A group of students from the New World School of the Arts High School were set to perform a scene from Stephen Adly Guirgis’s The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at the Florida State Thespian Festival in Tampa on March 28. Unfortunately, not all went as planned.

At the festival, there’s a policy of “asterisking” controversial scenes so theater-goers can know ahead of time that there might be content that is not “family-friendly.” Tomas Roldan and Matthew Ferro received a “Critic’s Choice” award for their portrayal of Jesus and Judas from Guirgis’s play. However, there is a bigger space where the “Critic’s Choice” performances are held; and there’s no feasible way to institute the policy there, so the festival pre-screens those performances more closely.

Because of a few f-bombs in the Judas scene, Roldan and Ferro were told they’d have to drop them if they wanted to perform in the big space. In a clear win for free expression,  the duo chose not to alter the scene and released this statement:

Today we will not be performing a duet scene from The Last Days of Judas Iscariot by Stephen Adly Guirgis. We were thrilled to be awarded the Critic’s Choice for our category. We chose a scene we love by an artist we respect. The scene is asterisked for language and content. Tonight Florida State Thespians is asking us to alter our scene by removing the offensive language. We feel as young artists that this language is an integral part of the author’s intention in the scene. Rather than censor our scene, we have chosen to perform our piece outside. In 15 minutes we will be outside by the steps to perform. Please join us to support Art.

NCAC applauds the students’ commitment to free speech and laments the decision of the festival to red-flag words completely out of context. To read the full story, check out Howard Sherman’s piece, “Dropping and Dodging F-Bombs at the Florida Thespian Festival.”