Wyoming school principal axes antibullying play over gay character

Author: Trudy Ring

A middle school in Wyoming last month canceled a student play about bullying due to its LGBTQ+ content, but the show has now gone on with sponsorship of a community theater group.

Students at Wheatland Middle School planned to stage The Bullying Collection, consisting of several vignettes dealing with the various reasons bullying arises, in December. Principal Robert Daniel canceled it after seeing a preview performance one day before it was scheduled to open, the Wyoming Tribune Eaglereports.

“These kids were devastated,” drama teacher Stephanie Ann Bradley told the paper. “They’ve put over 70 hours of work into rehearsal — just in-person rehearsal — each. … They spent time on their own at home, rehearsing and learning lines, memorizing, and most of these kids had never been onstage before. … Their parents supported them — their family supported them — throughout this process. I think a lot of people don’t realize how much work goes into it.”

When Bradley asked Daniel why he was canceling the show, “He said this was ‘Promoting LGBTQ,’” she wrote on Facebook. “I responded, “’I’m promoting not bullying children to the point that they kill themselves, regardless of the reason.’”

In one of the scenes, a girl memorializes a schoolmate who died by suicide. At one point, a boy walks up to the stage “to chastise the girl for not mentioning the boy was gay and how she had participated in bullying him,” the Associated Press reports.

Bradley told the Tribune Eagle that Daniel had seen the script beforehand and OK’d it, and none of the student actors or their parents had a problem with the material. Some parents who didn’t have children in the show, however, objected to the fact that their kids watched the preview performance without parental permission, and that may have contributed to the cancellation, said Bradley’s sister, Vianna Haecker, who assisted with the production.

Daniel “claimed that there’s a problem because there’s a mature audience warning on it,” Haecker told the Tribune Eagle. “But parents had problems with that because they didn’t have a say in whether their kids watched it, which isn’t our fault. The district really should have sent permission slips so their children can leave the school grounds.”

Of the principal’s objection to the play, she said, “He just took it as, there’s a gay person [so it’s] promoting gayness, but that’s not even how that works. People don’t become gay from watching a show.”

Daniel did not comment in any of the media coverage of the matter. But Platte County School District Superintendent John Weigel told the AP that Daniel found the play inappropriate and some students thought it confusing.

Weigel hadn’t seen the play, but he said, “In my view, a play is supposed to be entertaining, that’s why I go. It seems to me this is more of a kind of, stir up some social issues, maybe, instead of kind of like being more entertaining.”

Daniel sent all the students involved in the play an apology letter and a $5 gift card to a convenience store, which some students took as an insult. “We all kind of took it like they were trying to bribe us to feel better and not be mad about the play. But it didn’t really help,” student Erica Biggs told the AP. Another student gave the card back and ripped up the letter.

The Platte County Players, an area theater group, made sure the show eventually got staged. The troupe obtained the rights to The Bullying Collection, and since it uses space at Wheatland High School for its own shows, it enabled the middle school students to perform it at that venue in January. The group had stepped in similarly when the high school canceled a student production of Mean Girls a year ago. Snow and frigid temperatures meant that only about 50 people attended the single performance of The Bullying Collection, but among them were LGBTQ+ activists from Cheyenne, the state capital, about 70 miles away.

Sara Burlingame, executive director of LGBTQ+ group Wyoming Equality and a former state legislator, attended the show and praised the student performers. “They’re doing exactly what we hope all students would, which is take very seriously how bullying affects their peers,” she told the AP. “The irony is the people who are supposed to be their exemplars become their bullies.”

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Original Article on The Advocate
Author: Trudy Ring

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