, district officials say plans for an annual districtwide production are in jeopardy.

"The revised script for Rent has been reviewed and discussed by upper level administrators in AISD," John May, the district's interim administrative supervisor of fine arts, said in an e-mail sent in May. "Their decision is, that at this time the district cannot support Rent as a district-wide summer musical production. While Rent may be very well received in some campus communities, it is obvious that this is not at all the case in many others. In planning for a district-wide event, all must be taken into account."

May said Friday that he didn't get an official copy of the script, orlibretto, from Music Theatre International until June. That, coupled with concerns over content from several top administrators and certain principals who had seen the original production, prompted him to send the e-mail, May said. He did not say which administrators raised concerns and said he did not ask specifically what content they found objectionable.

"Especially in the very first year of a brand-new program, we thought it was important to produce a show that had a very broad base of appeal to as many segments of the community as possible," May said.

School Board trustee Vincent Torres, who represents district residents living in the area around McCallum, said he plans to look into the issue and try to find a way to compensate the teachers for the time they spent on the production this summer.

The project was allowed to continue with the permission of McCallum Principal Mike Garrison under a rule that campus productions only need approval from the principal.

Most of the faculty members and professional musicians and staff members, however, are now working without pay; two of six faculty advisers have withdrawn from the production. In addition, the $2,090 licensing fee for "Rent" will be taken out of McCallum's fine arts budget.

The original plan, they said, was to do "Cabaret," whose plot revolves around the relationship between a nightclub singer and a gay man set in Berlin during the rise of Nazism. But in January, organizers were contacted by the licensing agency about the possibility of being one of the first schools in the country to do "Rent."

M. Scott Tatum, the technical theater director at McCallum, said he gave May a copy of what he thought would be cut from the original libretto in March and then sent him a draft copy of the script given to him from the licensing company in early April. Meanwhile, auditions were held in February and casting announcements were made in early May.

"Why is 'Rent' inappropriate? No one will say, but we need to know for when we are selecting projects for upcoming years," said Tatum, adding that he thinks the objections are less about the musical's drug use and AIDS — which he said are topics covered in school health classes — than homosexuality.

"This is Austin. We've had a lesbian sheriff and have gay and transsexual people running for office all the time," Tatum said. "It's 2008. To pretend we don't have gay kids or that kids don't face gay issues is just silly."

Denise Manning, a 17-year-old McCallum senior, who plays Joanne, a lesbian, said, "I think this deals with issues that are real, and to deprive us of that seems wrong."

"Rent" has a positive message, said 17-year-old Gabriella Kristina Herrera, an Akins High School senior who plays Mimi, an exotic dancer with a heroine addiction. "Its message is about the mistakes you make and how you have to live with them the rest of your life," Herrera said. "It's amazing how some people don't see the story that way."

J.P. Ponce, a 16-year-old who plays Angel, a gay man who dies of AIDS in the musical, said many cast members were devastated when they found out the musical might be canceled.

"I felt really upset because my second cousin, who has AIDS, was coming to the show and had been really proud of me," said Ponce, a junior at Bowie High School. "Here we were, putting together a show that's all about love and how we should stick together. How is that not right for some communities? How can that not be suitable for everyone?"

May said that he personally doesn't have a problem with "Rent" and said that if it had just been held the year after, to give the district more time to review the libretto, it probably would have not been a problem. Whether the summer theater program will continue next year, he said, is still up in the air.

Ponce said he and the actor playing his character's boyfriend have a statement of their own to make.

"For the kissing scene, we were just going to do it on the forehead," he said. "But for the last night, we're going to do it all out, just to rub it in the district's face."

lheinauer@statesman.com; 445-3694



The Emails


From: John May/AISD

Date: 05/13/2008 03:01PM

Subject: District Sponsored Summer Musical


Theatre Directors,


Over the past week few weeks, the revised script for Rent has been reviewed and discussed by upper level administrators in AISD. Their decision is, that at this time the district cannot support Rent as a district-wide summer musical production. While Rent may be very well received in some campus communities, it is obvious that this is not at all the case in many others. In planning for a district-wide event, all must be taken into account.


After careful consideration, it appears that the best option for a District Sponsored Summer Musical is to suspend production for this year. In light of the fact that a different musical must be selected, there is simply too much to do in the limited time we have left, for us to produce a quality show.


Over the next year I hope to expand discussions, dialog, and brainstorming about this project. Hopefully, we can begin this type of summer musical program for the students of Austin in the near future.


Sincerely,


John May



From: John May/AISD

Date: 05/13/2008 02:47PM

Subject: Summer Musical


Summer Musical Staff,


After careful consideration over the past few days, and with input from some of our directors, it seems that the best option for an All-District Summer Musical is to suspend production for this year. In light of the fact that a different musical must be selected, there is simply too much to do in the limited time we have left, for us to produce a quality show.


Thank you for your willingness to work on the project this year. I hope we can continue our discussions and brainstorming, and begin this type of summer musical program for the students of Austin in the near future.


Sincerely,


John May





The Austin school district's All-City Musical

"Rent" will play from Wednesday to July 20 at The Theatre at McCallum Fine Arts Academy, 5600 Sunshine Drive. For more information on showtimes and tickets, visit www.allcitymusical.com.

Austin, Texas HS

"Noel [Coward] and I were in Paris once. Adjoining rooms, of course. One night, I felt mischievous, so I knocked on Noel's door, and he asked, 'Who is it?' I lowered my voice and said 'Hotel detective. Have you got a gentleman in your room?' He answered, 'Just a minute, I'll ask him.'" (Beatrice Lillie)
Yankeefan007
Broadway Legend
joined:3/20/04
Broadway Legend
joined:
3/20/04
Same thing with RAGTIME.

Doesn't anyone actually do RESEARCH before giving stuff the okay?
Patash Profile PhotoPatash Profile Photo
Patash
Broadway Legend
joined:5/27/08
Broadway Legend
joined:
5/27/08
So what did the idiot officials think Rent was when they approved it -- a documentary about the tribulations of the housing market?
[tos]ser
Swing
joined:12/16/07
Swing
joined:
12/16/07
its not like this sort of thing doesnt happen often. being a student in texas you see this sort of activity a lot. when my school did laramie project in 2005, it wasn't the school board, and most of the community was supportive, but there were a couple businesses that refused to take part in publicity.
KJisgroovy Profile PhotoKJisgroovy Profile Photo
KJisgroovy
Broadway Legend
joined:1/30/04
Broadway Legend
joined:
1/30/04
"Doesn't anyone actually do RESEARCH before giving stuff the okay?"

While this is valid, and mostly I agree with you, an administrator trusts their associates to make the right decision. Usually an administrator hopes the people in charge have made the appropriate decisions, and only get invovled when a controversy is sparked. I'm not saying it is right or wrong... it just isn't as clear cut as all of that.
Jesus saves. I spend.
SporkGoddess
Broadway Legend
joined:7/27/05
Broadway Legend
joined:
7/27/05
Honestly, I'm not sure if RENT is a show that any high school should be doing. It's not the only show about which I feel that way, though.
Jimmy, what are you doing here in the middle of the night? It's almost 9 PM!