Trumbull High School Senior Speaks Out About Canceled Production of Rent Due to "Controversial" Themes

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05 Dec 2013

Jonathan Larson
Jonathan Larson

Larissa Mark, a senior at Trumbull High School in Trumbull, CT, and the president of the school's Thespian Society, speaks with Playbill.com on the canceled production of Rent: School Edition that was to take place this spring — approximately 66 miles from where the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical by Jonathan Larson premiered on Broadway.

As previously reported, the Trumbull High administration, under first-year principal Marc Guarino, informed the school's Thespian Society that they would not be able to produce Rent: School Edition — a musical that covers topics such as homosexuality, drug use and the AIDS epidemic — which was planned for a March 25-27, 2014, run at Trumbull.

Because the production was dismissed because of the work's "sensitive" and "controversial" themes, the students at Trumbull took immediate action to try and reinstate the production into the high school calendar.

Why did senior Mark spearhead the pushback? "It started at the meeting where Mr. Guarino came in to tell us that we would not be able to do Rent," she explained. "First, I was shocked at the idea that we would be banned from performing art. Then, as the meeting went on, and I saw kids in tears, and I saw kids who were open homosexuals come out and say, 'You're calling me a 'sensitive issue?' That's not right.' Seeing the tears in people's eyes, I knew I had to do something."

It was not only the students' reactions that sparked her call to action, she continued, but also the fact that "Rent is an amazing show because of the messages it has. It's not about 'sensitive issues.' It's about love and acceptance. Even these issues that are deemed 'sensitive' — they're reality. It's what's happening in the world around us. Homosexuality is an accepted part of society now. We're not ignorant about drug use — we learn about it in school and health class — and it's around us in the world…as well as disease. There [are] diseases out there, such as HIV and AIDS. We can't just ignore it."



The school edition of the Tony Award-winning musical — which has been carefully adapted for younger performers with the care of the Larson estate and has removed the song "Contact," which engages in strong sexual activity — was licensed from Musical Theatre International for a run this spring. Auditions were slated to begin this month.

"For the past 15 years, our director and producer have chosen the show that we would do," said Mark. "It had never gone to administration before, and the administration has never been a part of this decision. However, this year Mr. Guarino, the new principal, said that they should have consulted him, and that's where we are."

After the students presented a plethora of information to the Trumbull Board of Education — including a survey issued to the town (in which 97 percent of the answers were in support of Rent being produced), statements of support on the Trumbull for Rent Facebook page and various coverage from local press — the principal stood firm on his decision that this season would not be a "Season of Love" for Trumbull.

"At this point," Mark continues, "our Thespian Society does always put on a spring musical, and we will be putting on a production of some other show this spring. However, I don't think that we're quite done with Rent. We want to do something with the show this year, especially for the senior class… We're still trying to figure out what, exactly, that plan will be."

Mark said that ideas of a concert version of the musical, produced at a venue off campus, are being considered. Auditions for the school musical have been pushed back to January 2014.

"Even though Trumbull High has said that we're not doing this musical this year," added Mark, "that's not the opinion of many of Trumbull residents and Trumbull students. We want to make a statement that we're accepting, and we've just done everything that we can to."