Stand with the theater kids as they stand up to censors

Cheers to some  Fort Wayne, Indiana high school thespians who defied religious censors and the local school board, which banned the play, by performing it on their own outside the  school.

The play featured roles  of interchangeable sexuality and clearly expressed the world view of these kids which features tolerance, diversity and equality.

They found community support and even some professional help to stage the play.

And the world did not stop spinning.

Not news, but never ending.

In the mid-1980s I was working at the  Waterville, Maine Sentinel when in the nearby  town of Skowhegan this scenario of an outraged minority Christian community trying to censor a play was performed.

The falls at Skowhegan, Maine

But unlike the Fort Wayne school board, the Skowhegan Board of Education approved the performance after a marathon board meeting that attracted nearly 600 visitors.

It was a dramatic night of community and a fun night of newspapering in the pre-Internet, pre-cell phone, pre-computer days of the business.

Skowhegan is a mill town that has been a business and community center for about three centuries. It is perched at the modern intersection of U.S. Routes 201 and 2 along the Kennebec River.

Benedict Arnold had to drag his heavy bateau over the tall Skowhegan falls on his way north to  Quebec City, Canada where he was defeated in an epic Revolutionary War battle.

It was also the home of U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith whose 1950 Declaration of Conscious pulled the first piece out of the Zenga tower of lies and conspiracies built by Sen. Joe McCarthy.

The play in question was called “When the Lord Come to Sand Mountain” by Romulus Linney. It was a companion to another short play about the lives and tall tales told by Appalachian Mountain folks.

In the play Jesus and Saint Peter are travelling the mountains on sort of a fact-finding mission.

Jesus engages a man in a contest of tall tales, each one stretching the truth evermore.

The last tale Jesus tells is about a carpenter named Joseph and is a parable that sounds suspiciously like the Golden Rule: Treat others as you wish to be treated.

The “why” of  the play was to show Jesus seeking the story of his father and how that story offered The Lord the strength and knowledge to continue his mission of salvation.

The fundamentalists objected to the play because it was not exactly  Biblical and contained many innuendoes and double-entendres that suggested that there was a lot of “be-getting” going on in those hills, in other words, folks being folks.

So the climax of the debate took place at the school theater and offered about 80 people the chance to speak for 3 minutes.

Yeah, they started early.

The newspaper side of this begins here.

Our reporter Marie Howard was on the scene at the high school. Our only communication devise was a pay phone in the lobby.

The Sentinel at the time published four local editions.

The first went to northwest towns and the second went to Skowhegan.

We were prepared to send the first edition out with a story that said the vote as still being taken.

But we had to have the vote for the Skowhegan edition.

As was the practice, we wrote the story from the bottom, with background in a file and Marie’s life from the scene reporting added about every 20 minutes.

We had to have the decision by 11:15 p.m. to make deadline for the second edition.

About 10:50 p.m. she calls.

This is it, we thought.

No. They were taking a break for 5 or 6 minutes.

The conversation went something like this:

Marie: They’re taking a break.

Me:  They can’t. Don’t they know we’re on deadline? Get back in there and tell Betsy (the school board president) to get that meeting started again.

Marie: Laughing.

In the end, the board unanimously approved the performance. Betsy told the church folks that they had made a valid point, but that their right to hold that  opinion was no greater than the right of the students  to perform the play, and the right of the school district to support free speech.

She basically said, if ya don’t like the play, don’t go watch it.

This tale ends with the Skowhegan kids performing the play at  a statewide theater competition.

That was not unusual. Skowhegan had a reputation for challenging, innovative

productions that won many awards.

What was interesting about that night was the pre-performance conversation at dinner. The air in the restaurant buzzed with talk of the Skowhegan play and the fight to perform it.

About michaelstephendaigle

I have been writing most of my life. I am the author of the award-winning Frank Nagler Mystery series. "The Swamps of Jersey (2014); "A Game Called Dead" (2016) -- a Runner-Up in the 2016 Shelf Unbound Indie Author Contest; and "The Weight of Living" (2017) -- First Place winner for Mysteries in the Royal Dragonfly Book Awards Contest.
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