William Shakespeare, a staple of high school education, may be a person non-grata at Pickens High School. According to a notice posted on the doors over the weekend, the play, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare,” a compilation of the Bard’s work, was cancelled pending a review of the material. The move brought forth the ire of Facebook posters, including some in the drama department.
Principal Chris Wallace released a statement Tuesday night about the production.
“Over the course of the last few days, I have read the entire script as it was written. I have also read the entire script as it was performed by our students. Had I been provided a script for approval, I would not have approved this script for a school production. There are multiple instances of inappropriate gestures, speech and context within the script,” he stated in the letter.
For some, it was much ado about nothing. For others it was not as they would like it.
“This is ridiculous,” Katie Anderson posted in the Pickens County Board of Education page on Facebook. “they (sic) accused us of going off script, and making is something it wasn’t when we were COMPLETELY on script. we (sic) had watered down the play so much. . .and did our best to make it appropriate. all (sic) of this because a few english (sic) teachers got their feelings hurt.”
“I saw the show on Thurs (sic) night and there was nothing wrong with it,” Debra Ciripompa Johnson posted. “If you think it is rude then you have never read any of his work.”
“Upon my research, I have found that this indeed is a parody based on 37 of Shakespeare’s works. In addressing this, it is also customary for productions to be edited and made appropriate to be performed in this arena. I understand that edits were made to the original script and there were some parts removed. Unfortunately, there were many examples of inappropriate content that remained throughout the edited version,” Wallace said.
“(The) same high school that teaches all of Shakespeare’s works in their English classes. . .someone help me understand the irony,” Tyler Alan Weaver posted.
“There were multiple parts of this script that should have never been performed as a school production,” Chris Wallace, principal of Pickens High School
“If you want to be offended walk down the hallways and listen to the conversations and language,” David Shouse posted. “If you want to be offended go to an High School Football game and stand up top and listen to the kids as they by.”
The schools have closed for Thanksgiving break, but FYN has reached out to PHS principal Chris Wallace for comment. Check back for updates and, hopefully, it will be all’s well that ends well.
To the PHS Drama Family,
The opportunity for students to participate in Drama at Pickens High School is a long- standing tradition. Over the last several years, this group of talented individuals have been the recipient of numerous awards and accolades. I, personally, have seen the results first-hand of the time, efforts and energy that are required in order to successfully present a production. Driven students, hard-working directors and dedicated parents/guardians are all necessary ingredients to having a successful program. As the principal, I am glad that this activity is available to our students who show an in interest in this area of performing arts.
In any school event setting, our students and staff members involved are front and center as representatives of our school, district and community. It is my job as principal to make sure that we enforce rules, policies and procedures within our school, and at any school event. In the last four years, I have delivered a consistent message to my students and staff at Pickens High School. This message is: We, as adults, will strive to provide students the best possible educational experience for them to thrive during their time here at PHS. In doing so, we must place the safety, health and well-being as our top priority. Additionally, the staff must be good role models and trustworthy adults for our students to look up to and learn from. Lastly, we are going to represent our community, our district and our school with pride, honor and dignity. I have delivered this message to our students and staff, and strive to live it each day within our school. I also hold our students to an expectation of being leaders and good role models for the younger students who look up to them in their respective area(s) of interest.
With this said, there are some items that I must address to provide an explanation that parents, students and community members have asked for in regards to the drama production, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). Over the course of the last few days, I have read the entire script as it was written. I have also read the entire script as it was performed by our students. Had I been provided a script for approval, I would not have approved this script for a school production. There are multiple instances of inappropriate gestures, speech and context within the script. I was not given the opportunity to review this script prior to our students being cast, or rehearsals taking place. The administrative approval process is a customary routine in the event that a show contains anything that may be considered offensive, inappropriate or insensitive. As the title suggests, it appears to be focused on the works of Shakespeare, which is studied in varying levels of literature classes within our school.
Upon my research, I have found that this indeed is a parody based on 37 of Shakespeare’s works. In addressing this, it is also customary for productions to be edited and made appropriate to be performed in this arena. I understand that edits were made to the original script and there were some parts removed. Unfortunately, there were many examples of inappropriate content that remained throughout the edited version.
