You Can’t “Rent” In Trumbull

This week, Trumbull took a star turn in the spotlight usually reserved for small towns filled with small-minded people, many many miles from Broadway.

Rent logoBut the principal of Trumbull High School really stepped in it when he decreed that “Rent” — the Pulitzer Prize-winning, long-running hit musical — would not be allowed as the Thespian Society’s spring production.

A few days later, Trumbull’s Board of Education backed him up. They too believe that some of the show’s plot elements — homosexuality, drug use, AIDS — are inappropriate for high school students.

Showing far more wisdom and insight than their elders — and plenty of restraint — an enormous number of Trumbull students disagreed. They pointed out that sex and drugs are part of their reality. They talked respectfully about the importance of artistic freedom. And they started a Facebook page that garnered thousands of pledges of support.

Staples PlayersThe tempest in Trumbull stands in stark contrast to the high school theater scene in Westport, just a few miles away. In recent years, Staples has produced “controversial” — aka “real” — shows like “The Laramie Project” and “Cabaret.” Nearly 20 years ago, they staged “Falsettos.”

And in 2010, Players’ summer production was “Rent.”

Westport points with pride to Players — and rightly so. In weeks like this, we should be proud too of our administrators and Board of Education. Not for “allowing” Players to do such important theater — that’s something every educator should encourage — but for never even causing anyone here to think it could possibly be an issue.

"Rent" cast members (from left) Chris McNiff, David Ressler and Tyler Jent. (Photo by Kerry Long)

Staples Players’ “Rent” cast members in 2010 (from left) Chris McNiff, David Ressler and Tyler Jent. (Photo by Kerry Long)

24 responses to “You Can’t “Rent” In Trumbull

  1. I’m surprised to learn that about the Trumbull H.S. principal, and really happy to see the students take a stand together. I just finished a biography of George Washington. He enjoyed theater and it was a time when theater was considered risque. To me, theater is supposed to push the “envelope.” Otherwise, what’s the point? I’ve seen Rent, and it challenges people in a respectful and authentic manner. Congrats to Westport for supporting authentic theater.

  2. Bravo Dan! I remember Stalag 17 as a great play and history lesson. The only controversy was Mr. Pia asking me to cut my hair for my art! I cut my hair! Mike and Mario barber shop was never the same! Peace! Eddie Wilder

  3. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    I’d love to snoop around the Trumbull H.S. library. The collection must be very small. Shame.

  4. Charlie Greenwald

    Excellent Dan

  5. Kuddos to those that stand up. Rent is an exceptional storyline and all such real life issues. The principal should watch some of the shows on tv and daytime tv. Children start being even more curious about things at age 10 … afterall I know as I have a 5 th grader ….she also has Norwalk DARE in her classroom and they act out many skits … in a way each can learn from them. Todays children are exposed to so much more media subjects, then I was at her age. Parents need to have an open dialogue with their kids about all ideas and anything that is taboo.

    I hope the principal reconsiders, what a disservice he or she is doing to their school community.

  6. As if not allowing Rent to be shown would have any effect at all on the students. I could just hear the kids now at the water fountain. “Gee, Rent isn’t being performed at the school. I guess I’ll stop drinking alcohol now and stop having sex, otherwise if it was perfrormed at the school, I’d be doing both tomorrow.

  7. Leslie Greene

    wow all three of my daughters have seen Rent on Broadway (with me)…they were each in their mid-teens at the time, and they are all better for the experience. An absolute favorite that opened their eyes and broadened their perspective. What a shame that the Trumbull students are being prohibited from presenting this performance. A loss for the students and the community. The Trumbull administrators need to get their heads out of the sand! This is reality–what are you afraid of?

  8. Maybe they should put on Miller’s “The Crucible.”

  9. There has been controversy about Staples Players productions. Back in the mid 90’s the student head of the Players chose Falsettos as the play he wanted to see performed. This a Broadway play about a family man who is gay and is dying from AIDS. Gloria, the then principal of Staples, refused to have Falsettos performed at Staples. Fortunately, the Westport Playhouse volunteered their stage for the production. I remember this well as I was anew

  10. I am posting twice as my PC is acting up.
    I remember this well because as a new board member of Mid Fairfield AIDS Project (MFAP) we were selling AIDS pins in the lobby. I saw the play and found it very profound and emotional.
    Another coup for Staples Players!!

  11. Bradley Jones

    Not unlike Jack mentions above, if we they don’t do this production of RENT perhaps we should just forget about HIV/AIDS education as well? Maybe if they don’t do RENT, maybe I won’t have to take my meds tomorrow, and my wasting “tushie” will miraculously restore itself? If they don’t do RENT, maybe we can all revert back to a world that lacks complexity and gradient thinking? Do I have to sit through one more Rodger’s and Hammerstein show without the promise of a production that will come along to normalize and teach us about life’s difficulties? GACK!

