Open Forum

Subject: Help me! Homosexual characters and adult themes

1.  Help me! Homosexual characters and adult themes

Posted 9 days ago

Hi beautiful people,

I need your help to save one of my productions. It is an interactive murder mystery written for us that has two homosexual characters and deals with some adult themes (alcoholism, addiction, infidelity, pregnancy, and, of course, murder). A local parent has tried to kill it, and, while I feel like I can remove certain things from the production (especially the alcoholism and addiction), I am standing my ground on the homosexual characters. These characters are a loving, normal couple, and there would be absolutely no complaint about the characters if I would change one of them into a male character, but I feel like that will be compromising my personal and artistic integrity to do so.

My principal has asked me to present him with a list of plays produced recently or in planning or rehearsal that include homosexual characters or sexuality as a theme. It would probably also help me to return with a list of plays involving the type of adult themes that are written into the original (whether I choose to change them or not), and it would help me with this production and with another if I had a list of plays in which students portrayed a character of a different gender than their birth/assigned gender. If you can send me details on any production you have done or will be doing that fits the bill, along with a description of any problems that arose from that production, I would be most appreciative.

Thank you,

Matthew S. Taylor
Theatre Director, Elkins High School


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Matthew S. Taylor
Theatre Director, Elkins High School
mstaylor@k12.wv.us
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2.  RE: Help me! Homosexual characters and adult themes

Posted 9 days ago
She Kills Monsters by Qui Nguyen
Lesbian characters
Produced over 300 times in the US!

Almost, Maine by John Cariani
Gay male characters, never touch but fall in love, literally.
Most performed play in the US.

I've done both of these in our school with no problems. Also we have produced The Laramie Project with no problems. But we are a bit different here.

http://www.msnbc.com/tamron-hall/watch/ky-principal-leading-the-fight-for-transgender-students-685208131656

Change schools!

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John Perry
Drama Instructor
Atherton High School
Louisville KY
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3.  RE: Help me! Homosexual characters and adult themes

Posted 9 days ago
Thanks! The more the merrier. I'd love to flood his desk with evidence that this is the right thing like the courtroom gets flooded with letters to Santa in Miracle

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Matthew S. Taylor
Theatre Director, Elkins High School
mstaylor@k12.wv.us
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4.  RE: Help me! Homosexual characters and adult themes

Posted 8 days ago
For school year 2015/2016, I commissioned and helped develop a brand new musical with an award-winning playwright that features a gay male lead and an older lesbian couple. The musical is not about bullying, or someone struggling with his/her sexuality, the male lead is just a kid who happens to be gay and his identity is not really germane to the action in the story.  I sought to create this kind of show because I want all my students to see themselves represented on stage, not just the straight, cisgender kids. We have to be inclusive if we are to serve our students well. Anyway, the musical was an enormous hit and was performed by 6th, 7th and 8th graders who were brilliant.

It's so sad, and tiring, to have to have this conversation after all the progress we've made. I think it's fantastic that you are staying true to yourself, the script, the kids, all people, and fighting for what's obviously right.  Good luck.

Susan Sterman-Jones
Grace Church School, NYC





5.  RE: Help me! Homosexual characters and adult themes

Posted 9 days ago
Regarding "Change schools!"... can't do that for the same reason that I need to stand by this. A number of students in the school identify as LGBTQ+. Many of those students have found an accepting home in the theatre program, and they need a champion.

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Matthew S. Taylor
Theatre Director, Elkins High School
mstaylor@k12.wv.us
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6.  RE: Help me! Homosexual characters and adult themes

Posted 9 days ago
The first one that comes to mind are Herbert and Lancelot from SPAMalot. The issue is addressed head on in that one. I'd also point out that since homosexuality is a legal form of marriage it would be discriminatory to change the characters. I've never personally run into this issue (although I waited until our state approved homosexual marriage (prior to the Supreme Court Ruling) to bring it obviously on my stage). I've had characters that implied homosexuality on stage before this without actually overtly stating it and never had an issue when the 2 characters of the same gender were holding hands in addition to those of different genders.

I'm currently blanking on the rest of your questions. Sorry. :/ If my mind comes back I'll add...

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Shira Schwartz
Chandler Unified School District
Chandler AZ
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7.  RE: Help me! Homosexual characters and adult themes

Posted 9 days ago
RENT!!!

