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Do Brick's High School Plays Go Too Far?

Some parents speak out about profanity, sexuality in school plays

How far is too far when it comes to high school plays?

It may be a question the township's school board will eventually have to answer, after several parents railed against what they see as excess profanity and sexuality in student performances.

"We brought our second grade daughter to the high school play, and there was profanity bombing everywhere," said Robert Fraser, who added that he has a child involved in theater, and the attitude towards parents who take issue with the content of shows concerns him.

"It was offered that those who do not approve should stay home," he said, of Brick Township Memorial High School plays.

Brick Memorial High School drama teacher Joseph Stefanelli did not respond to a request from Brick Patch to be interviewed for this story.

But regardless of the teacher, or the school, some parents say they've had enough with content in school plays they feel is inappropriate.

"The problem that has come is that, as the years have evolved, it's a case of one-upmanship. People keep pushing the envelope," said Karyn Cusanelli, who said her daughter has participated in theater at Brick Memorial. "It's getting a little out of hand, and that's why people are coming forward now."

Board of Education President Sharon Kight said she's received calls from parents who were not comfortable with the content of some recent schools plays.

"They brought young children, they were sitting in the front row, and out and out, unnecessary profanity was used," said Kight. "I think the board needs to get more involved in the content of the plays. I was told that there were several young women who did not try out for plays because of the costumes that were picked. They were very uncomfortable wearing these costumes in public."

Not all parents take issue with edgy content in school plays, however.

"These are high school students," said Roberta Mascali. "I'm happy with the content, I'm happy with everything they've done. They're high school students. If you want to get high school students involved, you want young people to come out and see these plays. If you do plays that are going to be very young minded, you're not going to get these students out there."

Mascali said, and sources confirmed, that the school district cannot legally allow the content of a play to be changed when it is performed by students. Before a play is performed, the Board of Education enters into a somewhat complex agreement with a company that allows the students to use the script from the original performance of a play. Those contracts do not allow modifications to the script.

"They are high school kids, and they need to do high school aged shows," Mascali said.

But at least one parent voiced concern that performing a play with controversial content could alienate some students. Mary Tivenan said her daughter was "concerned about the plays she's in."

"I think plays should be edifying and educating," said Tivenan. "I think plays that exclude kids because of the material shouldn't be in public schools. It's not inclusive."

But while the role of the Board of Education, historically, has been to simply ratify the contract with the company providing the script for a play, board members could exercise some judgment calls as to which types of plays are appropriate for students, according to Robert Budesa, one of the attorneys who represents the school board.

"I think that this board has the ability to set standards as to what they think the content of a play should be," Budesa said. "I think the board should discuss it and come up with a  policy. This board can definitely set parameters as to what can be produced and what cannot. Some may be difficult to chisel in stone, but there can be parameters."

As it stands now, which plays will be performed are generally decided by the school drama teacher with the approval of the building principal, according to Superintendent Walter Hrycenko. However in some instances, plays have been shut down by administrators. A performance of the play "Urinetown" was nixed, mainly because the administration felt advertising such a play on signs around town would not be well-received, Hrycenko said.

There's no word on how the matter will be handled from here on out, but even the most serious discussions don't end without some irony.

"Am I allowed to use profanity here?" asked resident Vic Fanelli of school board members following the discussion about the play.

"No," Kight answered.

"Well, according to what I heard, maybe we'd get more people here if we did," he said.

Jennifer Roebuck January 21, 2012 at 11:59 AM
Well said, Greg.
Reality January 21, 2012 at 01:43 PM
Ms. Roebuck, You do realize your resume only gives credence to those who believe the old saying, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach." (No, I don't believe this myself.) I'm sorry you weren't able to make it in acting yourself. Hopefully, you at least share your story with your students so they can glimpse how difficult it actually is to break into the acting world.
Jennifer Roebuck January 21, 2012 at 02:16 PM
Reality~ If your definition of "making it" is fame and great financial fortune, then you are correct. I did not "make it." If, however, the definition of "making it" is the ability to make a living as a working actress for many years with artists that inspired me in a city that I love, while learning and growing as an individual and being able to teach and inspire my child and students ~ then, not only have I "Made It," but, my ideas of success supersede any that I had ever imagined. Have you been given the gift of watching a student grow from novice to full scholarship acting student at NYU under your guidance and direction? Have you had the pleasure of guiding a student away from drug abuse, violence, and fear to a family of actors on stage and off while remaining sober, and shining as a lead in his first play? THAT my friend IS MAKING IT! What a truly blissful life to wake up each morning and love what I teach and where I teach it. Do you enjoy going to work each day, Reality?
Reality January 22, 2012 at 12:33 AM
Hmm, looks like I definitely hit a sore spot here! Again, I think the real lesson you are teaching your students its that it's extremely difficult to make it as a working actor. I'm happy for you though that you get to brag about your guest roles to Brick teenagers and here on this board! Guess that's your stage now.
Elizabeth January 22, 2012 at 02:48 PM
Reality, if you are an adult, please have a friend read your last few posts. They are petty and I am sure not where you planned to go when you first started posting on this site, And Ms. Roebuck, even though I emphatically disagree with you on this subject, why do you feel the need to justify yourself? You are a professional and obviously one with a passion for your work.

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