Catapulted cows are flying over the battlements of South Williamsport Junior-Senior High School! Well, they would be if the north-central Pennsylvania institution had not cancelled their production of Monty Python’s Spamlot because of homosexual content.
Principal Jesse Smith signed a check for $1,935 to cover the licensing fee for school’s spring musical but, one month later, expressed concerns to show director Dawn Burch that he “not comfortable with Spamalot and its homosexual themes.” He went on to state that school plays were “community events” in South Williamsport, a small town best known for hosting the annual Little League World Series. He didn’t want “families to be afraid of bringing small kids because of the content,” nor students made “to choose between their own personal beliefs and whether or not to take part in a production.”
Burch continued to defend Spamalot, a musical comedy based on the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It includes a frivolous subplot involving Sir Lancelot, a closeted gay man who comes out “escaping like a butterfly” in a Village People-type number. The show won the Best Musical Tony in 2005 and ran on Broadway for four years. It has been produced at numerous high schools since then.
Dawn Burch was fired by school officials for “performance issues.”
The incident was reported on a blog written by Howard Sherman, a former executive director of the American Theater Wing, which focuses on the theater industry and school censorship.
School District Superintendent Mark Stamm rallied behind Smith’s position, then backpedalled slightly, commenting that the issue was not gay issues, but concern “over the content that was not appropriate for audiences of all ages.”
Protests have been pouring in from places like the Dramatists Guild of America, Keystone Progress, and the National Coalition Against Censorship. Stephen Schwartz, president of the Dramatists Guild (and composer of Godspell, Pippin, Wicked, and other musicals), wrote:
“Would you cancel a school production of The Diary of Anne Frank because of concern over the sensitivities of Holocaust deniers and those with anti-Semitic views in your community? That seems unlikely. Why then are you so solicitous of homophobia?”
Perhaps the school officials overlooked another musical number from the show, “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway if you don’t Have Any Jews.”
The school district has not publicly responded to these letters.
John Neurohr, communications director for Keystone Progress, stated that his group was not focused on protesting the cancellation of Spamalot but supporting “a safe and inviting environment” for gay and straight people alike in South Williamsport.
That’s a good idea, in case someone in Little League bats for the other team.