I had not intended to write again about the conflict over a planned production of Rent in Trumbull, but the story continues to grow. In the interest of brevity, this post will merely draw your attention to several other pieces written about the Trumbull High School Rent controversy, notably from the chairman of the Board of Education and from the town’s First Selectman. They bear directly on the controversy, and even offer a compromise solution.
“The benefits of exposing the school and the community to the play Rent are undeniable. The discipline of tolerance, the gift of acceptance, the splendor of diversity, and exposure to different lifestyles are certainly lessons that should be a critical part of a high school student’s education and mature growth….While I personally do not agree with the position taken by Mr. Guarino, I support his right to make that decision. This is a school decision, not a Board of Education decision, and is one that a head of school has every right to make. While much of our town may be “for Rent,” I am confident that we have a firm “lease” on promoting diversity and tolerance here, too.”
An alternate solution proffered by Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst in the Trumbull Patch:
“I believe there is a positive alternative that addresses Mr. Guarino’s valid concerns while at the same time allowing RENT to proceed. Every summer, the Trumbull Youth Association (TYA) offers a summer musical for the community. Many of the Trumbull High School students who participate in our high school theater program are also members of TYA. Proceeding with this musical in the summer through TYA offers enough time to address the very valid points offered by Mr. Guarino. It will also allow graduating Trumbull High School seniors the opportunity to perform in this musical before they leave for college. Finally this action will embrace the concept of collaboration, communication and compromise at the same time we try to teach our students the fundamental principles of acceptance, responsibility and tolerance. It is my sincere hope that this recommendation will establish a dialogue and a workable solution that all of us as Trumbullites can respect.”
Subsequent to Herbst’s suggestion, Trumbull Youth Theatre indicated their taking on Rent wasn’t a viable option:
Those involved in the Trumbull Theatre Association say as good as it sounds, it may not be feasible.
“It really isn’t going to work for us,” said Mary Wright with the Trumbull Youth Association. “We feel like the high school should take it on.”
“These are high school students. They can handle this. To suggest that the student body requires a comprehensive, board-approved coddling betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the very students he is supposed to be serving. They don’t need to be coddled. And just to be clear, this is only an issue because Rent deals indirectly with homosexuality, AIDS, and addiction. Quite honestly, I think the THS Musical players will provide a much more insightful and compelling treatment of this subject matter than Mr. Guarino will be able to cobble together in the next year.
I find this whole business to be very concerning. What happens when Mr. Guarino gets ahold of the AP English reading list and takes exception to some of it? This is a dangerous precedent to set. I suppose the one lesson that the THS students can benefit from is that sometimes we all experience authoritarianism and it’s maddening. You know it’s authoritarianism when you witness righteous anger from its recipients — which is what I see with this fine group of THS players. The silver lining in all of this is that they have handled that anger beautifully — with grace, poise and maturity.”
From “High School That Banned Musical Over ‘Sensitive’ Content Doesn’t Get Teens,” by Emily Abbate, a former Trumbull high drama kid writing at The Stir:
“I’m gonna be blunt: High schoolers across America aren’t dumb. Although parents may not be ecstatic about the topic, their teens are most likely sexually active. They sure as hell have friends that are trying to figure out their sexuality, and most definitely have been through a few health classes talking about sexually transmitted diseases. Which is why I’m dumbfounded about what’s going on in my hometown right now: the principal of Trumbull High School has cancelled the Thespian Society’s production of Rent because of its sensitive nature involving topics like sexuality, drug use, HIV, and the love lives of both gay and straight characters. Topics that kids are discussing AT school probably this very moment.”
And finally from today’s “Tattle” column in the Philadelphia Daily News by Howard Gensler:
“Last March, the “school edition” of Rent was performed by Hillsboro Comprehensive High School in . . . Nashville. The home of the Grand Ole Opry is more progressive than Trumbull.
So before the Trumbull Thespian Society is ordered to perform South Pacific, but cuts the onetime questionable romance between Nellie and Emile because, you know, they’re different, here’s a suggestion: Take Rent off campus. Perform it in a barn if you have to.
Or go to principal Guarino and tell him you’ve decided to instead perform something else.
The previously released statement by Trumbull High School Principal Marc Guarino appears in its entirety in my post from Wednesday.
Needless to say, please try to read each of these piece in their entirety and share your thoughts. This issue is more important than any single school, because it is far from an isolated incident, and not unique to Rent.
Updated Saturday, December 7