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Florida High School Under Fire for Canceling Play About LGBTQ Censorship

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On January 10, literary anti-censorship organization PEN America expressed concern over Douglas Anderson School of the Arts’ decision to completely cancel their production of the 1923 Yiddish play Indecent. The play itself, which calls out controversial topics and holds people accountable for their actions, speaks volumes about real-world censorship and suppression. Its story is based on the real-life cast and producer of God of Vengeance—which featured a relationship between two women—who were arrested for obscenity in 1923.

Alongside the National Coalition Against Censorship, PEN petitioned the school to allow the students to stage the play, despite the school’s decision to cancel it two months before production. The play was officially pulled for “adult sexual dialog that is inappropriate for cast members and student audiences,” according to PEN.

However, the cancellation of Indecent has to do with more than just adult sexual dialogue. When Douglas Anderson School of the Arts decided to pull the plug on a production like this, the message to their student body was loud and clear. The cancellation of this play not only impacts LGBTQIA+ students in the production, but also sends the message that the school itself does not seem to care about the historical experience of LGBTQIA+ people. This also contributes to a larger theme of erasure in the student body and overall community.

In a statement from the National Coalition Against Censorship pertaining to the cancellation, they said,Indecent is a critically acclaimed and award-winning 2015 play by Paula Vogel that possesses  rich educational and artistic merit. It has been produced Off-Broadway, on Broadway, and has been broadcast on PBS. It explores the story behind the 1907 Yiddish play, God of Vengeance, and how it was censored on Broadway in 1923 for obscenity, in part, over its depictions of lesbian relationships. Indecent takes inspiration from the origins and story of God of Vengeance, its subsequent obscenity trial, and its aftermath, to explore themes of LGBTQ+ rights, immigration, censorship, and antisemitism in the early 20th Century—themes which have striking relevance to the issues facing society today.”

In considering the true motive behind this decision, it is important to remember that the school itself has put on productions of shows like RENT and Chicago and has not canceled them or created backlash. Thus, it seems as though this cancellation has more to do with the LGBTQIA+ themes of the play itself, rather than “mature” content. There are many themes throughout the play that mirror society today. By preventing students from being able to express themselves through art, the school is taking away their voices, two months before curtain.

If Douglas Anderson School of the Arts is okay with productions with adult-themes featuring straight characters, they should hold all productions to the same standard, especially when failing to do so carries such terrible irony.

(via PEN America 100, featured image: Flickr/torbakhopper)

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