I planned to direct The Foreigner next year. I was not overly concerned about the Ku Klux Klan in the plot, viewing them as historical antagonists similar to the Nazis in Cabaret and The Sound of Music. Then I happened upon some articles about New Prague High School in Minnesota. The school was forced to cancel their presentation of The Foreigner the week before the show opened after a student posted a photo of their actors in KKK costumes on social media with the caption "I think you're gonna want to come to the spring play . . ." Students and community members were offended and canceling the show seemed to be the only acceptable option. It was acknowledged that the social media posting of students in Klan regalia was the primary issue. The principal explained that students and adults "are uncomfortable with that part of history."
My question: Has anyone else had difficulty in their community regarding The Foreigner or is this an isolated incident? What advance preparations did you make with students, parents, and / or administration? Searching this forum, I found a recent post by John Perry: ". . . right now, having the KKK on stage makes me extremely uncomfortable no matter how you play it."
Larry Shue wrote in the production notes ". . . let there be no such thing as 'comedy villains' here. Our malefactors must be, within the style of the play, the real thing -- obsessive, cunning, and dangerous. They will be funny but only if they first make us recoil." I see this aspect of the play as an opportunity for conversation about bigotry and hatred. The connection to the current political climate regarding "foreigners" is not lost on me. My second thoughts include "Is this the best time to present this play?" I can argue that question either way!
I can build a case with administration but I am pondering the best way to approach them before I pay royalties and build a fishing lodge and Klan costumes. Sometimes I follow the adage, "It's better to ask forgiveness than permission". Our school does not have a precedent requiring the director to get approval of her plays and I don't want to establish one. However, in this case a proactive approach may be best.
I welcome your input and advice!
Fairfield High School
I find that more than anything, Principals just really hate surprises. So I don't know that you need to ask permission to much as to make him/ her aware of the potential risk and what you've done to mitigate that risk. The teacher who had the problem with the students posting pictures of themselves on social media has probably learned a valuable lesson about monitoring his programs social media presence. All my students know that they need permission to take photos or videos during rehearsals or performances and all those photos or videos need to be approved by me before going public. This also prevents us from breaking copy-write infringements and from using the images of students without their permission.
Also, when I have anything in a show that might be controversial (especially if used out of context) i keep it under lock and key. This not only applies to things like firearms (the last thing you want is a picture on social media of one student aiming a gun at another, even if it is a scene from the play) but to alcohol bottles, prop cigarettes and many costume pieces. I directed Anne Frank some years ago. The last thing I wanted was students wearing their Nazi uniforms around the school. Those students should never had access to their Klan costumes outside of dress rehearsal, and certainly shouldn't have been wearing them in an unauthorized photo shoot.
As to diversity in the casting, it would obviously be inappropriate to cast your two Klansmen as black actors, but I did see a wonderful community theater production of The Foreigner a few years ago where both Froggy and Betty were played by black actors and it worked great. In Betty's case it actually made the show seem more representative of rural Georgia and it was fun to see a black (and British) Froggy as an action hero who blows up the Klansmen. I don't see why Charlie couldn't be black as well. Any time you are producing a show that deals with race or is set in a time and place where racial divisions are prominent to the culture, you need to be sensitive in your casting. I too as a high school would never want to produce a show that might exclude a certain group of students because of their race. That doesn't mean we can't explore opportunities for racial diversity however in the casting of classic old plays.