School: ‘No way’ on play — but not due to gays
South Williamsport Area School District is “recasting” its 2014 musical production after it decided to not run Monty Python’s “Spamalot.”
District’s Superintendent Dr. Mark Stamm said the report filed by WNEP-TV that claimed South Williamsport Junior-Senior High School Principal Jesse Smith cancelled the show because of its homosexual themes was inaccurate.
“The high school principal did not make the comment that was attributed to him by the WNEP-TV reporter. The South Williamsport Area School District strives to provide a rigorous and relevant educational program that accommodates all students. We serve the community and all its children,” Stamm said.
Stamm said the play was never canceled because it was never approved.
“It was a play that was submitted for consideration,” Stamm said. “It was never officially approved.”
The decision has prompted criticism from some members of the community and national media attention.
According to Stamm, the district’s high school drama adviser Dawn Burch submitted the play to Smith, who brought several concerns to Stamm’s attention.
“Board policy requires the building principal to approve public performances. The building principal discussed it with me and there were concerns over the content that was not appropriate for audiences of all ages,” Stamm said.
Stamm and Smith felt that in addition to the language, there was some content that was “inappropriate.”
“It was any number of things … when you look at the website for the play it has a list of modifications to be made to make the play appropriate for high school students. Language and whole songs would need to be replaced,” Stamm said.
The musical, which is billed as a musical based on the motion picture “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” is a satirical production loosely focused around King Arthur and his knights.
The show has Arthur, king of the Britons, traveling around England and engaging in adventures with knights such as Sir Lancelot and Sir Robin the Not-So-Brave-As-Sir-Lancelot. The musical concludes with weddings between several characters in the show, including Sir Lancelot, who weds a prince.
While Stamm realizes the production is a satire, he felt the need to modify the play was unnecessary if another production could be chosen.
“The play itself is meant to be a satire, and major parts of it are designed for more mature audiences. Our concern was, if it had to modified that extensively that perhaps we could look for a play that was more appropriate for everyone,” Stamm said.
Art Leiberman, producer for Courtyard Theater in the Susquehanna Valley Mall in Selinsgrove, who has seen the show and said there is some profanity and suggestive content, says for a school to perform “Spamalot” is entirely up to the school board.
“I would give the original Broadway version a PG-17, if not R rating. The high school version maybe PG-13,” Leiberman said. “My personal opinion on Spamalot doesn’t mean a thing to school boards. Every school district and school board has regulations on what is proper and improper for kids to see.”
Leiberman echoes Stamm when it comes to modifying the play for all-age audiences.
“Why bother to pick a show you have to make those changes to when you can pick one the audience is more familiar with,” Lieberman said. “If you take the sexual content out, you lose a lot of the fun.”
Burch, who has been the school’s drama director since January 2013, was unavailable for comment, as was Smith.
“Pursuant to a request from the drama director, the district is working to identify a different musical that will offer all students on the stage and in the audience a rich theatrical performance,” Stamm said.