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Will Central Bucks School District allow performance of “Rent”?


Indications that the Central Bucks School District will prevent one of its high schools from performing the musical “Rent” concerned two students active in the school’s drama club, as well as others in the community.
The Central Bucks West students attended a school board meeting last week, asking why the administration denied the school’s request to perform “Rent School Edition” later this year, according to reporting by The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Addisan Arbogast, co-president of the Harlequin Club, questioned the decision, saying it seemed to be based on the play’s portrayal of queer relationships.
For its part, the district said it has yet to decide whether to allow the play to move forward, telling the Philadelphia Inquirer the script is under review, as is the district’s policy with all productions.
The school district did not respond to a request for comment from this news organization.
However, Arbogast told the school board that she and other students were told rights to the play had been secured, but then, on March 23, Arbogast said, the administration denied the school’s proposal, the Inquirer reported.
“The reason we had been given,” said Arbogast, was “that ‘Rent’ was too controversial, but there was no further elaboration.”
Arbogast also told the Inquirer that prior to the school board meeting she and another student spoke to West’s acting principal, Lyndell Davis. She said, Davis “told us the administration was worried about how the community would perceive ‘Rent.’”
Jessica Bostock, the musical’s director, told the Inquirer the school district had denied her request to stage the play.

“There are so many reasons to be concerned about the district’s original refusal of ‘Rent,’ and now what appear as delay tactics on approval,” said Marlene Pray, a Bucks County community organizer and human and civil rights educator.
“This action should raise an alarm for the community. This is a cause for great concern for our students, and for public education,” added Pray. “The message our LGBTQ+ students and loved ones are receiving is chilling and targeted.”
Over the years, Central Bucks West has performed “Chicago,” “Les Miserables,” “Pippin” and, most recently, “Amelie.” All contain “mature themes,” including profanity, sexuality, murder and alcohol use.
Arbogast and fellow CB West student and Harlequin Club member Jackson Manning, said they believe “Rent” is being singled out because some of its characters are gay.
“Not getting a clear answer leads towards that answer, ironically enough, even more,” Manning told The Inquirer.
The play, set in Lower Manhattan’s East Village, depicts a group of poor young artists, some gay, struggling to get by in the city during the HIV/AIDS crisis. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1996. Running for 12 years, it is one of the longest running plays in Broadway history.
In 2008, Music Theater International began licensing a somewhat toned down version, “Rent School Edition.” The revised version adapted the musical “for younger actors and potentially more conservative audiences,” according to MTI. The school version removed the song “Contact” and eliminated some of the coarser language and softened some public displays of affection seen in the original.
Also a concern to some community members, is recent efforts by groups of Central Bucks parents to remove books containing certain content from school libraries and curriculum. The targeted books are frequently those with LGBTQ+ and people of color characters and story lines.

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