As our own Andrew Davey reported earlier in the week, the controversy over a proposed production of “Rent” in Newport Beach has caught the attention of the New York Times.
In the short term, however, â€œRent: School Editionâ€ appears to be something of a cultural litmus test, with supporters and opponents of the play using its words and themes to battle. In recent years, school productions of â€œThe Vagina Monologuesâ€ and the musical â€œGreaseâ€ have led to complaints, the latter for its drinking, smoking and kissing.
Ron Martin, the theater teacher and director here at Corona del Mar High School, found out just how controversial â€œRentâ€ can be. It was canceled after he chose the student version for the spring musical, hoping that it would counter what he saw as creeping homophobia on this Orange County campus. A recent video on Facebook, featuring Corona del Mar students using gay slurs, had upset faculty and parents, and some teachers reported that they had heard slurs at school.
â€œThis is the first time Iâ€™ve chosen a show for the high school because I had an agenda,â€ Mr. Martin said. â€œIn this instance, having an agenda as a teacher didnâ€™t give me pause. My job is to give my students life skills. Discrimination is wrong on all levels.â€
He said his principal, Fal Asrani, had objected to the show because of its treatment of â€œprostitution and homosexuality.â€ â€œWhen I heard that, I stopped her and looked her in the eye and said, â€˜First, there is no prostitution in â€˜Rent,â€™ and second, homosexuality is not wrong,â€™Â â€ Mr. Martin said. â€œShe made no comment. It was the most demoralizing, disappointing moment in my career as a teacher.â€
Ms. Asrani, in a separate interview, flatly denied ever raising homosexuality or prostitution as concerns. She said that she had asked Mr. Martin to provide her with a copy of the script to review so that she would ensure that â€œthe show would be appropriate for people of all ages.â€ She and Mr. Martin agree that he did not have a copy and that he had said there was not enough time to review the script and ask the licensor, Music Theater International, if alterations could be made.
Ms. Asrani and Mr. Martin each said that the other was responsible for canceling the show.
So the question I have is, who is really to blame here.