Words By Tysen Romeo
On May 2022, “Indecent” was approved as Douglas Anderson School of the Arts’ spring theatrical production. Auditions were held in December 2022 and roles were cast before winter break started. The show was set to open in March, but on Jan. 5, the first day of rehearsals, the production was canceled.
“Indecent” is a Tony Award-winning play about the controversy surrounding “The God of Vengeance,“ written by Sholem Asch in 1918 which tells the story about breaking through social barriers and the consequences that follow. “Indecent” was written by Paula Vogel and premiered at the Yale Repertory Theatre in October 2015. “Indecent” goes beyond the history of “The God of Vengeance” and transcends into the matters of religion, love, culture and the Holocaust. The play also features a queer Jewish couple at the center of its story.
The story within “Indecent” meant so much to the cast and crew of Douglas Anderson’s scheduled production. “I think it gave all of us a sense of hope and pride that we were being trusted with such sacred theatrical material. ‘Indecent’ is a story for and by storytellers. It is worshiped and seen as a narrative of how resilient theater is,” said Madeline Scotti, a senior at Douglas Anderson and one of the leads in the play.
The school normally puts on a production every semester, including the summer. The decision to cancel “Indecent” came from the Duval County School Board. The spokesperson for Douglas Anderson Tracy Pierce said that the show’s content is “inappropriate for student cast members and student audiences,” adding the show contained “adult sexual dialog.”
The students in the cast were heartbroken when they learned the show was canceled. “[I felt] silenced as a student, as an artist and as a human. There is still so much heartbreak and grief over losing a show I love,” said Scotti. The students and staff all had been preparing over winter break and the news that something they were all so excited for had been canceled was devastating to learn.
“It is not uncommon for complex shows to grace the DA stage,” Scott added. “In previous seasons, we did ‘Rent’ and ‘The Shadow Box.’ In essence, choosing ‘Indecent’ —and all that it stands for—was not abnormal for DA,” said Scotti.
“Rent” and “The Shadow Box” both contain mature language, sexual references and drug- related themes. Douglas Anderson staged “Rent” in April 2021. In early 2022, Gov. Ron DeSantis, signed the “Parental Rights in Education” otherwise known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which reads, “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
Some students at Douglas Anderson feel as if the bill might have influenced the school board’s decision to cancel the production of “Indecent.”
Not so, according to Pierce, who said, “The decision has no relevance to any legislation but is rather a function of our responsibilities to ensure students engage in educational activities appropriate for their age.”
But Pierce’s statement contradicts the Douglas Anderson students’ claims against the legislation. The bill says that kindergarten through grade 3 are prohibited to discuss LGBTQ+ topics. So why is a high school forced to cancel a show deeming the material too mature for students in grades 9-12, if not to silence the voices of queer students who just want to feel represented on stage? Where does the line get drawn for queer relationships to be talked about in school then?
If Douglas Anderson is used to putting on productions with mature topics like sex, drugs and adult language, then what other reason does the school board have to cancel the show than because of the queer Jewish relationship that is at the heart of the story. This leads everything back to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, a piece of legislation aimed at silencing LGBTQ+ voices in the Florida education system. The school board can give many reasons why they canceled the show, but the truth is they didn’t want to spread love and truth.
Queer love is something that is never going to go away. Legislation like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill merely creates obstacles for students to maneuver around in order to discover themselves. High school is the point in many young queer people’s lives where they finally feel comfortable to be themselves, and while school officials want to silence queer voices, the students will continue to speak up against the hate they are receiving.
“While there is an overwhelming amount of sadness, there is even more support and love from the theater community. This sense of community is something I will never forget,” said Scotti.
School officials replaced “Indecent” with “The Seagull “by Anton Chekhov.