Bait & Switch On Trumbull RENT Solution?

December 11th, 2013 § 7 comments

rent 4Yesterday afternoon, Trumbull High School Principal Marc Guarino released a letter in which he announced the restoration of Rent to the school schedule, albeit with new dates. His letter was followed swiftly by a response from a group of Thespian troupe parents. Beyond my headline, I will allow these statements to stand on their own, except to say that in my experience, the Anti-Defamation League can move very swiftly when their services are required, and that I wish Mr. Guarino would speak personally to this issue, rather than simply releasing statements.

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From Trumbull High Principal Marc Guarino:

“The Thespian Club Advisors, Mrs. Spillane and Mrs. Bolan, Dr. Cialfi and I have been in discussion regarding the performance of Rent: School Edition. The objective was to determine when and how the performance could take place in accordance with my original plan for the necessary learning opportunities that are essential as a preparatory process. Rent: School Edition provides opportunity for me to be in concert with the Thespian Club Advisors to implement an annual performance for the Trumbull High School stage.

The learning opportunities are essential. To plan for these, I will be working collaboratively with various groups. Our Intervention Specialist will be key in understanding the significant themes which will carry our cast and crew from production to performance and integrate them throughout the school. We will look to partner with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to provide resources and training for our faculty, staff and students. I will also consult with our student support staff, as well as our Advisory co-chairs to develop appropriate learning experiences through our Advisory program. Groups of students, in addition to the thespians, will contribute to our planned learning experience, such as Peer Leaders and members of the Link Crew. In addition, we are planning community outreach activities to acknowledge these themes. This also provides an excellent opportunity for the THS community to focus its civic and social expectations aligned to our core values and beliefs.

I believe that this process can be accomplished during the 2013/2014 school year if the performance dates can be delayed to Wednesday, April 30, dress rehearsal, through Sunday, May 4, 2014.”

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From a group of Trumbull parents:

“Yesterday, following Trumbull First Selectman Herbst’s public statement on the radio that Rent would be brought to Trumbull High School, we were encouraged. We issued a short statement in support of Mr. Herbst’s efforts to broker a positive outcome, but raising a note of caution in light of indications the show might be postponed until later in the academic calendar, where it would run up against many competing curricular and extracurricular activities.

We also sent THS Principal Marc Guarino a letter expressing our deep concern that any delay would be unworkable, urging him to keep focus on the primary concern here: the best interests of the THS students who would be involved in this production. We sent a copy of that letter, to Superintendent Cialfi and to First Selectman Herbst. Although some of us were fortunate enough to have a meeting with Mr. Herbst this morning, he made clear that he was not the decision-maker here. He indicated that he would speak with Dr. Cialfi on our behalf, and we presume he did, but we received no further word from him, from Dr. Cialfi, or from Mr. Guarino before today’s announcement that the production would be postponed to the end of April and into early May. Indeed, despite Mr. Guarino’s expressed desire for “dialogue,” he again unilaterally issued a decision to the detriment of our children without responding to our letter and without offering to speak with us to address our concerns.

The announced schedule for Rent is unworkable. Many of the students who would be in the musical will be spending their spring break, in the middle of April, in England on tour with THS’s Concert Choir. Preparations for that tour will be intense, and make rehearsals for the musical difficult, to say the least. A popular time to take the SAT and SAT Subject tests will be on Saturday, May 3, right in the middle of the scheduled show weekend, which follows the intense week of final rehearsals. The following week, AP exams begin. On top of these obstacles, students who would like to participate in other demanding extracurricular activities, including athletic and music activities, as well as the curricular We The People competition, may have to make a difficult choice whether to give up those activities or the musical.

All of these conflicts arise because Mr. Guarino insisted upon delaying the production by approximately 16 school days in order to pursue an ambitious educational agenda around Rent. No explanation has been provided why this agenda could not take place around the show, rather than before it. Nor has there been any meaningful explanation why the school edition of Rent is so “sensitive” that an entire curriculum must be arranged around that musical. Rather, it appears that delaying Rent is the fig leaf required to allow Mr. Guarino to reverse his unpopular decision, which has made Trumbull a laughingstock throughout Connecticut, and far beyond.

Because some of the media has been reporting that Trumbull has solved its Rent problem, we must be clear that Mr. Guarino and the THS administration have continued their unpopular and untenable practice of deciding first, issuing public statements later, and ignoring the clearly expressed wishes of those whose interests their decisions should be serving. Students and parents in Trumbull do not believe that a solution has been reached, nor a genuine compromise. What has happened instead is a game of politics, with students as pawns, and many of us consider it a travesty.

