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Whether staff cut swearwords or swastikas, or asked for script rewrites, we want to hear your stories
Last fall, when I read that the principal of Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and the Performing Arts demanded that swastikas be scrapped from a student production of The Sound of Music, I was reminded of my own experience with school theatre censorship. At my high school, we put on a production of Working, a revue exploring blue-collar professions. I was supposed to play the prostitute, but the dean deemed that too risqué. So my character became a drug addict. No, that's not a job, plus I don't see how that was a "safer" choice. But these are the kind of crazy changes that happen when school administrators worry about upsetting parents, because the complaints rarely come from the students or teachers. In fact at LaGuardia, the high schoolers pushed back against the principal's edict and won, sort of. Swastikas did appear in the show, though their presence was greatly reduced.
This got me wondering what other edits and adjustments my fellow theatre club kids experienced at their schools. So I asked on Facebook and got some great responses, which I've shared below. Even though many of these anecdotes are amusing, censorship on stage is no laughing matter. For further reading, I highly recommend Howard Sherman's Arts Integrity Initiative blog, which chronicles incidents and offers support to theatre-makers who are fighting for their art.
"I went to a private Christian school, and we weren't allowed to kill anyone in our shows. So when we did Oliver!, Nancy just 'ran away scared.'" -- Suzy
"I did Guys and Dolls, but during 'If I Were a Bell,' the director added dialogue that made Sarah 'tired' rather than drunk." -- Chris
"We did The Fantasticks. Changed rape to scrape." -- Alex
"In high school on Long Island, we did Hair. In the song 'Three-Five-Zero-Zero' instead of singing: 'Prisoners in N***ertown, it's a dirty little war,' the director changed it to: 'Prisoners in Levittown, it's a dirty little war.' That was the next town over. They never had a war there." -- Peter
"We did A Chorus Line and they had us do monologues about babysitting!" -- Bambi
"My former partner told me about a high school production of A Chorus Line where they changed 'tits and ass' to 'this and that.'" -- Raymond
"We did The Me Nobody Knows with a mostly white cast. The director changed 'Black is our color and we're gonna be free,' to 'Crack is our drug...'" -- Roseanne
We did Cabaret in high school (in Iowa!) complete with swastikas and poor Sally leaving her fur coat at the 'doctor's office,' but changed the lyrics 'we're living together and having a marvelous time' to 'we're living as neighbors and having a marvelous time.'" -- Joni
"My junior year of high school we did South Pacific. We always changed a few words here and there for 'appropriateness,' so I don't really remember those. But we were running too long and the director had to cut a song. He chose 'You've Got to Be Carefully Taught.' You know, the one song in the show that criticizes racism." -- Katya
"I worked with a director who'd been employed by Baylor, the Texas Baptist College, whose opera department produced Samson et Dalila. Southern Baptists know it's a sin to dance, so during the famous Bacchanale ballet he was only able to put gymnasts on stage, and it was billed as 'coordinated movement.'" -- Michael
Did your school make changes to a show you were in? Share your story in the comments.
Raven Snook is the Editor of TDF Stages. Follow her at @RavenSnook. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.
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