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Plainfield Students Fight Back After School Shuts Down 'Rent'

Citing 'inappropriate content,' administrators nix spring play choice; Plainfield Central teens say decision sends an anti-gay message.

Some Plainfield High School - Central Campus students are speaking out after an administrative decision put an end to plans to stage a reworked version of “Rent.”

Senior Topher Otake, 17, said students learned Thursday that school administrators would not allow a production of “Rent: School Edition” to move forward for the spring 2013 musical.

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The show is based on Jonathan Larson’s Broadway hit — itself modeled after the opera "La Boheme" — about a group of struggling artists coping with poverty, AIDS and drug addiction.

Plainfield Central Principal Robert Smith did not return a message left by Patch, but District 202 Community Relations Director Tom Hernandez said administrators made the decision that the play “is inappropriate, based on some of its content.”

Otake said he believes the decision stems from the show’s focus on several main characters who are gay.

“The musical has had its many controversial topics watered down so that it could be rendered appropriate for high school students,” he said. “ … Whether they want to say it or not, that’s the message they are conveying.”

Otake, who is gay, called the decision “hypocritical” given the school district’s focus on themes like tolerance and acceptance.

But administrators cited other reasons for the decision.

“The [high school] version is indeed ‘reworked,’ but after reading the entire script some elements were still considered inappropriate,” Hernandez said Friday in an email. “For example: the show gets into drug use, disrespect for the law and sexual promiscuity, among other topics. While some of the profanity is toned down from the ‘official’ version, the rest of the script still caused significant enough concern to make this decision, which was not done lightly.”

PCHS senior Kayleen Brady said the high school version tones down the displays of affection between characters and does not explicitly portray drug use.

“There’s literally one drug reference and it’s the word ‘stash’ in a song,” she said, adding past PCHS performances have included sexual innuendo, and, in the case of "West Side Story," an attempted rape scene.

She also cited last spring’s “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” which featured a character who has an affair with a married man.

“In the past, we certainly covered all these issues,” Brady said. “There are a lot of sexual innuendoes in [‘How to Succeed’], but they’re all heterosexual, so we didn’t have to worry about it.”

Brady said she and other members of the PCHS theater community feel the district is sending an anti-homosexual message.

“It sends the message to us that homosexuality is wrong,” she said. “Even those of use who are not homosexual are deeply offended.”

Senior Teresa Bates said students were excited after director Alanna Frederiksen, who also serves as the school’s choir director, introduced the play to them at the start of the school year.

“As Ms. Frederiksen started talking to us about it, we really started seeing the meaning behind it,” she said, adding she believes “Rent” shares a message of acceptance.

“This is good for us and kids in our school,” she said.

“ … One parent said, ‘This is not a Girl Scout play,’” Bates added. “Yes, but neither was ‘West Side Story' when we did it."

Otake said he realizes the topic of homosexuality is a loaded one.

“It’s such a touchy subject, especially with the election coming up,” he said. “It was really exciting to have a show we could really sink our teeth into,” he added.

Another student, who asked that his name not be used, said he wasn’t surprised by the administration’s decision.

“I can’t say I wasn’t expecting it,” he said, adding that as an aspiring actor, he was hoping the show would be a learning experience. “I was just more or less disappointed.”

Otake said students have been emailing PCHS administrators to make a case for allowing the production of “Rent” to proceed.

Frederiksen, who was to direct the play, did not respond to a message from Patch on Friday.

Facebook page draws support

Hours after learning of the administration’s decision on Oct. 4, Otake said he launched a Facebook group to raise awareness of students’ efforts to get make the play happen.

Titled “Save Rent: School Edition, Save PCHS Arts,” the group quickly gained hundreds of members.

“I started it at 8:30 and invited 80 people,” Otake said. “I checked back 20 minutes later and there were 400 people.” By the end of the night, the number had climbed to 1,300 members.

As of Sunday night, there were more than 1,700.

“I was not expecting that many people,” Otake said. “People started sharing it with their friends and families and it started sort of a chain reaction.”

“I think it shows that people care, and that’s what’s important,” Bates said. 

‘Rent’ in high schools

Plainfield Central wouldn’t be the first high school to stage the “school” version of the play, which was first made available in 2007.

The website for theater licensing company Music Theatre International offers a description of the school edition: “This adaptation has been carefully done, working with the Larson estate to retain the dramatic intent of the groundbreaking rock musical, and consists of minimal changes to language and the removal of one song ... to make it possible for many schools to perform this piece.”

In 2009, a judge ruled that students in a Nevada high school could proceed with staging not only “Rent,” but also “The Laramie Project,” which deals with the murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard.

Last March, students in Massachusetts successfully lobbied the school board for permission to perform the school version of “Rent.”

What do you think? Should Plainfield Central students be allowed to perform a version of ‘Rent’? Tell us what you think in the comments. 

