Prince Gomolvilas

He Said the Principal Banned Rent; She Said "Did Not!"

Filed By Prince Gomolvilas | February 14, 2009 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Media
Tags: Jonathan Larson, musical, Nick and Norah's Infinitie Playlist, Orange County, Rent

When I saw Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist on DVD last night, I finally realized why it deservedly received a nomination for Outstanding Film by the 20th Annual GLAAD Media Awards - a nomination that I didn't quite understand when I first read about it.

While the central plot revolves around the budding romance between a teenage boy and girl, three of the movie's six heroes are gay. What's quietly groundbreaking about it all is that these characters' homosexuality is treated matter-of-factly. They are not the butt of jokes (as gays often are in teen comedies); they do not play into stereotypes (two of the queer boys are in a punk band); and they blend into the tapestry of the film with little fanfare. Since there's a lack of angst-ridden attention paid to their sexual orientation, being gay takes on a sort of normalcy. It's like the movie is saying, "Hey, look, it's the 21st century, this is the way things are." For a mainstream movie that was marketed to the masses in blue and red states, that's somewhat of a bold assertion.

It's no secret that younger generations are more accepting of homosexuality than older ones. It's a sign of the times, and the times they are a-changin'. You get the feeling that gay teens would be able to live easier lives if adults would just get out of the damn way. So it's a bit disheartening to hear about the alleged discrimination going on at a high school in Newport Beach, California.

In 2008, a modified version of Jonathan Larson's Broadway phenomenon, Rent, was made available to high schools. The "School Edition" toned down or removed the musical's more risque moments and musical numbers, while retaining its groundbreaking (for Broadway) array of characters: bohemian artists, drug addicts, gays, lesbians, drag queens, the homeless, and persons with AIDS.

While many schools are already taking advantage of Rent's newly available rights (look at the list of upcoming productions), there's trouble brewing at Corona del Mar High School in California's highly conservative Orange County.

Plans to mount the production were scrapped there because, according to drama teacher Ron Martin, the school's principal "told me that she would not let it proceed because of the homosexuality in it."

But according to the Orange County Register:

[Principal Fal] Asrani said the accusations were entirely inaccurate, and that drama teacher Ron Martin canceled the production after she asked to review the script for objectionable material, a common practice at schools....

Asrani said she would not scrap a musical simply because it contained gay characters. "I am surprised by all these (rumors) flying around," she said.

Gay and lesbian students "get the same respect (as) anybody else, and that would be the same (for characters) in a play," Asrani said.

Martin, however, stands by his version of the events.

Queerty broke the story earlier, after Corona del Mar High alumni received an e-mail from a current student. Here's that e-mail in its entirety:

Hello everyone,

Today, most of the cast of RENT was informed that our show was cancelled. Even though we had yet to begin rehearsals, we were justifiably shocked and demanded to know what the reason behind this was. In the past, there have been minor complaints here and there about the content of some of our shows; though Mr. Martin, our director, is very conscientious about the limits of free expression in a school setting, we inevitably catch some parents off-guard with occasional profanity or sexual innuendos. However, the reason for the cancellation of RENT is much more disturbing.

Mrs. Asrani (the principal) is firmly against the portrayal of homosexual characters in RENT, despite the fact that all displays of affection have already been edited out of our script. Of course, a gay couple kissing on stage should not be inherently more offensive than a straight couple kissing, but that's beside the point (sort of). The fact that the administration would not even allow a positive PORTRAYAL of these gay characters, whose romantic tendencies have already been neutered in Musical Theater International's "RENT: School Edition", is appalling.

You do not need to be a fan of RENT, a member of the Drama Department, or a homosexual person to take offense to this blatant form of discrimination. Of course, there is much more disturbing content in RENT, which we would have been happy to omit if the School Edition did not do so already, but it was readily apparent that gay characters were strictly taboo. This is not the first time this has come up: the administration reacted with outrage to a monologue from our last musical, "No Reservations", that sympathetically portrayed a gay character. Though there was nothing remotely offensive about the monologue, they were clearly not okay with it, and that is what led them to take action and prevent us from producing what was sure to be a great spring musical.

