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Play’s nixing raises clamor

Students claim principal canceled edited version of Tony-winning ‘Rent’ because it features homosexual characters.

February 13, 2009|By Michael Alexander

Drama students and alumni of Corona del Mar High School are staging an uproar, following accusations that a principal’s alleged censorship sank the school’s planned production of the musical “Rent.”

In an anonymously published letter circulated to students, alumni and gay websites like queerty.com, a student accuses principal Fal Asrani of nixing the Tony-winning musical because it portrays gay and lesbian characters.

“Mrs. Asrani (the principal) is firmly against the portrayal of homosexual characters in RENT, despite the fact that all displays of affection have already been edited out of our script,” the letter reads.

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Drama students and alumni told similar versions of events.

“We went to a lunch meeting for drama class and our teacher told us the show was canceled,” said Ryan Willison, a senior at the school. “He said it was because Ms. Asrani did not want homosexual characters portrayed on stage — but that’s kind of the point of ‘Rent.’ ”

Corona del Mar alumnus Ben Halliday called the news an unacceptable turn of events.

“I’m kind of appalled that that kind of intolerance would be allowed,” he said.

Repeated efforts to reach Asrani and school district officials for comment Friday were unsuccessful, though some media reports had Asrani denying the allegations and saying that she merely wanted time to review the script for objectionable content.

While those raising the outcry said Asrani had not directly canceled the script, they said the manner in which she had asked to review it would not have allowed the drama department to make changes in time to put on a show.

Willison said it was hard to imagine what was left in the script to object to — aside from the presence of gay characters. The production was already going to use a sanitized version of the script, the “high school edition,” that had adult content cut out, Willison said.

“They don’t even let the gay couples kiss on stage, so I’m not sure what she’s objecting to,” Willison said.

School alumni have organized very quickly to fight what they are calling an act of intolerance, organizing calls to the American Civil Liberties Union and national gay rights groups, said Corona del Mar graduate Ali Ross.

“We had people sending the story to queer blogs, and to an alumni friend who knows some of the touring members of ‘Rent,’ We’re trying to get as much attention as possible. At the very least, the administration should have to face public scrutiny.”


Reporter MICHAEL ALEXANDER may be reached at (714) 966-4618 or at michael. alexander@latimes.com.

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