Friday, March 7, 2008

Students Say No to Censorship

This was originally posted on Portland Dramaturgy Cabal

There was a story in the news this week about a middle school theatrical production which was the target of censorship just before their opening last month. The students refused to succumb to the request to edit the play to make it more acceptable to the administration and will, instead, be performed this weekend in downtown Portland.

I support theater as a great avenue for social change and learning about the wider world - but this process of standing up for what they believe in and having their teacher support them in their quest to do this production is invaluable. The students did not give up nor give in. They held on to their principles and believed in their ability to follow through and present the production they worked hard to prepare. And they had continued support from a teacher who believed in them, as well.

The cliche about "children are our future" is true, whether we like the phrase or not. This story of determination and commitment to speak a truth through theater does give me hope: theater is alive and kicking and these young students did not let themselves be bullied into backing down. If theater can't talk about all aspects of life, then it loses its power. These young students already know the power of theater and didn't take "no" for an answer. I say, good for them!

Here is the story from KATU, followed by a response from local actor and former school district drama teacher, Wade Willis.

"Controversial School Play Will go on After All"

PORTLAND, Ore. - A middle school play that turned out to be a little too racy and was canceled by the school's principal will now be performed at a venue in downtown Portland instead.

The students at Sherwood Middle School were set to perform the play on Feb. 21 at the school when the principal canceled it at the last minute and asked that they make it a little tamer.

This spurred up hot discussion between parents and students.

"They're thinking we're just immature brats who can't take this kind of thing," said student Freddie Grant.
"The subject matter is too mature for the ages of these children," said Missy Wetzker, a concerned parent.

The play, called 'Higher Ground,' deals with bullying, race issues, body image and sexuality. Students rejected the proposal to rewrite the script.

The play will now be performed on Sunday [3/9/08] at 2 p.m. in Brunish Hall at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts and students will be accepting donations at the door to help with the production costs.

The response from Wade on pdxbackstage:

What we greatly lack in our public school systems is educating character; what it means to be human. What a great lesson the students have just learned about their own strength of character. And I am sure they recognize just how very small minded and uncourageous the administration was/is by banning this piece, not standing up for the students, rolling over because of a couple of loud parents, and making the drama teacher a scapegoat for their own lack of leadership abilities.

What a great lessons this drama teacher has given her students. She has given them the choice to do what they are told even if they don't agree with it, OR to stand up for the integrity of the piece and themselves and to make the statement: "We are ready for this kind of material. In fact we wrote it because we think we need it!"

It truly deserves as much support as we as a community can rally.

Wade Willis


  1. I have my writing group, which conflicts with the play. But I will be sending a donation to help with costs. And I have sent this out to a lot of people. Who knows, I may change my mind tomorrow and be late for the writing group!