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Gabrielle Smith October 08, 2012 at 06:37 PM
Come on and get your head out of the sand...this is a high school, not a junior high play. Parents may not want to admit this but some high school kids in Plainfield are gay, are having sex, and have done drugs. My daughters told me that during homecoming, there were boys doing a spoof about cheerleaders and were gyrating on the gym floor and everyone including teachers and administrators were laughing about it. Hve the guts and make a statement PSD 202 school board....let Plainfield Central Rent!
John Tips October 08, 2012 at 07:02 PM
Censorship has no place in Government! If these kids do a tasteful rendition that the board should not complain! Just a NOTE - my four year old granddaughter knows ho to use a keyboard and her families computer too. We have to look at the future of America, not her past in the 80s!
Joel Craig October 08, 2012 at 07:33 PM
Proof that Dist. 202 has way too many administrators. Sad. Very sad.
Tammy October 08, 2012 at 09:15 PM
To top it off, this is an extra curricular activity. No one is being forced to participate or to attend the performance. Why not just include a disclaimer such as "Contains mature subject matter. Not intended for children under 13."
Commenter October 08, 2012 at 10:01 PM
Clearly some people haven't read the script if they think there's only 1 drug reference...Check your sources guys. Page 43 of the script is a group of junkies asking everyone for drugs.
Tracey Kammann October 08, 2012 at 10:12 PM
So sad. Once again, the priorities of the board and the school administration are outdated. Of course, this is a fine arts event, not a sport.....and we all know how much the fine arts are valued in this school district....NOT!
Kayleen Brady October 08, 2012 at 10:17 PM
I wonder if you're looking at page 43 of RENT or page 43 of RENT: School Edition?
Tim October 08, 2012 at 10:51 PM
I wouldn't care if they performed the full version. It's a PLAY. You do know that no actual drugs are being used, right?. Just like when they performed 'West Side Story' the actors weren't really trying to rape the girl. Just like in 'how to succeed in business without really trying', the actors weren't really having an affair with a married person. It sounds like the adults opposed to this have a poorer grasp on discerning fantasy from reality, than these young adults do. Should these adults really be in a position of authority if they can't grasp such a basic concept? I'm proud of the students, and embarrassed with the administrators(again).
Kayleen Brady October 09, 2012 at 01:16 AM
Also, something that we did not mention: of all the characters in this show who use drugs, not one of them does not see a consequence. Several characters have to live with AIDS and one of them, Angel, actually dies. We would not wish to put on a show with these topics if we did not believe that we could handle them delicately. Our intention is to relay an honest and serious message with all the reality that we can. Any reference to drugs in this show is negative and would not promote drug use in any way.
Julie Ferenzi October 09, 2012 at 01:42 AM
While I won't be bringing my "littles" to view the performance, I'm a constitutional conservative. I believe in free speech and I believe in the right of the students to go on with this performance. Now, if the Wizard of Oz were on the marquee we would put it on our list of things to do this spring. I can't say that we will be patronizing the play, but I don't agree with the district for censoring it. We will just make an informed decision not to attend based on the adult content much too mature for my 6 and 9 year olds that would be joining us. I don't see this as any different than choosing to watching a movie based on it's PG rating. Give me a choice and I will make it for MY family. That said, if
Zaney October 09, 2012 at 03:33 AM
This absolutely SICKENS me....shame on you for not allowing this play to go on. Last year when my daughter was a senior, EVERY SINGLE REQUIRED English novel that she had to read had the word f**k in it multiple times yet you are going to censor the school version of Rent? I am outraged!!!!!!! Who in their right mind made this decision? Was it the administrators of the school or the school board? Whoever you are, you need to rethink this decision because you are NOT showing tolerance by banning this play!!! I will be sharing this on my Facebook page just to show everyone how sickening you all are. LET THE SHOW GO ON!!!
Commenter October 09, 2012 at 04:30 AM
http://www.scribd.com/doc/68416809/RENT-School-Edition-Full-Script Read Page 43. I'm not saying I agree with the decision, and I'm not saying that it's right, I'm just saying that I understand. And that's all I'm going to say about that.
Commenter October 09, 2012 at 04:38 AM
I would like to suggest La Cage Aux Folles. Because it's hilarious, has none of the things that the District is verbally saying they have a problem with, and if they deny that then you really can make a case of them being homophobic. I think Rent is a tricky subject to make a homophobic argument with just because there are so many other issues people could have with it. Also La Cage Aux Folles is AWESOME
Tim October 09, 2012 at 04:38 AM
Did anyone else notice that this censorship decision was made during the nationwide 'Banned Books Week'? Stay classy D202 administration!
Tim October 09, 2012 at 04:53 AM
Or, you could... you know... ask the students what they want.
Mystery woman October 09, 2012 at 07:12 AM
Don't let the 1300 number impress you, our family was added without our permission. We certainly don't support PCHS-CC. We support the district.
Commenter October 09, 2012 at 02:21 PM
Yeah, there's so many people because when you add your friends they're automatically put into the group. You don't have a say in whether or not you join if a friend invites you. You can leave the group Mystery Women. Just in case you didn't know. Click on the star looking thingy and click leave group.
OpenMinded October 09, 2012 at 02:24 PM
