Carroll High School cancels 'Marian' production amid concerns from parents
Carroll High School has come under scrutiny for the decision to cancel the student play, following concerns from parents over LGBTQ+ material in the show.
‘Marian, or the True Tale of Robin Hood’ is a play about the well-known folk icon, but this time the famous outlaw is actually Maid Marian in disguise.
A published summary of the play calls it a “gender-bending, patriarchy-smashing, hilarious new take” on the tale of Robin Hood.
And Carroll High School had selected it as their play this year.
Senior Tristan Wasserman said the play features a large and active ensemble cast, good representation of roles and gave lots of focus on side characters.
“‘Marian’ was the goldilocks of plays for us,” he said.
On Friday morning, the second day of auditions, Wasserman and his fellow theater students were called into the gymnasium where principal Clive Million and the theater director announced ‘Marian’ had been canceled.
According to Wasserman, it was explained to students that some calls from parents showed concerns over LGBTQ+ elements of the play – such as a same-sex couple and a non-binary character.
Wasserman said it was explained to students that the decision to cancel was made for their wellbeing.
“No threats have been made," he said. "He was just afraid that people may show up of their own accord to ruin our experience with their own, like, heckling or harassment.”
Northwest Allen County Superintendent Wayne Barker said the decision to cancel came from Carroll’s administration, without input from the board or himself.
“It really came down to what we felt, our high school administration felt, was in the best interest of our students," Barker said. "And, after talking with them and hearing their explanation of it, I support that decision.”
Barker said the controversy of the subject matter wasn’t just about parents, but that it had begun to extend to students as well. But, he did say, there was a concern of outside influence.
“I know there were people who were upset that the play was being considered to be put on, I think there was worry about protests and things like that,” Barker said.
Following the cancellation, an unnamed student began a petition on the platform Change.org to get the play reinstated. As of Thursday afternoon, the petition had more than 4,200 signatures.
Howard Sherman, an advocate for high school theater, became aware of the petition over the weekend. He said the issue of censorship is a wide one.
“There is a tendency for administrations to quickly jump to remove or ban or censor over a handful of complaints, and not to listen to the entirety of their community about the kind of education they want their students to receive," Sherman said.
Around the country, school districts and libraries have been removing or banning books, including NACS, which had a fight over math textbooks due to story problem content.
But, Sherman said, with censoring plays, the situation is a little different.
“In the case of plays; Plays only live when they’re on stage,” he said.
As news of the cancellation and subsequent petition spread, the board heard about an hour of public comment during its regular meeting Monday evening.
Several students, both involved in theater and not, took the podium to speak on behalf of the play being reinstated, including Wasserman.
"And I would rather do a play that I know I'd get heckled at, while standing up for what I believe in, rather than every moment knowing that we were censored by the school," Wasserman told the board.
Students who spoke were unanimously in favor of the play and many of them expressed the importance of listening to student voices in these matters.
One student openly identified as bisexual when she spoke to the board. She recounted bullying she’d faced at other schools, due to her sexuality. At Carroll, she said, she felt accepted and included.
"And by you taking away the play, it's been swept right underneath my feet again," she told the board.
Sherman said that’s exactly what the school is risking by canceling plays with LGBTQ+ elements.
S3: “The harm of denying LGBTQ+ stories is immense. It send the message that there is something wrong with people in those communities, people with those identities and that’s loathsome.”
Some of the parents and community members who spoke in favor of canceling the play cited their faith…
"And the bible says that homosexuality is a sin," one attendee said. "It's forgivable. Don't get me wrong, it's forgivable. And we love them, but nevertheless."
The petition itself came under fire during the public comments as well. Two commenters mentioned that anyone, from anywhere can sign the petition.
For example, Sherman, who shared the petition several times on his Twitter account and signed it himself.
“Yes, I’m a New Yorker," Sherman said. "Why do I care about what’s going on in Fort Wayne? Because every high school kid, and I’ll tell you specifically every theater kid, matters to me, because they are the ones who are gonna be running the world.”
And Tristan said the petition shows a wider trend.
"But it also shows that, not even as a school system, or as a city, or as a state we don’t stand for this, but as a country that we don’t stand for the censorship of our students' voices," he said.
Barker said that, while he stands by the decision made by school officials and that he believes their intentions were good, the choice not to involve students in the decision should be considered.
“I think, for us, going forward we’ll want to involve the students in those decisions and try to give them a voice," he said.
As for the concern that some parents or community members may protest the play or harass students involved in it, Sherman believes the school handled those concerns poorly.
“It is the school’s responsibility to ensure that that doesn’t occur," he said.
Barker said he’s sorry to any LGBTQ+ students who were hurt by the school’s decision.
"We certainly don’t want to, by making a different selection regarding a play, to do anything that makes them feel any less included than anyone else in our school," he said. "We want all students to feel safe and a sense of belonging there.”
But he doesn’t expect that decision to change.
“But we will not be performing the play that was in question,” he said.
Wasserman said he’s not sure what the next steps are right now.
“It’s really just to see what happens next and if we get to go on with the play, great, and if we don’t then I’ll keep fighting until it’s over," he said.
A new spring play has yet to be chosen.