USA: NCAC raises curtain on theatre censorship in public schools

24 November 2014


National Coalition Against Censorship in the U.S. has published a toolkit for organising against theatre censorship in public schools: ‘The show must go on’

“Censorship of the theatre has existed since its emergence as an art form. From Oedipus Rex to Cabaret, some of the most artistically rich theatre has been disturbing, subversive, transformative, and often a target of censorship.

Today, in the United States, censorship controversies around performance most frequently occur in schools. Challenges to drama productions come from parents, community members, or school officials.

In these situations, students can effectively resist censorship. As school employees, teachers may be reluctant to oppose the decision of their principal or superintendent no matter how strongly they believe a particular play should be produced. Students, on the other hand, are free to defend their right to free access to educational materials and their right to artistic expression.

This toolkit is designed to provide students with the resources to navigate tensions in local communities and lead the fight for artistic freedom.

What follows are suggestions about how to proceed in responding to the call for censorship. Each individual censorship case is unique, and, as such, you may need to adapt these ideas to fit your specific situation.”

» Access or download the toolkit as a PDF from:

Two theatre productions cancelled

In 2014, two theatre productions were cancelled in North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

“The reason is by now predictable,” wrote NCAC in a newsletter: “The plays, Monty Python’s ‘Spamalot’ and John Cariani’s ‘Almost, Maine’, which are otherwise regular school fare, dare to mention same-sex relationships in communities that pride themselves on their conservative values. Too bad if there are gay students in the community or if not everyone agrees that same-sex relationships should be a shameful secret…”

NCAC has mobilised national and local voices to oppose the cancellations and created – together with the Dramatists Legal Defense Fund – the above mentioned toolkit to help local grassroots organising against theatre censorship in public schools and give students the know-how to lead and to fight for artistic freedom.

In 2014, NCAC also celebrated the victory of Trumbull Thespians, who prevailed over school administrators and successfully staged ‘Rent’. The Trumbull Thespians proved their mettle with an organising blitz that garnered national media attention and the honour of being feted at NCAC’s 40th birthday bash.

In this video clip, the Thespians, with drama teacher Jessica Spillane, accept their Free Speech Defender award and grace the stage with a medley from their hit production of ‘Rent’:

Published on on 19 November 2014

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