Here we go again: More trouble over a school play. Don’t these people ever learn? I mean the principals and school boards who do the censoring and always seem to do it so clumsily, as if critical thinking were anathema to education and free speech were a legislative inconvenience to be swatted away on a whim — usually the whim of a frightened administrator or a few right-wing parents determined to make everyone else line up with their rigid view of the world. Where do they think they are, Guantanamo Bay?
The play in question this time around, almost predictably, is The Laramie Project, Moises Kaufman’s moving and mostly even-handed exploration of how the brutal murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard in 1998 affected the people in his town of Laramie, Wyoming. This one’s just too much for the great 16th century thinkers who seem to be running, and running roughshod over, our public schools. Controversy? Perish all thought.
As Melissa Navas reported this morning in The Oregonian, Portland actor and onetime teacher Wade Willis has sued the Beaverton School District for $125,000, claiming he was “harassed, intimidated and humiliated” for his attempt during the 2005-06 school year to bring The Laramie Project to the stage at Southridge High School, where he had been a music, drama and language arts teacher. Shattered by the experience, Willis quit a job that he presumably loved.
His lawyer argued, Navas reports, that “a wrongful discharge lawsuit can be filed when an employer ‘maintained specific working conditions so intolerable’ that a person would resign.” Navas also reports that Kaufman had given permission to take out the play’s profanities to make it appropriate for a school audience, and she points out that although the play is about a hate crime against a gay man, it’s not about sex.
I don’t know Wade Willis, but I’ve seen him many times on stage, and he’s always struck me as an actor who approaches his job in a totally professional manner. (Right now he’s on stage in Broadway Rose Theatre Company‘s critically hailed production of the musical Les Miserables.) The loss to the students who no longer get to learn from him is of course impossible to measure, but I imagine it is significant: Here is a man who understands music and theater from the inside out, deeply respects his craft, is exceptionally good at it, and was willing to pass that knowledge along. Further, he wasn’t afraid to confront his students with topics that demand critical thinking — and what greater skill can a school hope to impart to the children in its care?
Continue reading A “Laramie” lawsuit: Footing the bill for censorship