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James Allen
Muskegon MI
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8.  RE: Help me! Homosexual characters and adult themes

Posted 9 days ago
I'm right there with James! I'm directing "Rent" right now, and I actually asked MTI for permission to put the Angel/Collins kiss BACK in! The school edition changes the line to "Honey, it's beginning to snow." I was told I may not change the line back to "Kiss me, it's beginning to snow," but that I am free to add the "physicalizations of the relationships" in, based on my comfort and my community.

I held a mandatory parent meeting before auditions. I put a list of "would you be comfortable with this" into the student information form. I printed those out and gave them to the parents at their meeting. They had veto right over anything their child had indicated they were okay with (the only thing a parent vetoed was her daughter playing a drug dealer....stripper, same sex relationship, skimpy clothes...no problems. I respected her wishes when creating the ensemble track this child would eventually have). The boys cast as my Collins and my Angel are straight, best friends who are very happy to work up to the kiss (one had his first stage kiss in our musical last year). Both sets of parents have invited everyone they know because they are so excited with the parts the boys are playing.

At both the student and the parent meeting, I did a "why you should audition" and a "why you shouldn't audition" list. I made it clear that anyone who was uncomfortable with the story we were telling, or how it is told in this version, should not audition, because we were staying faithful to the (adapted) intent of the author.

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Jodi Disario
Director of Drama
Willow Glen High School
San Jose, CA
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9.  RE: Help me! Homosexual characters and adult themes

Posted 9 days ago
Thank you, Jodi. For my mainstage productions, I do ask students about their comfortability with certain types of roles. I do think it will be good to add in the type of meeting you are talking about to prevent such problems in the future.

However, while I don't know the parent that complained, I do believe that it is not the parent of either student who is playing the gay couple. I have been frustrated this year with parents who refuse to talk with me about their students' roles and go directly to the principal. I would never force a student to play a role in which they felt uncomfortable, nor do I ask any student to do anything more than hold hands unless both students are comfortable with it (even a fake kiss with a hand or thumb in between). All I am asking these two students to do is hug and hold hands, and they are friends who often do this already.

I am especially sensitive because I had a student our production of The Three Musketeers this year because I cast her as Constance, the love interest of D'Artagnan, and I cast a student who was born female as D'Artagnan.

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Matthew S. Taylor
Theatre Director, Elkins High School
mstaylor@k12.wv.us
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10.  RE: Help me! Homosexual characters and adult themes

Posted 9 days ago

I think that what's important is that you are being sensitive to the material, your students and your community. There is always going to be someone who doesn't "get" what you're doing, or someone who just wants to make a fuss. I put up "Disaster!" as my musical last year. I did not change one thing, even the jokes that I thought were a bit over the top. I advertised the show as PG-13 and offered free babysitting services during the show for anyone under ten. I wrote a...well...brilliant (if I do say so myself) director's note about the tone of parody, and farce and the utter bizarreness of the 70's in general. Every actor, including ensemble members with two words, had a full script from the first day of rehearsal and were encouraged to share it with their parents. 

The night after we closed, my principal forwarded me an email from a parent who was very upset at how inappropriate our show was for her 7 year old son, who just wanted to come and see his big brother, who was understudying a minor role. She was offended by gags that were in the script, characterization choices that I had vetoed MORE than once from an 11th grader singing "Do You Wanna Make Love" ironically to his girlfriend, and the fact that our dance ensemble wore shorts.

I asked the principal if he would like me to respond to the mom myself. I explained to him all of the precautions that we took and how a certain 11th grader would be taking the fall musical off this year. He said that he didn't think I needed to, and that I had it covered, and that sometimes parents just need to feel like they are being heard.

Then he approved "Rent." :)



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Jodi Disario
Director of Drama
Willow Glen High School
San Jose, CA
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11.  RE: Help me! Homosexual characters and adult themes

Posted 8 days ago
Cabaret has homosexual implications or an obvious kiss depending on which version you do.  I'm toning down the rampant sexuality of the most recent Bway interpretation in the version we are going to do this year, but you can't get away from it completely. (nor should you)

Cabaret also, obviously, makes a statement about where this sort of hatred can lead.

All the other issues (alcohol, infidelity, pregnancy, murder) are, of course, rampant in Shakespeare.