It's theatre. All theatre has a message. That's kind of the point of art and drama. Put out a disclaimer that it may not be appropriate for children under 10 or 12. Or...let parents decide if their kids can participate or watch it...there's a novel idea. Good grief. Look at the high school staple "Grease." A "good girl" gets mocked and teased for "being good," by a girl gang of which one of the members fears she is pregnant (interpretation: that means she had sex). Then, in order to be accepted, the good girl begins to smoke, and dress and act like the rest of the Pink Ladies (presumably going to have sex, too) and, VOILA! She's accepted with open arms. And gets the boy. What kind of message does THAT send? Yet it is continually performed in high schools without much of a peep.
HMDWS October 09, 2012 at 02:29 PM
Way to go District 202! This play has no place in schools! Stand your ground and do not cave to those pushing a gay agenda! The teacher that suggested this should not be working with kids.
Tim October 09, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Comments like this are exactly why so many people were disturbed when the story on the history of the KKK in plainfield was cut short of its entire history. Making it look like something that only happened in the distant past, was a HUGE mistake Mr. Lambert. As you can see, there is plenty of bigotry alive and well in Plainfield, and ignoring it will not make it go away.
Commenter October 09, 2012 at 04:58 PM
My high school wanted to do Grease but we were told we couldn't because Rizzo gets knocked up.. =/
Tim October 09, 2012 at 05:35 PM
If only we never 'caved' to the womens agenda in the 70's, nobody would have to listen to your nonsense. Get back to servitude to your husband as the bible demands! 1 Timothy 2:12 "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent."
Tim October 09, 2012 at 07:25 PM
You mean censorship like this? http://plainfield.patch.com/articles/banned-books-week-what-you-need-to-know-bdd0c01d Notice, that the censorship of this play happened during the 'National Banned Books Week', to raise awareness of censorship in schools. The lack of education by our 'educators' is laughable.
Nick DiMarco October 09, 2012 at 07:37 PM
A school in my Patch town performed the student version of RENT a year ago. It drew some concerns at the outset, but standing ovations at the final curtain. http://patch.com/A-ggdL
Tim October 09, 2012 at 08:37 PM
What is the saddest part of all this, is that these administrators are worried about a PLAY that talks about drug use, yet at the same time this area is seeing an explosion of heroin use that is being almost completely ignored by this same administration. I guess this push for absolute control over the issues of what people talk about, give them some consolation about not having done anything to address the real-life situation going on right under their noses. Part of addressing the problem, is being able to face the issue out in the open, and not pretend that not talking about it will make it go away. Like has been said, this says more about the administrators making these 'decisions', than it says about the content of any censored play. Understandable, but sad.
Kayleen Brady October 09, 2012 at 08:55 PM
Thank you for sharing, Nick! Also, Mrs. Frederiksen is one of the most knowledgable, open-minded teachers that I've had. She chose the show not to bring controversial topics to the school setting, but to help us advance as actors and to keep our minds open. RENT is a show that makes you think. To say that she should not work with kids is out of place. Many of us will be old enough to vote this year, we are forming our own ideas and morals.
Kayleen Brady October 09, 2012 at 08:57 PM
Also.... (Sorry!) Mrs. Frederiksen is not speaking out about the situation. The school board gave her the decision and she informed us of the change. She has had no say in this fight for the show, she has kept herself completely uninvolved.
PCHSstudent October 11, 2012 at 04:01 AM
Just like to put in my opinion as an 18 year old who attended this school. The first time i saw rent my reaction wasnt to go out and do a bunch of drugs and become a stripper, it was to cry because the hard lives all these people live and how they get through it at the end together. My senior year i read a book with the F word in it on almost every page and another book that intended a rape. I honestly dont even believe its fair that most of you parents are saying its horrible when it is actually a very touching play. Also id like to point out that at ITMS the choir group sang RENT songs, the ones with the drug, sexual, and criminal refrences...
Annabelle Ashton November 19, 2012 at 09:15 PM
Good for District 202! I'm glad that some in our society are clinging to the shreds of morality left in the wake of the devastatingly powerful liberal agenda. It's not just the homosexuality that poisons this play: Mimi, a 19 year old drug addict dying of AIDS chose to become a stripper rather than go to college or marry and start a family. The group rejoices as Collins literally steals thousands of dollars from innocent people with their money in banks. Angel, mad that Benny so selfishly insists that they pay their rent, brutally murders his little dog. It's the epitome of irresponsibility: just because they're "artists" they are entitled to a free apartment and don't have to pay rent like the rest of us. It normalizes drug use and glamorizes selfishness.
Annabelle Ashton November 19, 2012 at 09:16 PM
Good for District 202! I'm glad that some in our society are clinging to the shreds of morality left in the wake of the devastatingly powerful liberal agenda. It's not just the homosexuality that poisons this play: Mimi, a 19 year old drug addict dying of AIDS chose to become a stripper rather than go to college or marry and start a family. The group rejoices as Collins literally steals thousands of dollars from innocent people with their money in banks. Angel, mad that Benny so selfishly insists that they pay their rent, brutally murders his little dog. It's the epitome of irresponsibility: just because they're "artists" they are entitled to a free apartment and don't have to pay rent like the rest of us. It normalizes drug use and glamorizes selfishness.

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