Students at an Indiana high school have raised more than $80,000 to help them put on a one-time performance of a play that school administrators banned after parents objected to the inclusion of LGBTQ characters.
Students from Carroll High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, had originally intended to put on Marian, or The True Tale of Robin Hood, for their spring theatrical performance in April.
The play, by Adam Szymkowicz, bills itself as a “gender-bending, patriarchy-smashing … new take” on the tale of Robin Hood in which Robin Hood is actually Maid Marian in disguise, and many of the “Merry Men” who accompany the play’s titular character are non-male.
Prior to auditioning, students were asked to fill out a consent form asking them if they were comfortable playing a nonbinary character or portraying a character in a same-sex relationship.
The school was poised to perform the teen edition of the play — which differs from the adult version — that had previously been approved by administrators.
But in February, the school’s principal, Cleve Million, decided to cancel the production, claiming he had received phone calls from parents and community members opposed to the play’s content, and decided to cancel the production in order to protect students from any blowback that could come from allowing the production to go forward.
As news of the cancellation spread, a petition was created on Change.org in the hope of overturning the principal’s decision, garnering more than 5,000 signatures.
But the North Allen County School Board was unmoved and ultimately decided to keep the ban in place.
As Playbill reported, Wayne Barker, the superintendent of North Allen County Schools, later stated that there had been no phone calls demanding the play be canceled or threatening the school with violence.
Rather, according to Barker, Million was “concerned about the disruption that was being caused between students who wanted to participate in the play.”
After their request to reverse the cancellation was rejected, the school selected a new spring play, Puffs, or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic, a parody of the Harry Potter book series. But the students still didn’t give up on the idea of performing Marian — deciding to mount the production on their own.
The students eventually connected with the LGBTQ organization Fort Wayne Pride and began making plans for a one-night-only production at the Foellinger Outdoor Theater on May 20.
On May 4, the students launched a GoFundMe campaign — complete with an explanatory video — to help defray the expenses of putting on the play, raising more than $80,000 over 11 days. The funds from the GoFundMe will pay for the fees to rent the venue, insurance, costumes, and set construction.
It felt like [Million] was canceling us,” says one student in the video. “All because some parents decided to be bullies. And the thing about bullies, as any teacher would tell you, is that you can’t give in to them. What that does, it just emboldens them to keep on doing it.”
“Maybe that’s why adults have been bullying teachers, principals, and school boards all over the country,” remarks a second student.
“We’ve decided to fight back, staging our own independent production of the play,” organizers wrote in the GoFundMe description. “We want to show other communities around the country how to stand up to various parent groups bullying schools into canceling plays and musicals with LGBTQ+ content.”
Fort Wayne native Blane Pressler, a member of the LGBTQ community and the current artistic director of Ozark Actors Theatre, will return to his hometown to help carry out the performance.
“When I heard about this project, I was really excited to jump on board,” Pressler told Fort Wayne-based NPR affiliate WBOI. “Censorship also brought me here. Just knowing that art is very, very important and representation is really important and both of those being at risk with this made me want to do it.”
Peyton Stratton, a sophomore who is playing the titular character in Marian, told WBOI that the play’s cancellation brought the cast closer together, which she hopes will make it easier to develop the chemistry needed to successfully put on the play in what amounts to a shot turnaround time between the end of the performance dates for Puffs and May 20.
“We all really banded together because of ‘Marian’ during Puffs,” she said. “And we’re all just really close friends that it doesn’t really matter where we are, what director or what play, we’re just happy to all be there and we’re having fun.”
Stratton said seeing support from the community, as evidenced by the ever-increasing donations to the GoFundMe, has felt gratifying.
“A few months ago, we thought this was completely hopeless,” she said. “And it feels very earned in a way to be like ‘Wow, we did it and it’s happening.'”
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