Tag: drama

Banned Spotlight: Plays and Musicals

Books aren’t the only focus of Banned Books Week. Plays, musicals, and other theatrical productions are frequent targets of censors, from the bright lights of Broadway to the smallest grade school.

The Dramatists Legal Defense Fund works to protect the rights of playwrights and performers, including their First Amendment rights to stage a work. One of the tools DLDF provides is The Defender, a database of dramatic works that have been challenged or censored in the United States. The database provides a way to track challenges to staged works, examples of ways in which challenges were overcome, and an idea of who is challenging plays and musicals and why.

At present, the list includes more than 70 works that have been targeted by censors. The attacks range from censorship of the source material, to calls for boycotts, to cancellations of productions, to termination of staff who supported the staging of the work.

A few highlights from the list:

  • A production of American Idiot, the stage version of Green Day’s hit album, was cancelled at Enfield High School in Connecticut after a handful of parents complained about mature content in the musical and threatened to keep their children from participating. Several members of the Banned Books Week Coalition signed a letter in support of the play.
  • Avenue Q, a hit musical comedy starring puppets that satirizes the anxieties of adulthood, saw the removal of ads in Colorado Springs because of visible puppet cleavage.
  • Members of a church in Fulton, Missouri, objected to the depiction of smoking, drinking, and kissing in Grease.
  • The Loveland High School in Ohio fired the director of the school’s production of Legally Blonde over “bootie-bounce dance moves” and the use of the word “skank”
  • The Sheen Center for Thought and Culture in Greenwich Village cancelled Playwrights for a Cause, a benefit supporting the National Coalition Against Censorship, because of Neil LaBute’s anti-censorship monologue Mohammed Gets a Boner.
  • A Pennsylvania high school cancelled a production of Spamalot over homosexual themes and subsequently fired the drama teacher for speaking about the cancellation.

You can view the entirety of DLDF’s database here.

Previous Banned Spotlights:

Banned Spotlight: Drama

One would think there wouldn’t be much controversy around a bestselling graphic novel about a middle school play — a graphic novel that includes no profanity, drug or alcohol use, or sexual content. But Raina Telgemeier’s acclaimed and immensely popular Drama has been on the hit lists of a number of would-be censors, who claim the book is offensive because it includes LGBTQ characters. Drama held the #3 spot on ALA’s top ten challenged books list in 2017, and it also had the dubious honor of appearing on the 2016 list for offensive political viewpoint and the 2014 list for being sexually explicit.

Callie, the protagonist of Drama, loves the theater, but she’s no singer, so she’s the set designer for her school’s production of Moon Over Mississippi. But she doesn’t know much about carpentry, and there’s no way she can afford Broadway production on a middle-school budget. Callie befriends two cute twin brothers: Justin, who is openly gay, and Jesse, who is still struggling with his sexual identity. In the course of the story, Jesse ends up assuming a female role in the play because the original actress cannot perform, and he shares a chaste kiss on stage with another male character.

Drama, which was published in 2012, won the Stonewall Honor and was nominated for a Harvey Award. It was listed as a Best Book of 2012 by School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and The Washington Post. The New Times and Booklist included it on their Editor’s Choice lists, and NPR named it a great summer read for teens.

Drama has been banned on multiple occasions in Texas. The state ACLU releases an annual banned books report, usually in conjunction with Banned Books Week. In the 2016-17 school year, Drama was the only banned book in the Texas ACLU’s findings. It was removed from the Franklin Independent School District. It was also banned from Chapel Hill Elementary in Mount Pleasant in 2014-15, as well as Kirbyville Middle School in 2015-16.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has also helped defuse a number of potential challenges to the book and provides resources in support of it:

Find more of ALA OIF’s top ten challenged and banned lists here.