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Tri-State drama advisers sound off on 'Les Misrables'

April 07, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

Steve Glendenning's students have said "damn" and "hell" on stage.

If that's what the playwright wrote, that's what the actors say.

Glendenning, who advises Jefferson (W.Va.) High School's drama club, recalled a sexual reference in the dialogue of a student-directed play. A mother objected to her child speaking the line; the student was given another part.

Drugs and alcohol are another story. The administration frowns on "grossly promoting" the use of either in a play, Glendenning said.

Tri-State high school theater advisers said they usually look first for a good story, one that fits the abilities of their cast and has educational or cultural merit.

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When it comes to questionable themes and language, they also try to balance artistic freedom with community standards. It can be a tightrope walk.

If a script calls for "holding hands and a kiss, I would have no problem," said Kevin R. Carley, the dean of students and drama club adviser at Greencastle-Antrim High School in Franklin County, Pa. Anything sexually stronger, and he gets uncomfortable.

Greencastle-Antrim's plays "have been pretty clean," he said.

"You've got to look at the situation, if it fits ... (but) I wouldn't want to offend my audience" with bad language, Carley said.

"The only word I would consider altering is the F bomb," Glendenning said.

Louise Mann, a theater teacher and drama adviser at Martinsburg (W.Va.) High School, said "Nunsense," a spoof about nuns trying to bury other nuns killed by tainted soup, might make for good community theater, but wouldn't go over well at her school.

"We have a Catholic population," she said. "This is a politically correct era, and when you have so many choices ..."

Off-color dialogue has been an issue at Williamsport High School, where students are performing "Les Misrables."

Mann said she would preserve the musical's bad language because "it is such a minute ... segment" of a powerful show.

Carley thinks "Les Misrables" is "a little deep" in high school, but might be fine in college.

Deb Hollen, the drama adviser at Waynesboro (Pa.) Area High School, said in an e-mail interview that she usually deletes bad language unless "it supports the time period, the characterization or the situation."

In this case, she decided it does.

"... (T)he valuable lessons that it teaches (are) a far greater reason for doing the show than to not do it for the sake of a few words," Hollen wrote.

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