Administrators say Southeast's 'Romeo' too racy for high school

Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Romeo, played by Desmond Gray, prepared to kiss Juliet, played by Emily Brown, during a scene from the dress rehearsal of Southeast Missouri State University's production of "Romeo and Juliet." (Don Frazier)

Some high schools back out of reservations to see the university's production.

Southeast Missouri State University's theater and dance department was hoping its production of "Romeo and Juliet" might help turn some high school students on to Shakespeare.

With an updated take on Romeo's band of rowdy friends, director and department chair Dr. Kenn Stilson thought today's youth might be able to connect more easily with the Elizabethan-era writing.

Stilson turned the Montague crew into what he calls "frat boys," a hormone-driven group that talks about sex, getting drunk and getting into fights.

But for three Southeast Missouri schools, Stilson's take on the classic had an opposite effect. High schools in Bloomfield, Scott City and Woodland canceled their matinee reservations Monday, causing a loss of about $3,000 for the department.

Administrators cited the bawdiness of the production's first act as the reason for pulling their students' reservations. Stilson and theater department marketing manager Perrey Lee said some schools asked the university to put on a "toned-down" version of the play. Stilson refused.

"This production of 'Romeo and Juliet' is certainly not rated G," said Stilson. "However, it's not rated R either. It is a faithful, honest and, I hope, creative 21st century interpretation of Shakespeare's text.

"There is not one thing in this show that is as bad as what children will see on any primetime television station on any given night."

Scott City High School pulled out of a reservation that would pack a quarter of the seats this morning, worth $1,300 in ticket revenue.

Superintendent Diann Bradshaw-Ulner and high school principal Kerry Thompson called the move an "administrative decision," based on articles written about the play in the Southeast Missourian. They said they received no calls from concerned parents about the play.

"We do not care to subject our students to PG-13 material," said Ulner.

Woodland High School pulled its reservation for today's matinee, as well. Principal Jennings Wilkinson said he canceled after a Woodland teacher and parent saw the production over the weekend and voiced concerns about the content of the first act.

Wilkinson said the school supports cultural activities, but couldn't condone sending high school freshmen to see such material in a school-sponsored trip.

Several schools, from Bonne Terre to Cardwell, haven't pulled their reservations, said Lee.

Among them is Cape Girardeau's Central High School, which is sending its English as a Second Language students to see the production.

"As a former teacher of Shakespeare, I know Shakespeare is bawdy, and if you fail to recognize the bawdiness, you fail to recognize part of Shakespeare's cultural style," said Central principal Dr. Mike Cowan. "I'm not surprised, but I'm saddened by it."

Pat Reagan, chair of Southeast's art department, saw the play over the weekend and said the students from those schools that canceled will miss out on a great cultural experience.

"I think the play was exquisite," Reagan said. "I've been watching these productions for 16 years, and this is really high caliber."

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