After multiple conversations with staff members (who were present for the Friday in- school production) and parents (who were there at the Thursday performance), I can say with certainty that there were multiple parts of this script that should have never been performed as a school production. When students, who were brought to the production during class time of their English Language Arts class, come forward to the administration and express concern, it has to be investigated. In this instance, multiple people came forward to express their concern about what was witnessed on stage Friday. Unfortunately, there is no video with audio to go back and see for myself. I would like to have the opportunity to see a comparison between Thursday night’s performance, and Friday’s in-person performance. The director was at both performances and has discussed with me the particular differences. Based on my interviews and discussions with the director, some students took it upon themselves to add improvisation and exaggerated some gestures in front of the school audience.
Unfortunately, this made the impact of already inappropriate actions and lines even more prevalent.
I am well aware that many drama productions have content that could be considered edgy, controversial and inappropriate to certain audiences. For community theatre or another type of production, this work may be deemed completely acceptable. As the principal, I have to make judgement calls on appropriateness based on a captive audience of students. What is inappropriate to one family differs from others. In my role, I have to look out for all 1,300+ students and make my judgement with all families in mind. Any content that is put on display by a school group should meet a standard that is acceptable for, and defendable by the person who is ultimately responsible. At Pickens High School, that person is the principal. My decisions have to consider this community and the values that I want our entire school to represent.
In reviewing the script and listening to multiple eyewitness accounts from both Thursday and Friday’s performance, there are items that were displayed on the stage within our school that I cannot defend as acceptable. If you disagree, that is okay. However, I have to defend my stance to all families in my school. I can say with certainty that there are people who were offended and disappointed that this content was present in our school, and also delivered by a school drama department.
My hope in moving forward through this process is that all parties involved can acknowledge that there are opportunities to learn and grow. Also, I am hopeful that we can all agree to set a good example of how differing opinions, ideas and philosophies can be discussed and dealt with respectfully and appropriately. I hope that the students and parents/guardians feel like that is how they have been treated by me through this process.
From a school perspective, there will be new procedures and protocols put in place to reduce the probability of incidences of this nature from occurring in the future. The procedures will include administrative and/or committee review of any material that is being considered for presentation by our drama department. Additionally, a rehearsal or rehearsal(s) will be previewed by administration with ample time for any necessary edits to be implemented and properly rehearsed. I believe that these two measures will assist in making sure there is complete transparency regarding content that is considered for all productions. The administration at Pickens High School will work with the director to arrange this process.
My goal moving forward is, and has always been to provide a way for students to continue with performing a version of the show that they have worked so diligently to prepare for. I have been provided a script from the director that shows the parts of the production that she recommended be cut from the final script, based on the concerns presented. Those items are under review, and I will be working closely with her to provide a version of this script that I feel comfortable with seeing presented on stage at Pickens High School. I am optimistic that we can make this happen and give our students ample time to rehearse before asking them to perform with the changes presented.
In conclusion, I would like to believe that all parties (parents, staff, administration and community members) ultimately want the same result for our students here at Pickens High School. Among these are: For our students to be challenged (within their potential) with a quality educational experience that adequately prepares them for the world that lies ahead. For our students to be taught how to be productive members of society. To assist students in gaining a healthy understanding of respect, regard and consideration of all others. The opportunity for students to thrive in the various activities provided by our school. We are always looking to grow and seek better ways to serve our students at Pickens High School. We have a tremendous staff and support system who pour countless efforts into this mission. This drama production is an extension of classes that exist within our school. The purpose of fine arts classes is to learn about the particular areas of interest (Drama, Band, Art, Dance, and Chorus). The production aspect is provided to show what has been learned in the classes that are provided for our students. It is my belief that we can still produce a show that will exhibit the skills, knowledge and lessons learned by our students in drama class, while still representing the values, level of appropriateness and a proper reflection of what a high school should represent. This standard should be a direct correlation of what our community stands for and expects from our school. As the principal, I am responsible for making sure that when something does not meet that standard, I make provisions to ensure that it is addressed. Thank you for respecting, and for understanding my position.
Chris Wallace, Ed.S.