With the censorship of the upcoming Carmel High School play, “A Very Potter Musical,” a parody of the “Harry Potter” novels, student actors continue to question the school’s censoring policy and its purpose.
Gracie Poletti, a first-year drama teacher at CHS, says that the play that will be shown at the end of the school year will have to be thoroughly edited, which creates old tensions regarding censorship in theater.
CHS’s criteria for play censorship includes omitting “very adult context and super provocative language, the f-word and racial slurs,” assistant principal Tom Parry explains.
Parry says that the CHS censoring policy is made because of the possible young audience that comes to watch the plays.
“It has less to do with what our students see or read; it’s more about the people who are coming and watching it,” Parry says. “The board of education wants things to be pretty family-friendly.”
Although profanity and racial slurs may not be allowed on stage, they are allowed in CHS English classes. Similar to other high schools, CHS students read novels such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Catcher in the Rye that include explicit content usually not allowed on stage.
To many student actors, this bias may seem unfair that the actors and actresses of CHS are not allowed to curse on the stage; however, they are allowed to discuss these same profanities in class.
“I don’t think it’s fair. In the name of artistic expression we read great works that contain swears, but under that same banner we are not allowed to present similar works on stage,” says Alex Poletti, lead actor in Carmel High’s latest play, “The Crucible.”
Censorship in high school theater may also set an example to students that it is acceptable to modify and adjust what the author has written, without considering the rights of the author. In real-life situations, some students say, this violates the author’s rights.
“It limits not only the shows we can do, but it limits the author because there is a reason he or she put those words in there,” says junior T.J. Sullinger, who has starred in eight CHS produced plays. “And when you have to either modify it or not do that show, it’s really unfortunate.”
Some students participating in censored plays feel as though they have been robbed of an experience.
Because of the censorship, they say they do not have the opportunity to act in uncensored plays, which they need to act in if they are to pursue acting in the future.
“It’s not a good representation of what happens in real life,” Sullinger notes. “It doesn’t get you a good idea of what it’s going to be like to do it outside of high school.”
Some note that censoring can also render the message of the play ineffective as far as what the play is trying to achieve.
“I think plays like these—“Spring Awakening,” “Topdog/Underdog” and “Angels in America,” to name a few—help young actors and audience members understand and cope with the dark realism they face out of high school and college,” theater manager Jack Clifford says.
Uncensored plays can also give students a new perspective on an issue or topic that otherwise may not have been discussed with censorship.
“It’s important for high school and college students to do shows that make them think about the world around them,” Clifford says.
However, some do argue that high schoolers being unable to use profanity and obscenity in the theater does not hinder the impact of the play.
“It’s not like we aren’t able to learn what we need to learn because we can’t use explicit language,” drama teacher Gracie Poletti says. “The art is not necessarily in the vulgar parts.”
In response to possible censorship for CHS’s production of “A Very Potter Musical,” the drama teacher adds, “I will fight so that we can do whatever we need to do artistically so that we can express ourselves.”