Inside the Controversial Carroll High School Cancellation of MarianFollowing the cancellation of a high school production of Adam Szymkowicz's Marian, or The True Tale of Robin Hood earlier this year, students at Indiana's Carroll High School have organized to present the production independently. Rehearsals are already underway for a one-night-only performance May 20 at the Foellinger Outdoor Theater. To raise funds for the production, the students have partnered with Fort Wayne Pride, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the community about LGBTQ+ issues.
Last February, Playbill reported on the school's cancellation of Marian, or The True Tale of Robin Hood follow parent outrage over the work's gay and non-binary characters. The comedic play is described by licensor Concord Theatricals as a "gender-bending, patriarchy-smashing ... new take" on the tale of Robin Hood. Szymkowicz's version of the story recasts Robin Hood as Maid Marian in disguise, leading a group of mostly non-male Merry Men. The work premiered via NYC's Flux Theatre Ensemble in 2017.
Though Szymkowicz did tell Playbill that the original play "would not be appropriate" for high school students, Carroll had planned to present a "Teen Edition" Concord offers with a script adapted specially to be performed by teen actors for family audiences. In a petition created by someone only identified as "C M" but who appeared to be an adult community member, the petition claimed the play had been approved by an administrator, and described the planned production as a "huge step forward in representation for Carroll's queer community."
Through further investigation, Playbill uncovered that despite the initial reports that the school's principal, Cleve Million, received numerous "calls from parents" expressing concerns which urged the decision to cancel, Northwest Allen County Schools Superintendent Wayne Barker painted a different picture in a statement: "The principal was concerned about the disruption that was being caused between students who wanted to participate in the play. Rumors persist that the play was canceled because of parental complaints or threats made against students by outside people. This is simply not true." In the same statement, Barker stressed that Million's decision was still rooted in concern for controversy, which could lead to potential safety issues within the school's community, making clear that even in the absence of actual threats, the fear of any threat emerging is a very real one in communities across the United States today.
Students have just three weeks to rehearse for their independent production, which is supported through their crowdfunding with Fort Wayne Pride. At the time of publication, the students have already raised $8,000 of their $50,000 production goal. Despite the short rehearsal period, the students are more determined than ever. “It’s crazy, we know, but [what's] even crazier is not standing up to the bullies, and that’s not going to happen,” says Carroll student Kaitlyn Gulley, who also serves president of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance.
Another student, Stella Brewer, says no school district can stop these stories from being told completely, and the show will go on: "Queer people have always been around, and like this play, you can try and cancel it, but they're always going to be around, and they're still going to exist no matter what happens, and this play is going to exist no matter what happens."
Art censorship is not a new phenomenon, but it is an alarmingly increasing one across the United States education system. Many students like Brewer and her classmates have faith that, like their Marion production, art will persevere. "You can cancel the play, you can cancel a book or a piece of art, but it's still going to live on, and that's really the nature of art. You can burn the painting itself, but the meaning it has lives on."
To learn more or make a donation, visit MarianLives.org.