OPRF students say play's cancellation is censorship

Play closed due to sexual content has some students seeking redress

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

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.

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com 

Reader Comments

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Robert Zeh from River Forest, Illinois  

Posted: March 20th, 2015 7:39 AM

.... (continued, hit submit by mistake) play isn't censorship.

Robert Zeh from River Forest, Illinois  

Posted: March 20th, 2015 7:37 AM

This would be censorship if the government was prohibiting the students from performing. But nothing is stopping the students from performing the play on their own, at a venue of their own. Declining to stage a

Jerry DiNardo from Bartonville, Illinois  

Posted: March 19th, 2015 9:49 AM

If I am in the area for the off-off-site play produced by the students, I will fully support it. I am disappointed by this censorship by persons very much out of touch with the reality of being a teen in America. Don't you remember how things were when you were that age? Or were you in some Ozzie and Harriet, or Ward and June, fantasy world?

Tammy Schulz from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 19th, 2015 9:24 AM

Thank you OPRF for making good decisions for our kids, I'm not sure how Titus passed the test of appropriateness?

Spain Artemis from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 19th, 2015 8:49 AM

Just to be clear - I do believe cancelling the play is censorship. And I'm proud that the theater students did as awesome a production of Titus as they did.

Spain Artemis from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 18th, 2015 9:43 AM

OPRFHS theater department ran Titus Andronicus this March. Has anyone done the body count in that play? Reviewer Clark Hulse did. His review says "there are 14 killings, 9 of them on stage, 6 severed members, 1 rape (or 2 or 3, depending on how you count), 1 live burial, 1 case of insanity and 1 of cannibalism--an average of 5.2 atrocities per act, or one for every 97 lines." (http://www.bard.org/education/studyguides/titus/titusrevenge.html#.VQmKwOEgRHA) How is that appropriate for teens to portray on stage? If the school has standards on appropriateness, how about for consistency? OPRFHS has a reputation for being progressive and even bold (reference recent assembly with all African American students meeting on "Black Lives Matter") As for the controversial subject matter of Jon - discourse develops critical thinking in young people - something schools should be encouraging. It is ridiculous that gratuitous violence is okay for teens to portray on stage, but frank discourse on sex is not. As the parent of an OPRFHS theater member, I find this decision very disappointing - and so does my son.

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