Open Forum

Script Approval in Your District?

  • 1.  Script Approval in Your District?

    Posted 03-30-2019 07:55
    Today, this is a headline on "Waynesboro School Board Votes to Give Superintendent Authority to Review High School Productions (see link below).  I'm surprised that this is unusual (or the theater world thinks so).  I would like to know if your school requires approval on any level (Principal, Superintendent, School Board).

    Janet Cain
    Cincinnati OH

  • 2.  RE: Script Approval in Your District?

    Posted 03-31-2019 06:34
    I submit the scripts/show titles to my principal for approval. I also provide a synopsis of the show.
    By doing this I don't need to worry about repercussions later from the community should we produce a controversial piece.

    David Springstead
    School Security Officer
    Drama Advisor/Thespian Sponsor
    Virginia Beach VA

  • 3.  RE: Script Approval in Your District?

    Posted 04-01-2019 06:36
    When I worked for my first Drama Coach position-was considered suburban at that time but would probably be classified urban at this time (I was there 1991-93), I had my script not only read, but I was handed a sheet of page by page "you can't say this, you can't say that." Since I also had no control over the account, I can't say if they contacted the publisher to make said changes or not. They ordered the scripts, I made the changes (though the company and I all thought they were ignorant changes).

    The current district I'm in is suburban and I'm the one-person Drama Director. I don't ask for approval, if I want to make changes/feel they are necessary, I contact the publisher and ask (it's a profanity issue for me but once I did ask about a content change and several times about changing the gender of characters).

    When we did Spelling Bee, I did approach my principal about the "Unfortunate" song and we talked at length about it. Due to another situation in my district (transgender bathrooms), he told me "I just can't have another phone call about penises" so I decided to give him a break and go with "Unfortunate Distraction."

    This year, new principal and a new super, but I'm not asking, I'm just plugging along.

    Irene Imboden
    Teacher/ Drama Director
    Troy City Schools

  • 4.  RE: Script Approval in Your District?

    Posted 04-01-2019 14:27
    I just retired after teaching high school theatre in California for 40 years. I taught in three different counties, and worked for some pretty conservative school boards and principals. For most of those four decades, I directed/produced between 4-7 plays a year. I did new plays, classic plays, musicals, world premieres, student-written plays. I pretty much did whatever play I wanted to do.
    In all that time, I was NEVER asked or expected to submit scripts or titles for approval prior to producing them.
    I once asked my principal about this. His response: "Why would I want to read the plays before you do them? I don't have time for that. You're the professional theatre guy. You know how to choose plays without my input."

    Billy Houck
    Theatre Teacher, Retired
    Carmichael, CA

  • 5.  RE: Script Approval in Your District?

    Posted 03-31-2019 10:22

    I have both personal and research-based experience on this topic.

    On the personal front, when I taught at an urban middle school in the Southwest, my principal perused- not read- my selections for one year (the first year of the program), and then never asked again.  Her belief was that after we did a full slate of shows for one year, we would have the wider community's support and- aside from the few people who would always want to complain about something- we would never have any issues. She was an outstanding judge of our community, and her input was solid. We had no issues with show selection at all. 

    When I was contracted as an after-school director for a rural district in the Midwest, everything was scrutinized. There were definite boundaries in the shows I could produce, and administrators read scripts before shows were announced.

    About 10 years ago, I built a research model to address questions around show selection processes in secondary schools. After piloting a survey about individual thoughts on show selection and school and district level approval processes, I sent the surveys out to every middle and high school in one Midwestern state. About 44% of the surveys were returned (generally, researchers look for a return of about 30% to consider the results valid) and of those, a good number said they would be happy to discuss the topic further via email or phone.  A LOT of school directors wanted to talk about this.

    Some of my findings for this ONE STATE were:

    In schools that taught theatre/drama and had a dedicated teacher/director, rural and suburban schools were most likely to have a protocol for show approval, though well-established suburban programs reported more flexibility in the type of content they were allowed to produce under their protocols. Urban programs seemed to have less oversight, but proportionally, fewer urban schools taught theatre and produced shows than their suburban and rural counterparts. The exception to the dearth of urban schools teaching drama were arts magnet schools which reported little no no oversight in show selection processes. When schools in this category (taught theatre and produced shows) had approval processes they varied widely from the teacher only having to submit the names of the shows to the principal to having to submit a full script to an administrative team for a reading before approval and potentially meeting with that committee to discuss the selection. Directors reporting that they could not produce shows after going through the process said that shows were rejected because of: sexual themes, language, or a more general header of 'not meeting community standards.' This phrase was used as a catch-all sorts of content including religious and political themes.

    In schools that contracted a core subject area teacher to direct an after-school show, selection process oversight was lessened. In this category, many directors took on the attitude of preferring to apologize after producing a 'questionable show' than begging permission before the fact (and a few noted that if they got into trouble with a show, they were losing an after school program stipend, not their job.) Rural schools were most likely to have this structure and often only produced one show per year.  There was also high personnel turnover in this category. While a few schools had a teacher who held the position year after year, more reported a teacher having the position for a year or two and then passing it on to someone else. 

