Less than 100 miles from where from the theatre world was changed forever, students are being denied an opportunity to produce a piece of theatre that changed the world. RENT exploded onto the stage in 1996 bringing to life the topics of drug use, HIV and homosexuality in a way never before seen. The musical, which would go on to win the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize, has since been produced across the nation in countless theaters and schools through the use of MTI. Its characters, its stories ad its message carry something we can all take from it. However, one high administration in Connecticut has decided those topics are too sensitive to be talked about or even performed on their stage. While many schools across the nation face closures in the arts due to a lack of fundings, others are beginning to face them due to military like action from administrators deeming what they think is acceptable for the stage. Today, Luner on Theatre brings you an unfortunate update on the decision from the principal at Trumbull High School in Connecticut to cancel the school’s scheduled production of RENT.
While Luner on Theatre first brought you coverage of this story just earlier this week, news that the scheduled production of RENT: School Edition would be cancelled came as a disappointing announcement to students at Trumbull High School in Connecticut only days before the Thanksgiving holiday just over a week ago. The announcement came from the principal, Marc Guarino, who stated to students he was concerned over the material presented through the production and that it would bring negative attention not only to the school and community but also himself. Within days, a petition had circulated and gained over 1,500 signatures while a Facebook Group Trumbull for RENT rallied support online through LIKES and comments. To this moment, the page has over 6,200 LIKES.
THS Thespian President Larissa Mark is the one responsible, for leading this “RENTbellion” as they are calling it, with circulating the petition and creating the Facebook group which had led to the growing knowledge of the issue outside of the Trumbull High Community. Adam Kantor, Anthony Rapp, Howard Sherman and plenty of other major arts figures have now rallied around the production and the importance that it take place at the school. All this attention caused the Trumbull High School principal to announce he was reconsidering his decision on the production’s future and would have word soon regarding it.
The announcement came late last night at a Trumbull School Board Meeting; RENT: School Edition at Trumbull High School was no longer an option. The decision was final and it came from Principal Marc Guarino. The school board and administration did not offer any support to the students or resistance to the principles decision which resulted in students taking the stance that the board and administration supported Guarino’s decision. His announcement came not in person but by letter. The letter was read out loud after Mr. Guarino chose not to attend the meeting in person.
Read Principal Marc Guarino’s Full Letter Here on Canceling RENT
Marc Guarino (Pictured Left) is the new principle of Trumbull High School. He recently took on this position this previous summer after previous having served as assistant principal in Guilford, Connecticut. In his letter explaining why he chose to cancel the production, Mr. Guarino explains he learned of RENT from a community member and not from the school.
“I first learned Trumbull High School was producing Rent: The School Edition not from the theatre arts department, but rather from a member of the community where I reside. Mrs. Spillane neither informed me nor consulted with me regarding the selection of Rent: The School Edition during the meetings we had in July and August.”
However, in another interview with Howard Sherman, Jessica Spillane (who is a 17 year veteran of Trumbull High School, the English Chair, an English and Drama teacher as well as the director for the thespian troupe and spring musical) mentioned never having to get approval before regarding productions the school was producing. While the school had recently produced titles such as Crazy For You, The Wiz, Fiddler on the Roof and The Music Man, RENT would rank among these shows as well known and often produced pieces in the theatrical world. She also mentioned that RENT: School Edition was announced back in August. There were also announcements regarding the production made during the first two weeks of the school year, which we can assume began in September. Why is it that the Principal of a high school found out what show his school is putting on in the spring in November when he should have known since August? Was he not paying attention in those meetings when RENT was more than likely suggested as a possibility? I’m not blaming Spillane or any of the dram students here. It seems to me that a lack of attention paid to a specific department has led to this late in the game decision months after the production was confirmed for Trumbull High School. If Mr. Guarino wanted to set forth a new policy of having all school productions cleared through him, I can’t imagine Spillane or any of the theatre students arguing this. However, how can one follow a new policy they never knew even existed? Perhaps you should drop by the call board a little bit more Mr. Guarino.
If you visit MTI’s official website, RENT: School Edition is billed in the following way; “This [school] adaptation has been carefully done, working with the Larson estate to retain the dramatic intent of the groundbreaking rock musical, and consists of minimal changes to language and the removal of one song (‘Contact’) to make it possible for many schools to perform this piece.” RENT: School Edition was purposefully made to begin this conversation in the school system because that is how important it is. If you’re wondering what discussion I’m talking about, I’m talking about all the issues presented to us in RENT which have only become more a part of our daily lives since the production debuted on Broadway back in 1996. Drugs, love, homosexuality, HIV and AIDS are more important to talk about in today’s society beginning at a younger age than ever before.
Guarino wants more time to plan RENT: School Edition for Trumbull High School to be able to set up the conversation that must be had with the production. Sadly, that conversation has erupted in recent days due to the handling of this situation. Also, Guarino’s attempt to cover up the school producing the piece has gone out the window as well. Didn’t he say he was interested in not bringing negative attention to the school, community or himself? What Guarino has failed to see is that the conversation is already happening. Drug use, homosexuality, HIV/AIDS are all a part of our daily lives now. The conversation doesn’t need to be set up; we’re living it.
The absolute worst part about all of this is that theatre is an opportunity to educate, discuss and relate to the world we live in and experience daily. Here, we have a recently created show that deals with issues effecting us daily that no one wants to have the conversation about. And who is fostering all of this? Educators! Could it get any worse? The job of an educator is to foster an environment where students feel safe, where they can express themselves and most importantly, where they can not only learn new material but become a better person. Everything mentioned above is no longer possible at Trumbull High School. Students are upset and feel attacked over the show being cancelled. Their chance to express themselves has been taken away so how exactly are they suppose to feel safe there? Most importantly, delaying or disregarding a conversation you will need to have with a teenager will not make you, or more importantly them, a better person.
Luner on Theatre is excited to announce we will be doing an Exclusive Interview with Larissa Marks! Larissa Marks is the senior THS Thespian President who took on the huge task of challenging the administration at Trumbull High School after the announcement came that RENT: School Edition would be cancelled.
This conversation is not over. It is truly just beginning for all us. While we can’t demand answers from Principal Guarino or the administrators who silently backed his awful decision, we can question their stance and hold the power to determine their future. Some of these officials sit in elected positions and some do not. The non elected officials may be safe from the vote of the public but they will have to answer daily to their actions which will now only keep students from the reality of the current world we live in. What do we call our educators who refuse to educate? For more information, stay tuned to Luner on Theatre for more regarding the decision to cancel the production of RENT: School Edition set to play Trumbull High School this spring. Don’t forget to check back for our Exclusive Interview with Larissa Marks as we continue the conversation regarding RENT: School Edition at Trumbull High and we push for Actions Through The Arts! Be sure to follow Luner on Theatre on Facebook and Follow Us on Twitter as well! We are constantly updating these pages with information! And of course, check out the rest of Luner on Theatre for all your theatre news you don’t only need but want to know and so much more!