Southold HS holding meeting about ‘Rent’ script

Southold High School Rent

The Southold High School Drama Club will host a “parent meeting” tonight at 5 p.m. in the school auditorium to address questions about script content for an upcoming production of “Rent,” a rock musical. The school is planning to produce a “school edition” of the musical this spring.

The parent’s meeting had previously been scheduled for tomorrow, Jan. 28.

Last month, Southold Superintendent David Gamberg said the school would produce the “school edition” of the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical, which follows a year in the life of a group of impoverished young artists and musicians — which include gay and transgender characters — struggling in New York’s Lower East Side, under the shadow of HIV/AIDS.

Plans for the school performance led a pair of Southold residents to contact The Suffolk Times with concerns over the school’s handling of gay characters in the play. An anonymous letter writer said the play was inappropriate since it could “put students in the position to have to play gay/lesbian or drug addicted [characters.]” 

One parent said her child believed the district was making changes that might offend gay students, including a decision to cast a female to play the role of the drag queen Angel, which is traditionally played by a male actor in school, community and professional productions.

When asked in late December about a female student being cast to play Angel, Mr. Gamberg, who said at the time he didn’t know if any casting decisions had been finalized yet, said, “I think that goes in line with being sensitive and making sure it’s appropriate for school. I don’t think it’s going to be written and spoken in a way that’s going to be seen as inappropriate. That’s the kind of sensitivity that [teachers are] looking at.”

The superintendent said he also received the letter from the concerned resident who felt the play is inappropriate for a school production and he said he believed that person would be OK with the finished product.

“I do not think that what was forecast or portrayed in that letter will in any way match the reality of the student experience or the audience experience,” he said. “[Students] will be very comfortable in whatever role that they do take.”

The decision by a school district in Trumbull, Conn. to cancel its upcoming production of “Rent” made national headlines last month. After a heavy backlash from the community, the school announced in December the play is back on, according to the New York Times.

Mr. Gamberg said last month he was aware of the Trumbull controversy, but that it had no impact on Southold’s decision to schedule the play this spring.

“That came about after the go-ahead was made,” he said.

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