If you are at all disturbed, offended, or shocked by what our administration has communicated to us, I urge you not to dismiss what has just happened. Our administration has sent out a very clear message that they think homosexuality is wrong and its portrayal onstage is harmful or objectionable in some way. Instead of focusing on the life-affirming, empowering message of RENT, they approached the work with narrow-mindededness and rejected it BEFORE THEY EVEN READ THE SCRIPT.

Do not sit by and allow things like this to keep happening. Our school prides itself on its association with humanitarian organizations and its label as a "No Place For Hate School", but those distinctions feel incredibly hollow to me now. Though the Drama Department has already began the process of selecting a new spring musical, we plan to take action to defend our rights of free speech and express our concerns.

The number for the ACLU's (American Civil Liberties Union) Southern California division is (213) 977-9500. I plan on calling tomorrow. To me, this is about much more than our spring musical; it is about a principle. I would hate to leave CdM knowing that I did nothing to prevent, in some way, a form of discrimination that was encouraged within our own school.

It would be best if the angry parent phone calls and emails to CdM were kept to a bare minimum for the time being. Focus your energy, if you have any desire to, on contacting the ACLU. They are experienced in these matters, and there is a correct way to do this. For anyone who is interested, I would love to keep you posted on any updates I get through my communication with them and with my drama director.

Thanks so much for reading through this rather lengthy letter...it's not easy for me to be concise on a subject like this.

Well, it's obvious that somebody is lying. I will reserve judgment until the truth is confirmed.

But you don't have to. What say you?

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Why would the teacher cancel the musical because the principal asked to review the script? That makes no sense.

lacy panties | February 14, 2009 8:02 PM

I think it's offensive that whoever owns the rights to Rent would authorize a bowdlerized version of the play in the first place. The notion that tolerance of any censorship whatsoever doesn't demonstrate much respect for Larson's artistic vision, but the idea that you'd specifically remove depictions of gay sexuality is really offensive.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | February 14, 2009 9:54 PM

Literally weeks before leaving the states I attended a play called "The Laramie Project" outlining the aftermath of feelings/emotions in the case of Matthew Shephard.

It had been chosen as the Senior Class Play in Lakeland Florida's high school and was not permitted to proceed by the school's principal. They raised money, friends donated, City Hall in Lakeland Florida made another publicly owned venue available and the night for the 1000 people in attendance was magic. The publicity in the newspaper brought audiences and activists from Orlando and Tampa to little Lakeland Florida.

They had just had a Gay murder in Lakeland months before and in the name of the victim my great friend had underwritten a substantial part of the production. The cast answered Q&A from the audience following and the Straight and Gay cast members answered in ways that bespoke so much courage, overcoming obstacles, creating changing attitudes at grass root levels, inventing a tapestry of the human desire to live free from fear.

Thank you Prince, by far your best.

The principal just doesn't want to be tarred with the anti-gay brush in Cali right now, because us militant queers might be protesting her school next. She didn't think that her reason wouldn't stay in-house, and now that it hasn't she's hastily backtracking and making up some utterly ridiculous cover story. Power to the students.

Stuart Jordan | February 16, 2009 3:26 PM

This principal lies to cover her ass. This is well known among the teachers, students and parents who have worked with her.

When there's been no history of discrimination or anything else from the principal, and there's been a history of stupid actions from the drama teacher, I know who to trust in this situation.

Stuart Jordan | February 17, 2009 3:51 AM

It's true that the drama teacher is volatile, but if you think that the principal has no history of "anything else" then you haven't spent much time at the school. Not so long ago she denied firing the football coach, saying instead that he resigned. He contacted the local papers to make it clear that that was not the case.

It amazes me, that with all the things that are in rent, that the homosexuality would be the stickler.