Documents Reveal PA High School Canceled Spamalot Due to Gay Content

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21 Aug 2014

New emails released surrounding the cancellation of a Pennsylvania high school production of Spamalot revealed discrepancies in statements made by school officials and the production's director earlier this summer.



On July 1, WNEP reported that South Williamsport Junior Senior High School dropped its plans to present the Tony Award-winning musical Monty Python's Spamalot after parents and administration officials expressed concerns over gay content in the production.

The school was contracted to present the musical with students in grades 7-12 from March 26-28, 2015. WNEP reported that the school's drama director Dawn Burch said she received an email from South Williamsport principal Jesse Smith citing homosexual themes in the musical comedy as a reason for the cancellation. Burch, who is not a full-time faculty member, has been a contracted drama director at the school since 2013.

The WNEP report also stated that Smith told Burch via email that homosexuality did not exist in the conservative South Williamsport Community. Smith did not respond to Playbill.com's request for comment at the time and Burch directed all inquiries to her legal counsel.

While he did not specifically address inquiries that Spamalot was canceled over gay content, South Williamsport Area School District superintendent Mark Stamm sent the following statement to Playbill.com on July 2. "The drama program includes students from grades 7-12. The performances are open to the public and will include members of the community, families, and children of all ages. We want our performances to be appropriate for the student performers and audiences so that anyone participating or watching can enjoy all aspects of the show."

WNEP later retracted its report that principal Smith emailed statements about homosexuals not existing in the South Williamsport Area community, while Burch maintained that homosexual content still stood as the reasoning behind the decision.

Smith denied that he had "officially approved" the production; however, Theatrical Rights Worldwide, which licenses Spamalot, had included the school among its list of upcoming productions, a move licensing companies only make after receiving a signed contract and deposit for production.

"I don't know why they're saying it was never approved when Smith signed the check granting us permission. We got the license," Burch told the Sun-Gazette July 3. "He signed the check for $1,923 and I don't know what he thought that was going for. The check even said Spamalot license right in the memo."

Requests to view correspondance between Burch and school officials had been denied until now. Keystone Progress, a PA non-profit, submitted Right to Know requests for all public records surrounding the Spamalot controversy. Some 63 pages of documents from South Williamsport Area School District Superintendent Mark Stamm were released to the organization as well as other news outlets on Aug. 18, including the online blog curated by producer, administrator and writer Howard Sherman – the former director of the American Theatre Wing. Keystone Progress provided the documents to Playbill.com.

Copies of the contract, which were signed by Burch and a check for the production, signed by Smith, were among the documents released.

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