In terms of characters playing a different gender, of course all of Shakespeare was originally portrayed by men.  More modern though, Edna in Hairspray  is the first thing that springs to mind.

You have my admiration for the strong stand you are taking for your students.

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Christopher Sheldon
Performing Arts Teacher
Bancroft School
Worcester MA
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12.  RE: Help me! Homosexual characters and adult themes

Posted 8 days ago
The Laramie Project is an excellent example that deals with hate crime/robbery against a gay man, Matthew Shepard. Because of our conservative town, I did talk with our principle and superintendent first to get their blessing. They are excited to be having a play that deals with social issues. Isn't that what theatre is for?

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Sara Danke
Wisconsin Rapids WI
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13.  RE: Help me! Homosexual characters and adult themes

Posted 8 days ago
I am so sorry that you have to endure the ignorance that plagues many schools in our nation. I recently did a work by playwright Bobby Keniston from Maine called The Re-programming of Jeremy. It had tremendous impact on the community at large.  I directed it in New Hampshire at a private independent boarding school and then turned around and directed it again in Florida. The last speech by Jeremy says it all.....a young gay character who took his life because he was bullied by his friends, misunderstood by his close friends and betrayed by his own parents who tried to send him to a reprogramming camp.  I asked my students in New Hampshire why we should do this work and they stated that "because it is real and a part of the human condition today."  Bobby did a great job with this show...maybe his words need to read by your principal.

I just now started a new position in Wisconsin and was censored for the first time EVER!  33 years of theatre education and the school basically asked me to NOT DO a show on the topic of an active shooter situation entitled The Library.  Ironic, the school conducted two training sessions for faculty about the subject of lockdown because of  an active shooter situation. When will administrators learn that we, as theatre educators, are on the front line helping our students face life issues head on?  We offer safety and nurtured learning about what faces our kids in the real world. If a principal told me I had to change a character because of his or her sexual preference - I would be incensed!  I would basically tell the administration that they need to look me straight in the eye, as a gay person, and tell me that my life is not valid or worth talking about.

Stand your ground!! You don't need help . . . you know exactly what you need to do.

Best Wishes

David

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David Valdes
Director of Theatre
Aventura FL
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14.  RE: Help me! Homosexual characters and adult themes

Posted 8 days ago
Thanks! Is The Re-Programming of Jeremy available to read anywhere?

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Matthew S. Taylor
Theatre Director, Elkins High School
mstaylor@k12.wv.us
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15.  RE: Help me! Homosexual characters and adult themes

Posted 7 days ago
Yes, google it.  If not, Bobby's info is listed and he will readily send you a file. Just tell him David from New Hampshire sent you.  He is very generous with his work.

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[David] [Valdes]
[Director of Theatre/Arts Administrative Asst.]
[Miami Country Day School ]
[Miami] [Florida]
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16.  RE: Help me! Homosexual characters and adult themes

Posted 7 days ago
Thanks!

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Matthew S. Taylor
Theatre Director, Elkins High School, Elkins, WV
mstaylor@k12.wv.us
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17.  RE: Help me! Homosexual characters and adult themes

Posted 8 days ago
The Children's Hour, now a classic by Lillian Hellman. One of the teachers in the boarding school commits suicide because of the rumor.

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Donnie Bryan
Department Chair for Visual and Performing Arts
Nashville TN
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18.  RE: Help me! Homosexual characters and adult themes

Posted 8 days ago
I live and teach in a rather conservative area, and have had similar questions arise from time to time. I agree that all of our students (but in particular, those who are LGBTQ) need to have someone to be their champion.

We did "All Shook Up" a few years ago - and it is based on Twelfth Night...  so with the gender-bending/ cross-dressing Natalie, there are moments of questioning throughout the story.  I think it is ultimately an issue of trust between the directors and the district administration - that you will represent the play as it was written, but done in a tasteful (and not gratuitous) way.  Hairspray and Yentl are movies that fall into this same category.

Trying to avoid shows that were already mentioned by others - but here are few more that have characters or themes that fit this situation:
Check, Please (another top produced one-act each year on the EDTA Top 10 list)
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (the undercurrent of the relationship between Brick and Skipper)
Streetcar Named Desire (Blanche's previous marriage/his infidelity with another man)
Angels in America
The Color Purple (Shug / Celie)
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Fun Home
Kinky Boots
La Cage Aux Folles

I also remember reading an article recently about Disney's History with Queer Characters - Captain Hook, LeFou, even Ferdinand the Bull in a short from years ago who has long eyelashes and doesn't have the "machismo" to participate in a bullfight... (I am a Spanish teacher by day).

