If you haven’t yet heard about the heated conflict brewing between the Dramatists Guild of America and the South Williamsport Junior Senior High School of Pennsylvania, please, drop whatever you’re doing (including reading this blog post), and read THIS.
THE ESSENCE OF THE PROBLEM: A high school cancels a production of Spamalot due to fear of controversy over homosexual themes AND in order to avoid putting students in a “tough spot.”
I know, Jimmy. WHERE do I even begin?!
First of all, I want to give the largest kudos possible to Steven Schwartz and the Dramatists Guild of America for writing this incredible letter to the principal of said high school. Acerbic? YES. Witty? As all hell! Necessary? Without a doubt! But expected? In my mind, not so much. When you think of all of the theatrical school productions put on across American every year, one might not imagine that the big guys up top would give much thought or attention to any particular production at any particular high school. But apparently, they DO. And I have to say, it makes me very proud to be part of an artistic community that cares enough to champion for the little guys.
My favorite thing about this letter, however, is not just that it is one of the most intelligent “bitch slaps” that I’ve had the pleasure to read, but that it focuses its argument on a fundamental (but often overlooked) PURPOSE of educational theatre: the theatre as a playground, laboratory, forum etc.
Schwartz says it best in his letter: “While the arts may sometimes inspire us and support our social institutions, they may also unsettle and challenge us and make us question our values and assumptions. It must never be considered dangerous to encourage people to think.” […] “The best theater, […] has always been provocative, challenging, and unsettling. That is part of what theater, art, and education are for.”
And so I have to ask … WHY are we still coddling the bright young minds of this country with such absurd censorship? Why do we think we can ask these youths to decide their career paths at 18, but NOT ask them to explore and develop their own opinions on challenging, important, and relevant issues? What is this impulse to smooth away all wrinkles and tensions? To make their daily existence as easy and contradiction free as possible? What the hell are we hoping to teach them, and what the hell are we hoping they’ll learn? Who decided that it’s a good idea to teach the next generation of thinkers to STOP thinking for themselves?!
I, of course, have my own opinions and answers to these questions. But the fact of the matter is, the answers are far less important than the questions themselves. Take a hint from the Dramatists Guild, and point your finger, loud and proud, at the tensions around you. Dig deep, discuss, and discover. I challenge you: please keep asking the tough questions, and challenge those around you to do the same.
And if you find yourself stuck with a particularly challenging contradiction … I’d suggest giving some thought to the very wise words of Morgan Jenness: “How do you deal with contradiction? You become an ocean large enough to hold BOTH of them.”