October 3, 2007
Oh, please: school district official stops parodic Shakespeare performance
Some of you may have heard of, or even seen, The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged). I personally have a videotape of the Reduced Shakespeare Company performing it that I’m afraid I’m going to wear out. Here’s a clip — The Comedies:
It’s silly, complicated, a bit bawdy, even potentially offensive at points — rather a lot like Shakespeare, in fact.
Recently a theater company from New York was performing the play in Arizona. 700 students from the Higley Unified School District’s sixth through twelfth grades paid five dollars each to go on a voluntary field trip to see the play. 40 minutes into the performance, the district’s director of visual and performing arts, Tara Kissane, stopped the show.
“There was inappropriate language and the content was very suggestive. I don’t care what students hear on the streets, that’s not what we believe in presenting to our students,” Kissane said about the “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). . . .
“I thought it was great for college-aged students,” Kissane said. “I just thought it was over some of our kids’ heads and it wasn’t appropriate for our kids. If I’m going to err on the side of anything, I’m erring on the side of caution.”
First of all, again, Shakespeare’s plays themselves contain suggestive content, material that might well be over students’ heads, and potentially inappropriate language. Anyone going to a play called The Complete Works of Shakespeare ought to expect much of the same.
Second, if a district is going to go to the trouble of taking 700 students to a performance, shouldn’t that district take the time to check out what the performance is all about in the first place? A member of the theater group pointed out that they would have been willing to make adjustments had the district asked them to do so — but the district did not.
I’d be interested to know how the students were reacting to the play during those first 40 minutes. Given my tastes now and in high school, I expect I’d have enjoyed it immensely, but I’m a huge lit nerd, so maybe I’m not the best example. At any rate, though, it might have been one thing to stop the play if the students weren’t enjoying it –though, of course, if it were something less controversial and the students weren’t enjoying it, I kind of doubt the administration would have done anything. Somehow, though, I doubt that was the case.