    Schools that contracted their direction out to non-school personnel were more likely to have approval protocols- possibly because of a lack of trust with the contractors, especially in their first years of service to a school or district. In these cases administrators reading plays for approval was most common, and directors reported that they often, of their own accord, would go to administrators with approval questions even if there wasn't a hard-and-fast approval process. A note here:  Because finding the directors to survey in this type of situation was more difficult t (personnel is more transient), there were fewer respondents overall. The data is likely less accurate. 

    What really stood out beyond the above summations was that, as directors, we tend to (and admit to) doing a lot of self-censoring in our show selection process whether or not there was a school or district protocol in place. There were many comments about how we look at 'community standards'- and sometimes in ways that may not be overly beneficial. Many lamented that there were shows that would be good for their kids' development or that they simply wanted to stage that they would pull out of the running because they feared community response (and not in terms of ticket sales- it was in terms of content backlash).  In some cases, the self-censorship based on content occurred even before more generic considerations (cast size, gender breakdowns, production space, ability level, etc.) One teacher even comment that she wouldn't consider certain shows because she knew her principal didn't like them. 

    Again, this just covered one state in a particular geographic area. It is also over 10 years old at this point. It would be interesting to do this again in the current political climate- and since there have been a few high profile cases where teachers have very publicly been dismissed for doing shows that were- later- deemed to be outside the bounds of community mores.  

    Sorry for the long post.

    Suzanne Katz
    Washington DC

  • 6.  RE: Script Approval in Your District?

    Posted 03-31-2019 21:46
    I would love to see this type of study repeated.

    Janet Cain
    Cincinnati OH

  • 7.  RE: Script Approval in Your District?

    Posted 04-01-2019 09:23
    Script approval is not required by my (public) school or my school district.  My troupe co-director and I do "self-censor" to a certain degree, knowing what kinds of things might provoke issues in our conservative-leaning community, and generally avoiding scripts that we know might cause problems.  When we're unsure, we'll submit a script to our principal for his or her opinion.  In a very few rare instances, a principal (or, in one case, a district administrator) told us that we could not produce certain plays, even when we had not submitted scripts for an opinion, and hadn't thought that there would be issues with those scripts.

    Jeff Grove
    Theatre Teacher, Aesthetics Department Chair
    Stanton College Preparatory School
    Jacksonville FL

  • 8.  RE: Script Approval in Your District?

    Posted 04-01-2019 11:59
    This is an issue we are actively dealing with in my district currently, due to one community member complaint over the minimal amount of language in Disney's "Newsies".  As this is actively going on, and has not been resolved, I don't feel comfortable talking about it publicly, but am happy to have anyone contact me directly if you would like information about our situation.

    Amy Neal Bussey
    Theatre Director, English and Drama Teacher
    Stuarts Draft High School
    Stuarts Draft, Virginia

  • 9.  RE: Script Approval in Your District?

    Posted 04-01-2019 12:23
    I have to have my scripts approved by admin for all main stage productions. I do not have to get my one acts approved but I am expected to discuss any possible concerns or controversial (or what could be easily viewed as controversial by the community) before producing any of these. I'm not in a super conservative area but there are definitely a large variety of subject matters than would make people uncomfortable.

    I really think it's a play it by ear sort of environment depending on the nature of your community and any possible concerns your school or district has dealt with in the past.

    Shira Schwartz
    Chandler Unified School District
    Chandler AZ

  • 10.  RE: Script Approval in Your District?

    Posted 04-01-2019 12:47
    Everything my students work on, from the plays the Drama Club presents to the ten minute one-acts we workshop in class, must be vetted by at least one other teacher. I don't think it's unreasonable to have a safeguard in place.

    Josh Kauffman
    Winfield AL

  • 11.  RE: Script Approval in Your District?

    Posted 04-01-2019 20:52
    My school district does not have a formal review policy for scripts (or if it does, I have not been informed of it).  We do two major shows a year, a children's theatre show for the fall semester and a more adult show for the spring semester.  Each semester I must submit two choices; for example, last fall I submitted for consideration "Winnie The Pooh" and "James and the Giant Peach".  Both scripts were given to the vice principal, who read them and made a recommendation to the principal as to which show she considered best.

    Craig Caven
    Porterville High School
    Porterville CA

  • 12.  RE: Script Approval in Your District?

    Posted 04-02-2019 08:24
      |   view attached
    EdTA conducted research on this very topic as part of the extensive landscape survey of Theatre in US High Schools.

    Here is an excerpt from the study: "Teachers were asked which individuals had a voice in the decision-making process if a question of script appropriateness arose. Almost all respondents said that the teacher/director and school principal had a voice in the process (95 percent and 93 percent, respectively). Fifty four percent of respondents indicated the principal made the final decision, while 25 percent indicated that the teacher/director did so."