If Mr. Guarino is looking for educational opportunities around Rent, perhaps he should seize this opportunity to demonstrate what true leaders do when they recognize that they have made a mistake. He should admit it, restore Rent to its proper place on the academic calendar, and bring his campus together to heal.

Jonathan Tropp, Lauren Tropp, Rick Bolton, Cathy Bolton, Jackie Madwed, Jeff Madwed, Annette Clift, Nelson Clift, Dan Gottschall, Andrea Gottschall, Tim Gallo, Gina Gallo, John Ell, Virginia Ell”


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  • Ed Gillespie

    Would love to hear directly from the Thespian Club Advisors as well. Sounds like the THS Thespians now have four option: perform RENT in March at another location; make personal sacrifices and do the show at THS in May; choose another show and leave RENT 2015 as their legacy to underclassmen; or continue to fight. Not sure which is best. But do recall that the student leaders earlier noted they would “follow the administration’s decision on the matter.” Thank you for your ongoing updates!

    • Howard Sherman

      Given that the advisors are school employees who work with and under the principal, I suspect it would be at best impolitic and at worst risky for them to speak out in this situation. They cannot afford to put their jobs in jeopardy.

  • Pingback: The Battle of “Rent” in Trumbull, CT()

  • Brian O’Neill

    I am a THS alumni and I am ashamed to say that now :/ I was always proud of my home tome for always telling me to be myself and never let anyone tell me I was weird. I am also a proud member of the LGBT and this new principal to me is a close minded individual who can’t see past the Homosexual and Drug aspects and see that this is a love story no different than any classic play centered around heterosexual characters. And this whole thing is this is complete BS he is just staling until it will be too late and a new show will be forced on the students
    I think at this point if you have offers from other venues that are
    willing to let you put on the performance it would just be easier to go
    there and attempt to raise what ever money is needed for the space. And
    tell Guarino to kindly shove it where the sun dont shine. I get more and more angry the more I read the updates.

  • Franco Farina

    I posted this response on the Trumbull For RENT Facebook page.

    I am an alumnae of THS. I began to prepare for my career in Music by participating in the music programs there, as well as the summer musicals put on by TYA, going on to direct two musicals during summers off from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. These experiences were fundamental in my decision to pursue a career in the Arts. I later went on to study at The American Opera Center at The Julliard School and have had a long career singing all over the world. Rent is a musical based on Puccini’s La Boheme, an opera I was privileged to perform at the MET, Vienna Statsoper, Paris Opera, and many other theaters. I wonder if Mr Guarino would believe some sort of ‘protective education’ would be required to attend a performance of this masterpiece? After all the protagonists live together outside of marriage, run out of a restaurant without paying the bill, engage in prostitution, murder a parrot, refuse to pay their RENT, and the heroine dies of consumption… the AIDS of the day. Mr Guarino… swallow hard and admit your mistake. I believe the average High School student is quite mature enough to deal with the issues raised by Rent. Bravo to the students and parents for standing up for Artistic Freedom

  • Marina

    This is sadly a mountain out of a molehill on the part of the principal. He should admit his mistake and move on. As well, as the school edition of RENT has been done over and over across this country, I have to believe that instructional materials and support already exist and that the most that would have to be done is a. find those materials and b. tweak them to fit the needs of Trumbull High, which I am sure would not take until April. As well, give some credit to your students, who I am sure know far more about all the of these topics than you think! I’m disgusted that this is even a discussion in this day and age. Franco Farina makes a great point in his comment, reminding us that RENT, despite it’s updated themes, is still just a modern version of La Boheme, which if done in any high school in America would be considered a masterpiece and gem of opera, not the “problem” that RENT is. I really believe that some anonymous person or group is probably putting political pressure on the principal of the school or that he wrongly hoped to avoid minimal backlash later on by letting the RENT performance go forward without an issue. Sadly, his decision based on ignorance backfired. I pity his inability to see the message of RENT for what it is: LOVE. Get over it, Mr. Guarino.

  • John Verderber

    It is my understanding that the Dramatists Guild has offered to assist Mr. Guarino in better “preparing” the community for the truly “shocking” show that is RENT. (Shocking if you’ve lived under a rock or in denial since the 1980s, but I digress, and apologize for my sarcasm…) Guarino has failed to respond, which I find unfortunate, and frankly, rude. Howard, if you could confirm this, I’d appreciate it. (I might be a Guild member, but you’re more in the know than I.) If this is the case, I’d urge the Guild and its council to assist the STUDENTS in getting their show on (as Michael Price at Goodspeed has), not in helping a man who is quite obviously a coward. He has no intention of “preparing” students and parents, and certainly no intention of letting the piece be performed, as his approval of a date where most students participating would be unable to do the show shows, as well as his silence. These kids are remarkable, and I applaud them for their tenacity and their dignity.

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