It's Curtains (2000)
If there's one thing I cannot stand, especially as an artist and writer, it's censorship -- especially when it comes wrapped in the guise of self-righteous "Christian" morality designed to protect the (censor-defined) moral standards of a community. Nothing kills artistic free expression quicker than puritannical, smut-seeking witch hunts committed in the name of protecting the public good.
When Wendy DeVore, the drama teacher at Fulton High here, staged the musical Grease, about high school students in the 1950's, she carefully changed the script to avoid causing offense in this small town.
She softened the language, substituting slang for profanity in places. Instead of smoking "weed," the teenagers duck out for a cigarette. She rated the production PG-13, advising parents it was not suitable for small children.
But a month after the performances in November, three letters arrived on the desk of Mark Enderle, Fulton's superintendent of schools. Although the letters did not say so, the three writers were members of a small group linked by e-mail, all members of the same congregation, Callaway Christian Church [emphasis mine].
Each criticized the show, complaining that scenes of drinking, smoking and a couple kissing went too far, and glorified conduct that the community tries to discourage. One letter, from someone who had not seen the show but only heard about it, criticized "immoral behavior veiled behind the excuse of acting out a play."
Dr. Enderle watched a video of the play, ultimately agreeing that Grease was unsuitable for the high school, despite his having approved it beforehand, without looking at the script. Hoping to avoid similar complaints in the future, he decided to ban the scheduled spring play, The Crucible by Arthur Miller.
How fitting. The witchfinder generals have axed a play that depicts their culture-killing methods at work. Now, because a few contemporary puritans -- one who never even bothered to attend the performance -- have complained, the students of Fulton dare not speak the name of their past production and find their future one deep-sixed. The morality police have made one thing certain. An empty, bare stage offends no one.
And entertains and moves no one either. No souls are called upward by art when the theater is closed or when its company produces only church (or state) sanctioned art.
One wonders if Fulton's Christian crusaders would have complained if a Mel Gibson-tinged passion play had been produced instead of a 50's musical. Now there's some moral entertainment fit for sadists. Whips cracking. Spears lancing. Blood spurting into the front rows as nails are pounded through flesh.
What happened in Fulton stinks of intolerance. The small-mindedness on display is not endemic to so-called Christian schools or communities. Consider this production of The Crucible
There is either obedience or the church will burn like Hell is burning!
--Arthur Miller, The Crucible
[Image from the drama page of the Emmanuel School]
from London's Emmanuel School -- which, despite its religious grounding, has produced plays by Shakespeare, Stoppard, and Miller. Recent productions include The Crucible (seen above), The Boyfriend, and Sweeney Todd.
But Fulton is not London you say -- and, sadly, how right you are. You know the drill. You know this whole business will end badly in our current stroke-the-base, BushCo-fueled Puritan atmosphere. And, late last week, it did. From the GJSentinel -- "Missouri Drama Teacher Resigns in Play Flap" by Alan Scher Zagier (3-18-2006):
A central Missouri high school drama teacher whose spring play was canceled after complaints about tawdry content in one of her previous productions will resign rather than face a possible firing.
"It became too much to not be able to speak my mind or defend my students without fear or retribution," said Fulton High School teacher Wendy DeVore.
DeVore, 31, a six-year veteran teacher, said administrators told her that her annual contract might not be renewed.
"Maybe I need to find a school that's a better match," she said.
Fulton high school drama teacher Wendy DeVore runs the light board during the dress rehearsal for A Midsummer Nights Dream Monday, March 6, 2006, at the high school's theater in Fulton, Mo.
"We have become a laughingstock," teacher Paula Fessler told The Fulton Sun.
I'm not laughing. I'm sick at heart. And I'm sick of these so-called Christian bullies who insist upon killing all programming offensive to their narrow sensibilities rather than choosing not to watch or changing the channel. A book never read or a play never seen cannot challenge or inspire -- cannot risk offending a few or changing so many for the better.
Then again, maybe the students and community of Fulton do not need to see The Crucible. After all, they are living it.