A production of Spamalot planned for 2015 has recently been cancelled by the South Williamsport High School in Pennsylvania. Why? Made public in August as the result of Right-to-Know requests, internal emails sent by the school principal, Jesse Smith, clearly demonstrate that the homosexual themes of the play prompted the cancellation. The principal suggested in the communications that the show was inappropriate for both students and community audiences. Yet Spamalot has been performed in many high schools in Pennsylvania as well as nationwide, and seems to have been previously approved in this specific school.
NCAC Participating Organization, The Dramatists Guild of America, led by Academy Award-winning composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz, has written a letter of protest to the South Williamsport High School principal to express the organization’s condemnation of the school’s “discriminatory motivations” in cancelling Spamalot.
The Dramatists Guild insists that the actions of the school administration “strike at the very heart of the function of art and culture” Indeed, both art and culture should disturb through exposure not only the beliefs of individuals but also the norms of larger groups. If schools did not teach any material to students which contradicted the personal beliefs of either the students or the teachers, there would be little to teach or learn. The Dramatists Guild uses the example of a possible school production of The Diary of Anne Frank, asking whether a school would cancel it “over sensitivities of Holocaust deniers and those with anti-Semitic views.” It appears rather unlikely that a public institution would cater to anti-Semitism as the high school has catered to possible homophobia, or that the administration would not be willing to portray the heinous actions of Nazis for fear that such a portrayal would not be appropriate for the students despite its historical importance.
Even if some members of the community or the administration find the views expressed in the play objectionable, such disapproval is no reason to cancel the performance. The presentation of opposing and difficult ideas is key to the educational process. Indeed, in seeking to shelter students from specific viewpoints, the leadership of South Williamsport Junior Senior High School is attempting to impose its views on students.
There will be a school board meeting on September 22nd. Stay tuned for NCAC’s letter to the board.