Monday, March 23, 2009

High School Musical

The story of the Southern California high school whose production of Rent was canceled in February, only to be reinstated a couple of weeks later, is really turning ugly and divisive. Now the ACLU has gotten involved on behalf of a female student who allegedly received rape and death threats from male students.

That's enough to sour a teenage thespian's memory of her high school days for years to come. But as more musicals with potentially controversial content like Hairspray and Spring Awakening become available for high school productions, I'll be interested to see how communities respond to schools wanting to stage these show.

Thinking back to my own senior high musical days, to borrow a phrase from the learned Alex Rodriguez, things were more loosey-goosey back then. When I was a sophomore, my public high school staged the moderately racy Sweet Charity (they're not whores, they're dance-hall hostesses!), and two years later we did Grease (both of which featured moi in small but pivotal roles).

For Grease, we poked holes in the bottom of beer cans and drained them, so that the tops could still be popped during the show. But there were no herbal cigarettes; we used the real thing. (Fortunately, I didn't have to light up.) I still remember the surprised look on my mother's face when I told her that the cigarette were the real thing.

That Rent can cause such controversy in 2009 makes me feel like we were such trailblazers at Allen High School. (And apparently, they still are. A couple of years ago the spring musical was Jekyll & Hyde.) Although we were all public school students, we came from diverse socioeconmic backgrounds and never had a problem coming together as a team. Of course, our musicals didn't have any openly gay characters, and although many gay students were involved in the shows, nobody was particularly out in those days. No matter how much has changed in the last 20 years, where teenagers are concerned, sexual identity, in life or in art, will never be an easy topic.

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