  12. Sharon Paulsen

    Wow, what a shame to hear about this “censoring” in this day and age! Back in the mid-1980’s, the Players put on a kick ass production of Cabaret (David Roth was the MC, and he rocked that role). The pit orchestra was amazing too. The following year, it was the safe, fuzzy-happy production of Hello Dolly (I performed in the pit orchestra for that one, but wished I had auditioned for Cabaret the year before).
    I live in Trumbull with my husband now, but no kids in the school system here (thank geeoood!). Hate to think kids are missing out on wonderful creative opportunities, in Fairfield County no less, because of one man’s own lack of awareness. Ugh.

  13. Haven’t seen “Rent” myself (other than the hilarious send-up of it in “Team America World Police”) but the issue of censorship by nervous school authorities is an old story.

    I do caution all those in “06880” land that there are other towns, less affluent, less tied to Manhattan, less likely to have ever spent $150 a piece on Broadway theater tickets — that include more traditionally-minded people…often immigrants from other lands.

    That does not excuse what’s no doubt a bad call by a principal, but points out there are different constituencies pressuring school authorities.

    For example, I am told that the Staples Candlelight Concerts, these days, the Christmas content has been played down quite a bit, compared with the early 70’s when I performed in them. This is presumably out of concern for the feeling of Jewish families, despite the fact that in the 70’s neither my parents, nor any other of the many Jewish parents I knew of, had any objections at all to their children performing Christmas music.

  14. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    Just let the kids play music.

  15. Sharon Paulsen

    This comment from Peter Blau triggered a negative chord in me (pun intended):

    “I do caution all those in “06880″ land that there are other towns, less affluent, less tied to Manhattan, less likely to have ever spent $150 a piece on Broadway theater tickets — that include more traditionally-minded people…often immigrants from other lands.”

    It hints towards an assumption of perhaps a lack of, say … sophistication, existing in towns other than our beloved Westport. So, the farther you live from NY, the less open minded you’ll be? What if you get too close to Boston – then what are we? Carefull of reverse sterotypes, I say.
    As if exposing a storyline such as Rent to “traditionally minded immigrants” would be automatically shunned or misunderstood? A narrow minded comment, cloaked in an “observation of demographics” demeanor. I suppose it annoys me too because I do live in Trumbull now, and let’s just say that our lovely, smart and discerning neighbors and friends here, many with kids in this school system, regularly pay whatever amount of money to see theatre in Manhatten, or anywhere else for that matter.
    I doubt that the decision to NOT perform Rent in Trumbull hardly has anything to do with the implied limited minded immigrants from “other lands”. (Sorry Mr. Blau, I know it’s a free country, but seriously?).
    Ok, so I’ve said it. I’m ready for rebuttle – anyone? Beuler?
    Sincerely, a Westport native, with gratitude.

    • The statement that ” the farther you live from NY, the less open minded you’ll be?” is a statement that can not be backed up and is ridiculous. I could point to New Haven as a place far from NYC yet very open-minded.

      • Sharon Paulsen

        Hey Jack,
        Yes, of course it’s ridiculous. I was being sarcastic
        and ironical. I felt that any assumptions of people living in towns “not as close to Manhatten as Westporters” (which I felt was somewhat implied by Blau’s comment), was narrowminded. You see? 🙂

  16. Sorry I think I was being too subtle here. Was not trying to be dismissive of people LESS privileged than Westporters; just the opposite.

    Let me rephrase: It is very easy for entitled — and liberal — people in a fancy place like this to look down at people in a nearby town that is not exclusively rich and/or upper-middle-class.

    I know diversity is seen a good thing around here, but theres also a flip side: it also means being open to people who don’t subscribe to your worldview. Conservative Christians, for example! Just who is being close-minded here?

  17. But the fact of the matter is how different is Westport from Greenwich, Fairfield, Darien, New Canaan…there seems to be this sense of entitlement around Westport when in fact that surrounding towns are just as well off if not even better than 06880.

    • I don’t see a sense of entitlement in Westfair Village. I think all this talk of entitlement would be hard to guage and prove. I’m sure there is some truth to it, but I wouldn’t label a whole town that way.

  18. Trumbull’s taken a half step, but I’m not sure in which direction. The high school principal has allowed the show to go ahead, but three weeks later, and with a big program of “intervention,” including the ADL preceding it. This begs the question as to why a 20 year old award winning show about issues its actors are more than familiar with doesn’t stand on its own, and whether the perceived need for more education doesn’t say something about the schools’ curriculum? Several parents responded to the announcement, happy the show has been allowed to move ahead, but opposed to the new dates because these dates pose huge schedule conflicts.