Found a link:
Disney's Long, Complicated History with Queer Characters
Harper's BAZAAR remove preview
Disney's Long, Complicated History with Queer Characters
Conservative groups have urged a boycott of Disney over news that the family-friendly studio would feature its first "exclusively gay moment" in the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. Director Bill Condon told the British gay magazine that Le Fou, the bumbling sidekick played by Josh Gad, would be portrayed as a gay man.
View this on Harper's BAZAAR >

Good luck - and thank you for being a champion for your kids!



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Melissa Mintzer
Willow Street PA
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19.  RE: Help me! Homosexual characters and adult themes

Posted 8 days ago
I'm sure that this will help or not, but last year I did Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew and I cast a female as one of Kate's suitors - Gremio - we changed pronouns as needed, thus creating a potential homosexual relationship.  The actress played it as a woman pursuing a woman.  During auditions I asked all of the actors if they would be ok with being cast as someone of the opposite gender.  We also did an audience talk-back after the shows to help the audience understand the dynamics of the relationships in our version of Shrew.

I'm doing Macbeth this year and will once again consider gender blind casting.  I'm setting it in the future, post-apocalyptic, where I see gender and sexuality completely blurring the lines of traditional norms.  Who's to say that Lady Macbeth has to be played by a woman???

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Mike Hancey
Musical Theatre, Drama, Theatre Guild, & Theater Manager
Laramie High School
Laramie, WY
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20.  RE: Help me! Homosexual characters and adult themes

Posted 8 days ago
Thanks so much to everyone who has responded! I am writing to my principal now, and your words have certainly helped! Keep it coming, though. I may make a few more enemies when the performance happens or when my transgender D'Artagnan crosses swords with Cardinal Richelieu and--egads!--has a stage-kiss with Milady!

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Matthew S. Taylor
Theatre Director, Elkins High School, Elkins, WV
mstaylor@k12.wv.us
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21.  RE: Help me! Homosexual characters and adult themes

Posted 8 days ago
To follow up, after I sent an email compiling what people had written here and what theatre teachers from around WV had sent me, I received the following message from my principal:

"I thank you for your diligent research.  I sincerely thank you for meeting with me and explaining your production.  I support your production after addressing a couple of the issues we discussed.  I am in agreement with your thoughts below.  I wish you the best of luck and if I can help your program in any way please let me know."


The "couple of issues" are references to drugs and alcohol which can be cleaned up. I am fortunate to have the permission of the playwright to change things as I see fit, and I thought it more important to fight the battle for equality than around substance abuse.

Thanks again to everyone who helped. I appreciated hearing your stories, and I would like to continue to collect them.

Theatre has never shied away from tackling the difficulties of human existence, and we would be doing a disservice to our students who are LGBTQ+ if we were to avoid characters who were homosexual because it might offend a close-minded individual in the community. I can think of no better way to show these students that they are accepted and respected than to allow them to portray characters that are LGBTQ+ in a mature, respectful fashion.



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Matthew S. Taylor
Theatre Director, Elkins High School, Elkins, WV
mstaylor@k12.wv.us
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22.  RE: Help me! Homosexual characters and adult themes

Posted 7 days ago
That's fantastic news! Well done!

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Sara Danke
Wisconsin Rapids WI
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23.  RE: Help me! Homosexual characters and adult themes

Posted 7 days ago
That isn't to say that I think this is totally over. I expect I will have some more pushback this year because of two gender-blind casting decisions I made. So, by all means, the support all of you have given me is tremendously appreciated, and the support of those who will continue to help me will also be appreciated. It may be necessary.

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Matthew S. Taylor
Theatre Director, Elkins High School, Elkins, WV
mstaylor@k12.wv.us
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24.  RE: Help me! Homosexual characters and adult themes

Posted 6 days ago

Great news, Matthew. I know it can be tiring to drag people into the 21st century, but keep fighting the good fight. Your kids no doubt appreciate it.

Best,
Jonathan



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Jonathan Dorf
Playwright/ Co-founder of YouthPLAYS/ Co-chair of The Alliance Of Los Angeles Playwrights
Los Angeles CA
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