I’m not given to posting press releases here and this isn’t the start of a trend, but I’m making an exception to insure this good news gets around. There’s nothing for me to say beyond what this press release from The Dramatists Guild already says so well.
* * *
First Annual “DLDF Defender Award” Goes to Connecticut High School Student
The Dramatists Legal Defense Fund will present the first ever “DLDF Defender Award” to Larissa Mark, a high school senior from Trumbull, CT who successfully organized her community in opposition to her school’s sudden cancellation of their upcoming production of Rent, ultimately forcing the production’s reinstatement. This new award from the DLDF honors Ms. Mark’s work in support of free expression in the dramatic arts.
On February 24, 2014, the Dramatists Guild of America, Inc. will hold its annual Awards Night at the Lamb’s Club in New York City and among the other honors given that night, an award from the recently created Dramatists Legal Defense Fund will be presented to Trumbull high school student Larissa Mark. This first “DLDF Defender Award” honors Ms. Mark’s work in support of free expression in the dramatic arts.
Larissa Mark is the current president of Trumbull High School’s Thespian Society, which had planned to stage Jonathan Larson’s musical “Rent” in March, 2014. However, Principal Marc Guarino put the production on “indefinite hold” in November due to the musical’s content, which he viewed as too controversial despite the fact that the students were going to present the show’s “school edition”. This version of the show was created for high school audiences (edited with the approval of the Larson estate) and has been produced for years all around the country without incident, including in neighboring Connecticut towns like Greenwich, Woodbridge, and Fairfield.
The cancellation inspired a “Rentbellion” amongst the Trumbull student body, expressed within the school’s halls and on social media. However, the president of the Thespian Society, Larissa Mark, took a different tact. She started petitions, put up a website, spoke to the media, and focused community resistance in a remarkably effective way. The story of Trumbull’s cancellation of “Rent” eventually attained national press, via The Washington Post and NPR’s Weekend Edition, among others.
At this point, the Dramatists Guild got involved. At the behest of the DLDF and Guild president Stephen Schwartz, and with the advice of the National Coalition Against Censorship, the Guild’s executive director of business affairs, Ralph Sevush, wrote directly to Principal Guarino to offer the Guild’s resources to assist in preparing Trumbull for the show’s subject matter with the kind of public discussions and events that the Principal had stated were necessary in order to reschedule the show. Receiving no response from the school, the Guild copied the letter to Trumbull parents, the school superintendent, the media, and to Ms. Mark.
Soon thereafter, the school eventually agreed to reinstate the production on its original March schedule (with no community events scheduled to date). And because playwrights everywhere had a vested interest in Ms. Mark’s campaign to ensure that the production of “Rent” went forward at Trumbull High School, the Dramatists Legal Defense Fund wished to honor her contribution to free expression in the dramatic arts with its first annual “DLDF Defender Award.”
According to DLDF president John Weidman (librettist of Assassins, Pacific Overtures, and Contact): “When a provocative piece of theater is cancelled anywhere, it has a chilling effect on the production of provocative theater pieces everywhere. In this instance, it was Larissa Mark’s effort, commitment, and leadership that ensured Jonathan Larson’s right to be heard.”
After being notified of the award, Ms. Mark said in response:
“Thank you so much for this tremendous honor… I would be incredibly remiss not to mention how much The Guild’s letter struck Mr. Guarino and aided our cause. The day after he received it I had a meeting with him where he mentioned the letter, and how much it affected him. Our entire community is so glad that we will be moving forward with the show, because theater is a place we are allowed to talk about “taboo” topics and express ourselves. Jonathan Larson and so many other playwrights have created marvelous pieces to tackle issues society faces, and the Thespians at Trumbull High felt it was very important to bring Larson’s work to Trumbull. I am so thankful towards everyone who helped work to bring back this show to our school. I am so thankful towards The Guild for this honor, and humbled by being recognized from such a prestigious group.”
The Dramatists Guild of America was established a century ago and is the professional trade association for playwrights, composers, lyricists, and librettists writing for the stage. The Guild has over 7,100 members nationwide and around the world, from beginning writers to the most prominent authors represented on Broadway. The current officers of the Guild are Stephen Schwartz (president), Doug Wright (vice-president), Peter Parnell (secretary), and Theresa Rebeck (treasurer).
The Dramatists Legal Defense Fund is a non-profit organization created by the Guild to advocate for free expression in the dramatic arts and a vibrant public domain for all, and to educate the public about the industry standards surrounding theatrical production and about the protections afforded dramatists under copyright law.