Tomorrow is opening night for Trumbull High School students and for a performance of the musical Rent that almost wasn’t.
Last fall, around Thanksgiving break, Trumbull’s principal, Marc Guarino nixed plans for the play, calling it too controversial. The school’s drama club and other students fought back against the decision, using the internet to their advantage. They started a petition to bring the play back that ultimately garnered nearly 1,500 signatures and opened a facebook page to track the building press coverage of the issue. The principal and school board were initially unmoved by these overtures; the principal said there wasn’t enough time to build the supporting resources students would need to get the most out of the show.
It should be mentioned that the students were to perform the school edition of the play to begin with, from which profanity has been mostly removed along with the song “Contact.”
As media chatter about censorship grew, Guarino finally began to reconsider. Other venues offered to host the play, but that was besides the point for students. Finally, in mid-December, the school informed students that the show could and would go on.
“We’ve worked diligently to get this all worked out, and the students have been awesome, with a lot of great ideas about ways to have a wider conversation about the issues raised in the show,” Mr. Guarino told The New York Times at the time.
Plays performed in a school setting are frequent causes of tension between administrators, students and community members, as the mere existence of the Musical Theater International school edition plays indicates.
Tomorrow night’s opening in Trumbull is a great victory not just for theater, but for student speech. Trumbull students demonstrated exactly why young people should be included in conversations about what they are exposed to. They are strong and trustworthy advocates who have compelling and insightful things to say — if and when they are asked. Break a leg, Trumbull!