They’re Not Going To Pla–ay–ay This Year’s “Rent”

Ken AshfordSex/Morality/Family Values, TheatreLeave a Comment

The principal at a high school in California said "no" and shut down the drama club's production of Rent.  Mind you, this was the "school edition" of Rent, a cleaned-up version created by the show's producers with Jonathan Larson's estate.  Rent: School Edition cuts some of the harsher language and takes out "Contact" (the orgiistic sex number), but that wasn't good enough for Corona del Mar High School's principal.  She had issues with the fact that the musical contained teh gay:

Drama students at Corona del Mar High School were excited to push the envelope with a spring production of the Bohemian love story "Rent."

But the drama teacher at the Newport Beach school says the principal told him to cancel the show because she disapproved of the gay characters in the musical.

Fal Asrani, the school's principal, disputes that she pulled the plug on the production, saying that she only asked to review the script, according to district officials.


Ron Martin said he chose "Rent," the story of artists struggling in New York City, for the spring musical because he hoped it would be a vehicle for teaching tolerance after overhearing students using homosexual slurs.

"My responsibility as a drama teacher is to expose my students to a variety of different types of plays," Martin said. At a recent meeting with Martin and a union representative, Asrani shut down the plans for "Rent," saying that she needed to review the script because of "prostitution and homosexuality," Martin said, adding that there is no prostitution in the musical.

Asrani did request a script, a common practice in the school district, but was not provided one, said Newport-Mesa Unified School District spokeswoman Laura Boss. The principal has discretion over anything that occurs on campus, but she "emphatically denies" canceling the show, Boss said; that call was made by the drama teacher.

"We feel confident at the role the principal played," Boss said, adding that district officials will follow up on the matter when students and staff return next week from a break.

Asrani "gets to the bottom" of things, said Dana Black, president of the Newport-Mesa Board of Education. The district, Black says, does not shy away from edgy subject matter, but, "we don't want anybody feeling alienated."

And it makes sense for a principal to review potentially sensitive material, Black said. "I'm just kind of surprised, to be honest with you, that there was any controversy."

Asrani did not return calls seeking comment; Martin stands by his account of the meeting.

Martin said that in the five years he's worked at the school, Asrani had never asked to review a script before a production. The teacher had already discussed the abridged school edition of "Rent" — which cuts out same-sex contact — with actors' parents and says none had a problem with the material. And previous shows such as "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" portrayed adult themes without raising administrators' eyebrows.

A parent complaint about this winter's production of "No Reservations," which included light profanity, a kissing scene and a gay character's monologue, prompted Asrani to attempt — unsuccessfully — to edit the show after it had opened, according to Martin and students in the department.

Upon hearing the news that their spring musical was canned, drama students, about 20 of whom had already been cast for roles in "Rent," were flabbergasted.

"We've all been angry," said Tim Dyess, 17, president of the Drama Club. "The reason why it got canceled was completely ridiculous."

He and other students have plans to distribute fliers and buttons and post videos criticizing what they view as a discriminatory move. Some have called the American Civil Liberties Union.

This isn't the first time a high school's production of Rent has been cancelled because of the content.

Anyway, now the drama club at Corona del Mar High School is stuck doing You're A Good Man Charlie Brown for its spring musical.  School officials are looking into the possibility that Peppermint Patty is a lesbian.