    We also asked questions about choosing scripts that addressed various social issues and specifically which play selections were challenged. I've attached a pdf of the article from Teaching Theatre where this was first published.

    Julie Cohen Theobald
    Executive Director
    Educational Theatre Association
    Cincinnati OH


  • 13.  RE: Script Approval in Your District?

    Posted 07-04-2019 17:08
    Once the priest complained about the “bar scene” in Drood. I am very careful about what I think I can’t get away with. The first year that we added a Cabaret, the office got many phone calls within 5 minutes of when school got out (Audition notice in hand). Within 15 minutes I got a call from the office saying we had to change the name to Night of Musical Show Tunes. “We are having a Cabaret, people not doing Cabaret, the Musical!”. “And, in the future, please call me with questions instead of calling the office.” “And, use your head people, do you really think I’m going to do Cabaret in a Catholic Middle School, think, and give me some credit.”

    Maria Stadtmueller
    Kendall Park, NJ

    Sent from my iPhone
    1 Weird Trick That "Forces" Your Eye To 20/20 Vision -Try It

  • 14.  RE: Script Approval in Your District?

    Posted 07-05-2019 09:46
    I work for a private Catholic high school. Everything we do must be read and approved by admin. It can be a lengthy process upfront, but, as others have said, it's a safeguard. If there's an issue, it would be more difficult for me to be solely blamed and held responsible. I think the last complaint we got was for Spelling Bee (even though we did the alternate song). I was thankful that i had those approval emails.

    Lily McGill
    Baton Rouge LA

  • 15.  RE: Script Approval in Your District?

    Posted 07-09-2019 17:18
    We do not have to seek approval for scripts.  If I choose to produce something (Chicago, She Kills Monsters (not The Young Adventurers version), Amadeus, Sweet Charity, et. al.) I may alert the admin to concepts/issues, but I have never had to submit for approval or had a production pulled.  It really is the stakeholders of one's school an the reputation of the department that comes into play.  A "pushing the envelope" type show must be done with a professional commitment from all involved and with a sound educational basis.

    [William] [Myatt] [Director of Theatre]

    [Pleasant Valley High School]


  • 16.  RE: Script Approval in Your District?

    Posted 07-10-2019 14:34
    In 35 years of teaching high school, I never got a script approved by a principal.  But I never tried to push the envelope too far.  When I was in doubt about how the community might react to something, I discussed it with my Thespian troupe and a few parents.

    Once an assistant principal who was very conservative found out that my student teacher had directed a production of "The Laramie Project. --it was opening that night, and someone had called the school for directions.  She said we had to cancel it.  I told her my principal would have to tell me that.  She stormed off.  I sent an email to the principal, telling him about the fact that my student teacher had gotten written permission from Moises Kaufman to delete specific language and sections that might have been problematic.  I told him we had not advertised it beyond the cast inviting family and friends and putting posters at the local university where the student teacher was studying.  And we performed the show.  No complaints.  Lots of love from the community members who attended.

    I always assumed that I was the theatre professional and the one who could best determine what was appropriate for my students to perform and the school and wider community to experience.  Principals learned to trust my judgement.

    I despair at the layers of bureaucratic nonsense that seem to be the result of treating school systems like corporations, and I advise any teacher starting out to make his/her own decisions about shows unless absolutely required to seek approval.

    C. J. Breland
    Asheville High School
    Asheville NC

  • 17.  RE: Script Approval in Your District?

    Posted 07-15-2019 13:42
    I have been teaching drama for 6 years and have never had to get approval for plays.  I tried before my first production and was told that it wasn't necessary.  The other drama teachers in my district, however, are required to get permission from their principals.  That being said, I am careful about what plays I choose.

    Scott Bier
    Whittier, CA

    "Your fear of looking stupid is holding you back."

  • 18.  RE: Script Approval in Your District?

    Posted 07-16-2019 13:06
    Yes. I have to get approval, and I have been denied shows due to things the playhouse would not allow me to alter.

    Jennifer Vernon, NBCT - AYA English Language Arts,
    English II, journalism, speech, and drama instructor,
    Piggott High School,
    Piggott, Arkansas

    Check out my classroom projects!

  • 19.  RE: Script Approval in Your District?

    Posted 08-23-2019 13:09
    I don't believe my administration requires it, but I run our scripts past our principal and superintendent as a courtesy to them. It lets them know I have given the script choice some thought, that I'm comfortable sharing the titles with them, and that I've given them the opportunity to ask questions if they wish. Most of the time, they don't actually read the script, but I usually offer them the opportunity. I don't find this to be a big deal, and I think they appreciate being kept in the loop in case someone down the road has a question about the production. I would view the script sharing as more of an opportunity to get them informed and enthusiastic about your program, not as administrative pressure.

    Julie Hanisch
    English/Drama Teacher
    Mukwonago WI