“Admittedly, I did not see it in that light”*

When we decided to do “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” for this year’s musical, I was really excited.  It’s one of my favorite shows and has been since I saw it when it first opened on Broadway.  Enough so that I dragged Jason, Kelley, and Janelle to it, then my parents to it, and then organized a whole group of teachers from Dead President Junior High to see it with me when it came to SLC on tour.  It has a really great balance of humor and poignant moments and captures so beautifully those awkward middle-schoolers I get to teach.  I could name ten students of mine who matched each character on stage, and I loved that there was a show that featured cringey early adolescents (and a few awkward adults as well) instead of showgirls and suave leading men.

As usual in our show-selection process, Jesse and I made a list of things that we’ll probably get complaints about.  For this show, we figured it would be…

  • Logainne’s two gay dads
  • Jesus’ cameo
  • Chip’s elimination
  • The language

So we cut the language, swapped out Chip’s original “My Unfortunate Erection” song for “My Unfortunate Distraction” (sadly) and downplayed his scene, gave out copies of the Jesus scene in advance of auditions to the concerned students so they could read for themselves how much of a non-issue it is, and cast two guys who were hilarious and adorable as the gay couple.  They stole the show every night.

So when Mike told me that I had a letter from a “concerned community member” I figured it was about one of those parts.  How dare we acknowledge the existence of homosexuals/swear words/Jesus/penises in the presence of teenagers, right?

Nope!  This person typed a formal letter, printed it, and mailed copies to Mike, Jesse, and to me to complain about our blatant disrespect for “people who are different.”

He does start with a short paragraph of compliments (“the performance and the music was outstanding”) before diving in headfirst with “I don’t understand how you can make your students perform a play that puts down and makes fun of people who are different.”

Uh… what?

He goes on for several paragraphs about how we are promoting bullying by selecting this play and then “forcing” our students to do it.  According to him, several cast members told us they didn’t want to do this show because it’s mean and “you said this is what we are going to do, so put up with it!”

Nope.  Neither of those things happened.

My favorite part of the letter is “Because other students put down and made fun of students in other schools, those students didn’t find any self-worth in themselves and the evil of the world took control of their lives and caused them to kill and hurt other members of the community that did this to them.  Is that really what you want to happen at [your school] again?  I really hope not!”

Yup.  Apparently our choice of musical causes school shootings.  Really tactful, that argument, for a cast dealing with the murder of one of their leads a few months ago.

He throws in a bonus mention of being offended by last year’s play choice as well (Into the Woods), but doesn’t explain the details on that one.  I guess the witch is a bully, but then again she’s also very clearly a witch.  Jack sells his cow, so… fat shaming?  Rapunzel’s prince has his blindness cured rather than living a valid life as someone differently abled?

Happily, Mike is the kind of principal who informed me of the letter, said not to worry about it, said that someone will always be offended, said there was no need to respond unless I wanted to, and who responded himself with a wonderfully polite letter that essentially said, ‘The show was just fine in my opinion; thanks for supporting our program.”

He’s a good principal.

Yes, someone will always be offended.  I’m just impressed that even after doing theater for almost 25 years, someone can still come up with something to be offended by that I couldn’t predict.


Quote taken from Mike’s response

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