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Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Correction: The originial version of this column said Les Miserables was set during the French Revolution. That was inccorect, and this column has been updated to reflect the correction.
Last week in Baltimore, a second-grader got suspended from elementary school for shaping his Pop Tart into something that resembled a mountain. At least, that’s what the 7-year-old claimed he was trying for.
A teacher thought the nibbled-on pastry looked like a pistol — and in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre in Connecticut, folks are apparently extra-sensitive about images like that.
Something similar, though not as ridiculous, is playing out here in Roanoke at Patrick Henry High School. Rehearsals are under way for a theater production of Les Miserables.
The story is set amid the Paris Uprising of 1832. As you might expect, the script calls for some muskets. But you won’t see those in the Patrick Henry High production.
The play opens March 15 — sans any guns. Not even fake guns, or nonfiring theatrical prop guns.
How do you portray a revolution without those?
Actors and actresses will instead throw black-painted foam balls that are shaped like rocks. It sounds more like something from “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” than the Paris Uprising.
The decision was made by Roanoke Schools Superintendent Rita Bishop, said Justin McLeod, a city schools spokesman. It had nothing to do with the Sandy Hook massacre, he added. Rather, it’s a matter of a city schools policy barring the use of “any sort of guns or weapons” in school theater productions.
City schools, and many others in this region, sensibly ban all weapons. The ban covers toy weapons, too, McLeod said.
Because of the policy, and because of an incident last year, in which a cast member in Patrick Henry’s production of “West Side Story” carried a prop knife outside the school, and because someone in the community “became very concerned” by that, Bishop decided to extend the weapons ban to school theatrical productions.
That policy was in place before rehearsals for “Les Miserables” began, McLeod said.
“We just feel it sends the wrong message, if we’re going to allow it here in a stage production at Patrick Henry,” McLeod said.
One of the conclusions we can draw from this is, so long as the policy is in effect, neither Patrick Henry nor William Fleming high schools will ever offer a production of “Annie Get Your Gun,” the 1946 Broadway hit that Ethel Merman made famous.
Because as the policy stands, even Nerf guns are prohibited in plays. And black-painted foam rocks simply wouldn’t cut the mustard for a musical about the sharpshooting Annie Oakley.
In other words, it seems like the policy takes things a little too far.
McLeod noted the Patrick Henry production also altered the script to remove scenes that portray prostitution, because such material might be inappropriate for students and younger children who may also attend the play. That’s not at all unusual with high school productions, he noted.
It’s pretty safe to assume that schools would rewrite scenes in a play that showcased smoking marijuana, too.
That’s understandable because sex and drugs are sensitive topics with teens. But guns in the Paris Uprising should not be. They’re a historical fact.
Airbrushing them out in art sets up a disconnect between the high school’s stage and what it teaches in history classes.
God forbid that weapons of war ever become a sensitive topic in history classes. What would we teach students about how the United States defeated Japan in World War II? That we bombed them with black foam rocks?
Besides, any kid who goes to that play can see all kinds of more modern and deadly guns on their home televisions every day.
Whether we like guns or not, and whether you’re in favor of gun control or not, guns are not illegal in this country. They’re also a key part of our history. It’s possible we’d still be a British colony were it not for them.
Some decades before the Paris Uprising, America had its own revolutionaries who drove the British out of the United States. How? Our rebels shot the British soldiers with guns.
One of the better-known revolutionaries was Patrick Henry, the guy for whom the high school is named. He’s most famous for the violent-sounding epithet, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” It was uttered in a speech urging that Virginia troops take up arms against the British.
You’ve got to wonder if right now he’s rolling in his grave.
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