What Changes Did Your School Make to Shows So They'd Be Less Controversial?
By RAVEN SNOOK
Tuesday, June 18, 2019  •  
Tue Jun 18, 2019  •  
Geek Out Freak Out  •   10 comments Share This

Whether staff cut swearwords or swastikas, or asked for script rewrites, we want to hear your stories

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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.

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Raven Snook is the Editor of TDF Stages. Follow her at @RavenSnook. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.

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10 Comments:
gary j. moore said:
My Catholic school made cuts to "The Man Who Came To Dinner" because they said it was inferred that a movie star "slept" her way to the top...which was EXACTLY what that character had done!
Posted on 6/22/2019 at 10:46 AM
Frank Guerrasio said:
In the 80s I put together a musical revue in Brooklyn. One of our songs was Sondheim's "I Never Do Anything Twice." I was forced to cut the verse about the religious personnel. But she allowed the other 2 verses !!!
Posted on 6/22/2019 at 1:20 PM
Matt-Elmhurst said:
I'm shocked that the "Rape" song is still in "The Fantasticks." I disapprove of censorship, too, but have long assumed that that song had been replaced years--decades--ago. I just saw "Kiss Me. Kate." They've replaced a tiny bit of Shakespeare's language )I think just one word--"mates" replacing "wives"-- a couple of times. It's way less sexist, and better.
Posted on 6/22/2019 at 1:52 PM
Bobbie Saltzman said:
I don’t like changing shows. Why not just do another? We did a Christopher Durang comedy that had an unsurprising “Fuck you!” or two. Our audience is fickle. To avoid grumbles and capitalize on a laugh, the actress and I timed the moment(s). Her “Fuck you!” and my (offstage on mic) “Bad word!” were said in perfect harmony.
Posted on 6/22/2019 at 10:05 PM
Kerri said:
I was a high school director and I tried not to make changes because it violates the contract we made with the author - his words or no show. But after opening night of Grease we were forced to change Rizzo’s “Fongul” to “Pasta Fazul”.
Posted on 6/23/2019 at 7:36 AM
MJ said:
I work at a culturally diverse title 1 Middle School. 1:My drama club did Little Shop of Horrors, and we chose to change the drug use (laughing gas), the excessive inappropriate language ("Do you think I give a--" "Hey watch your mouth, Twoie!), the death scene of the dentist (motorcycle accident) and even the ending! 2: this year I chose not to have minority students run around in monkey costumes
Posted on 6/24/2019 at 8:58 AM
Laurie said:
When my class presented a scene from West Side Story for the annual one act competition at my all-girl Catholic high school the school principal made us change the final lyrics of "Gee, Officer Krupke" from "Krup you" (apparently way too offensive) to "you're through."
Posted on 6/24/2019 at 11:23 AM
Nena Colligan said:
At our Middle School shows they changed the Swastikas in The Sound of Music to +. This is shameful re-writing history. Who are we protecting by doing this!! And in Annie Get Your Gun - year’s who we took plastic guns with the orange tips and painted the tips black. Last time we were only allowed cardboard cut outs.
Posted on 6/30/2019 at 10:35 AM
Odell Chism said:
We did Grease in High School and “we” cleaned the whole script. We used what they used a lot from the film like “I feel a defective typewriter...I missed my period.” But we also had Rizzo say “What do you think this is a Shriner’s convention.” And when Rizzo finds out she’s not pregnant she says “Let’s go to the drugs store” then they look at the audience and say “For an ice cream soda!”
Posted on 7/1/2019 at 5:49 PM
Karen Thomas Serecka said:
I believe it was 1968 or 1969, I was in East Orange High School ( New Jersey). Our art teacher received approval to go see Hair.After the permission slips were signed & Tickets purchased the school decided we couldn't go (due to the nude scenes).So our teacher gave us our tickets and we could go on our own & he would be there.My mother (was a forward thinker (LOL)) & allowed me to go. Fond memory
Posted on 7/8/2019 at 9:44 PM
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