‘Chicago’ controversy leads to new play selection policy

After much controversy surrounding the production of the fall musical Chicago, the administration aims to have a new plan in place for the selection of the spring play.

According to Principal Joan Benz, a plan has yet to be finalized, although it will likely include a group to support drama director Jessica Speck in determining the next play.

“We have to look at the whole spectrum of what would be appropriate and entertaining for the entire community,” Benz said.

Speck has yet to choose the play but said she will have a committee of drama parents who will review it and give her feedback.

“I thought it was a good compromise,” Speck said.

A committee made up of the parents of drama students contrasts the group of staff members Benz appointed in October to edit the script of Chicago.

Following five years of applying for rights to perform Chicago, Speck was able to purchase the play for the 2009 school year. A $5,246.50 check for Chicago’s rights was processed on Sept. 23 and signatures of Benz and business manager James Shovlin followed. Unlike CHS’s 2008 production of a student version of the musical RENT, there was no school-ready version available for Chicago. 

According to Benz, comments about the play’s mature content and harsh language made by parents and students not directly involved in the play’s production reached her in mid-October, several weeks after rehearsals began.

After the administration became aware of complaints regarding the play’s content, Benz delegated a committee to review and revise the content of the play’s script.

According to a staff member who was part of the committee, the committee read the script and changed content they felt might be inappropriate for high school audiences. The administration had final say over the edits and any suggestions from the committee were submitted to Speck.

The committee’s substantial changes to the script angered many parents and students involved in the play’s production.

According to Michele Levenson, mother of actress Alex Levenson, significant changes were initially made to language used in the play and one girl’s entire part was cut.

After the committee presented the changes, Speck contacted the publisher, Samuel French, Inc., with the newly revised script and all of the edits were denied, citing legal guidelines.

Although two calls made to Samuel French, Inc. did not answer the Observer’s questions, according to the publisher’s website, changes and deletions cannot be made to the text of the script, lyrics or genders of the characters.

Because the revisions were not allowed, the administration proceeded to cancel the play. On the night of Monday, Oct. 26, angry parents filled the audience of a regularly scheduled Board of Education meeting and their issue was placed on the night’s agenda.

“The Board was sympathetic and understood the [student’s] feelings,” Levenson said. “By the next day they saw to it that the show was reinstated.”

Throughout the following day, announcements regarding drama meetings were made periodically, but an Observer reporter was denied entrance to a student meeting held at lunch.

According to Churchill  cluster community superintendent Sherry Liebes, a second call was made to the publisher that day. Other officials in the school spoke to a different person with Samuel French, Inc., and that person allowed the script to be lightly edited.

By Tuesday night, the show was reinstated and most edits to the script were deleted. The show was performed and to the average audience, changes were less noticeable.

“I [knew] what the changes [were],” Speck said. “If you [did not] know, then they are much more subtle.”