Rent Remains Too Gay In West Virginia and Texas, Just Fine In Mississippi and Missouri


While Orange County’s Corona del Mar High School deals with its own battle over whether Rent is “too gay” for a student production — and whether its principal, Fal Asrani, is just anti-gay altogether — some sad news: The banishment of the hit Broadway musical is a national problem. And some good news: Some high schools are producing the play just fine.

New York Times gay mafia member Patrick Healy reports from Newport Beach on Southern California, but also West Virginia, Texas, Mississippi, and Missouri:

For school administrators, the issue is not only one of suitable content for high school students, but also the lack of appeal that the show might have among potential audience members who prefer old-time, classic musicals.

“Our high school shows are so important to our community — we have alumni who come back, we bus in children for them — and I didn’t see ‘Rent’ working here,” said Susan Collins, the superintendent of the Harrison County schools in West Virginia, who canceled a production at Bridgeport High School there this winter. “But look, I know we can’t stick our heads in the sand, I know drugs are out there, I know children are having babies at 12, I know teens are having sex and always must have safe sex. But I don’t know if we need ‘Rent.’ ”

Ms. Collins said she had not been familiar with “Rent” until last year, when the Bridgeport drama coach, Charles Dillon, proposed a “Rent: School Edition” production for the 2008-9 school year. Mr. Dillon said in an interview that when he told Ms. Collins there were two gay couples in the musical, “she got flustered and worked up and expressed concerns.”

Ms. Collins said she had no personal problem with the homosexuality in “Rent,” but she was concerned that families in her West Virginia school district would not find that content and other themes appealing. (“We’re a bit back in the woods here,” she said.) She subsequently asked for and watched a DVD of the film version of “Rent,” she said, and the disc ended up back with Mr. Dillon with a Post-it note that read “NO.” Mr. Dillon ultimately worked with nearby Fairmont State University this winter to produce the school version of “Rent,” with high school students from Bridgeport and elsewhere making up the cast.

A similar situation unfolded in Rowlett, Tex.: the director of a planned production of “Rent: School Edition” canceled the show after parents and school board members raised concerns about its morality. But then, with the assistance of a local radio station, a one-night-only concert was held last month at Southern Methodist University, with Rowlett High School students performing most of the songs.

At the same time, other productions are moving ahead in high schools in Mississippi and Missouri. And the school edition is even being marketed to middle schools, although none have apparently pursued productions.

“Like it or not, we’re right smack in the middle of an enormous cultural shift right now, and that shift will give way to acceptance of homosexuality and acceptance of gay characters,” said Jeffrey Seller, one of the “Rent” producers, who are also backing a national tour now under way. “But it’s a process, it’s a messy process, and it makes sense to me that we’ll take steps forward and hit a pothole and take a step backward.


Meanwhile, back in Orange County, drama teacher Ron Martin, who’s been the biggest proponent for students to bring Rent to the school’s stage, says, “This is the first time I’ve chosen a show for the high school because I had an agenda. In this instance, having an agenda as a teacher didn’t give me pause. My job is to give my students life skills. Discrimination is wrong on all levels.”

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  • David

    I’m from West Virginia and the fact that Rent wasn’t allowed to be performed in a high school here does not surprise me (or anyone else, even if they’re not from here) at all.

    The statement “We’re a bit back in the woods here” doesn’t even begin to describe it. I don’t think it’s possible to get any deeper into the woods in this “Wild and Wonderful” (eye roll) state.

  • Ed

    I grew up in Southern WV, and can’t imagine even my high school, which was pretty liberal even back in the days long ago that I was in high school, would ever touch this subject matter, even a sanitized version.

    I’m moving back there shortly. Maybe I’ll be surprised, and it won’t be the intolerant hell hole I’m expecting. But I’m not counting on it.

  • ousslander

    is it because of the characters or because it’s horrible?

  • dvlaries

    I don’t know, West Virginia. Here in east Virginia, I think we can match you rather closely. After all, we put George ‘macaca’ Allen, with his Confederate flag in his living room, in both the governor’s mansion AND the Senate and, in the 90s, came within inches of putting Oliver North into elected office.

    We’re here because this is where the work sent us, but the lover already has been told (repeatedly) if he outlives me, I don’t even want my ashes left in this fucking inbred asylum of a state.

  • alex

    Perhaps I’m in the minority here, but I feel that “Rent” is inappropriate for any high school. Consider for a moment that 9th graders are probably 14 years old. If I remember correctly, the show has a scene about sex. (Clearly, that would be edited out, I hope!) Yet, what is most disturbing to me is that the show portrays drug use.

    As a former high school substitute teacher, I just don’t think that 14-15 year olds have the developmental maturity to handle “Rent”. These are kids that think YouTube videos of skateboard accidents are funny. They can’t handle placing illegal drug use into perspective, particularly when the heroine of the show gets to sing a song like “Out Tonight”.

  • anon

    @alex: I’ve never seen Rent, so I don’t know the content in detail, but I don’t think a school musical will do much to change my perspective on drugs or sex.

    I do live in Europe, and we learn about drugs, sex, and std’s from the first year in high school (11-12 years old), we’ve also had scenes related to sex in school plays before, do you really feel the mindset is so different in the US that seeing it in a school musical will encourage kids to do drugs (or have sex), if they weren’t thinking of it before? If they are 14 or 15 years old, I don’t think it’s likely to be the first time they’ve heard of either of them?

  • Jason

    Bridgeport is hardly “in the woods” West Virginia. And I love how MY state gets picked on repeatedly as homophobic and backward when all those conservative sonsabitches in Utah and California have voted down gay marriage and gay rights REPEATEDLY.

    The problem with RENT is that it is not a play suitable for high school age people. SORRY! As a former teacher myself, it blows my mind that they would even want to put a play depicting and somewhat glamorizing drug use on in a school. In the community it is different here – yes, there are assholes in WV, just like there are all over. Anyone been to NEW JERSEY? Honestly. Educate yourselves and think about what you are truly saying – would you want your children playing drug addicts? And do you want gay/lesbian characters depicted in the same breath (essentially) as drug addiction and other despotic acts? REALLY? We get enough of that on conservative media.

    I think someone needs to quit pushing RENT just because it is a Broadway darling and come up with a wholesome view of gay/lesbian relationships that would not show us as child molesters, drug addicts, AIDS patients, hate-crime victims, animal fuckers, or flaming queens. GOOD GOD PEOPLE! We need to take control of the face we show the world, instead of letting the world put a mask on us!

  • Steven

    Oh, how little we forget. West Virginia doesn’t like rent? Well, boys, being a former guy from West Virginia, Martinsburg area schools had no problems with this production in October. School, city, and county officials gave a huge thumbs up and they did this show when only 9 other schools in the country was doing this.

  • Steven

    Interesting. I was expecting the website administrator or even someone that has commented that West Virginia would never do this show. I guess I adequately placed this blog and many of it members in their collective places with Martinsburg, WEST VIRGINIA students doing this very same show.

    Not everyone from West Virginia are “rednecks”. Not every county thinks the same ways. You head into Wheeling, Morgantown, Martinsburg, and Huntington and you will be quite surprised that these are towns in West Virginia.

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