Watch: Indiana Students Take the Lead when School Cancels Play with LGBTQ+ Themes
Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 3 MIN.
When an Indiana school pulled the plug on a play with LGBTQ+ themes, the students decided to produce it for themselves at an off-school venue. The play was a rousing success.
Indiana Public Radio reported that the play, "Marian: The True Tale of Robinhood," by Adam Szymkowicz, was due to be produced at Carroll High School in Fort Wayne.
The play posits that Marian and Robin were the same person – a non-binary hero that led a band of "Merry Men."
But when the play drew "a few calls from parents who were concerned about certain aspects of the play," including Marian/Robin, as well as "a same-sex couple," the school promptly rolled over and axed the production.
"At a school board meeting following the decision, Northwest Allen County Schools Superintendent Wayne Barker cited a concern for students well-being and the potential for outside influence," the new outlet recounted.
"I know there were people who were upset that the play was being considered to be put on," Barker said at the meeting. He went on to add: "I think there was worry about protests and things like that."
The Washington Post detailed that the students stood up for themselves, first by organizing a social media campaign and a petition that garnered over 5,000 signatures. The school was unmoved, so the students took on the task of financing and producing the play on their own.
Leading the charge was Tristan Wasserman, a senior at the school who, in an email to Szymkowicz and to local media, noted that the school's administration announced the play's cancellation on his 18th birthday.
"No matter what the reason, we've decided to put on the canceled play ourselves, along with some supportive adults in the community," Wasserman declared in a fundraising video, according to local news outlet WBOI. "We've got to fight back against the bullies."
The students found an ally in Nathan Gotsch, 40, a Fort Wayne native, film school graduate, and onetime congressional candidate. With his ready-made resume of experience, Gotsch had the knowhow the young people needed to realize their dreams when the school withdrew its support for the project.
"Gotsch set up a GoFundMe to pay for the play; it pulled in $80,000 in under two weeks," the Post noted. "Nonprofit Fort Wayne Pride, which advocates for LGBTQ rights, stepped in as fiscal agent, managing the money."
With less than three weeks to put the production together, Gotsch got into the practical details. He helped cast the play and secure a venue, and "hired a professional director and crew to handle stage management, engineering, sets, sound, costumes and lighting," the Post detailed. Times being what they are, he also provided for the safety of the students: The Post relayed that Gotsch "coordinated security with Indiana State Police and parks personnel."
Community support reached beyond the town's borders; another Fort Wayne native, Blane Pressler, who had relocated to New York, returned to his home town to direct the play.
All of this unfolded even as the students "were facing APs and fast-approaching finals," the Post noted. But what better education than taking on real problems in the real world? Eventually, opening night arrived and the play went off without a hitch.
"The security officers had had nothing to do," the Post recounted. "The audience had laughed, sighed and clapped at all the right moments."
And – for the duration of the play, at least – the curtain had come down on hostility, hate, and anti-LGBTQ+ prejudice.
Watch the Washington Post's video report in the tweet below.
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.