Jon, a play by George Saunders, is “a futuristic allegory about two teenagers trying to fall in love while living within a synthetic corporate-owned bubble of product-testing. They struggle to find an authentic relationship with language that is almost totally bankrupt of meaning,” according to a document summarizing the OPRF Fine and Performing Arts Department’s 2014-15 performance schedule.
The play was scheduled to be performed in the school’s Little Theater this May until the department head decided to cancel it due to the sexual content. Scenes include teenage pregnancy and masturbation.
“I felt like the content was inappropriate,” said Sarah Roodhouse, the Fine and Performing Arts division chair. Roodhouse said she read the script of the play and the short story on which it was based after someone in the department brought it to her attention.
“I came to the conclusion that the content was just too much to ask of high school students, many of whom are still minors,” she said. “I also searched the Internet for high schools that had done the play and couldn’t find any.” The department apologized to students for the late cancellation notice. Faculty also held a forum to hear students’ concerns and questions about the decision.
“We’re still willing to talk about the play and have discussion,” Roodhouse said, “but reading and talking is different from being in a play and acting these things out,” she said, noting she was concerned for the students who would be placed in the situation of having to dramatize the sexual scenes.
But this explanation wasn’t enough for students like Moira Larkin, an OPRF theater student who said that the decision constitutes censorship and one less forum for students to discuss real life issues.
“We should do this show because these issues are very relevant and about things that are happening at the school,” said Rosie Sagal, a junior at the school with an extensive theater background. She added that cancelling this close to a show’s production is unprecedented.
“None of the [sexual content] is portrayed onstage, the [characters] just discuss it,” Sagal said. “The rest of the show deals with the consequences of those actions. Deeming that inappropriate is sort of like deeming teenagers’ lives inappropriate, which is why a lot of people don’t agree that it should be pulled.”
Roodhouse acknowledged that the timeline “was not good” and said the department would work on fine-tuning the process by which plays are approved.
“In the past, directors have been able to just pick a play,” said Roodhouse. “In the future, there will be a process for plays to be vetted.
Autonomy sometimes requires this thoughtful work,” she said, noting that the recent conflict between department head and theater students is unusual.
But many dissenting students aren’t satisfied with the faculty’s efforts to reconcile their differences of opinion and have vowed to perform the play even if they have to put it on somewhere outside of the high school.