The show did not go on for Turlock High School drama students after the school's administration shut down the spring show following complaints made following the first performance about mature content in the musical.
Turlock High School canceled the remaining performances of the spring show “Be More Chill” after its first performance on Thursday based on concerns that the content was too mature for a general audience that includes all age levels, according to the Turlock Unified School District.
The show is a musical based on a book by of the same name by Joe Tracz. The original script depicts matures themes such as teenagers experimenting with alcohol, drug use and sex. Scenes in the play include students attending a house party where they do drugs. On the poster advertising the show, Turlock High’s drama department did include a disclaimer that the show had mature themes and parental guidance is suggested.
Students and parents expressed their shock that the school district would shut down the show after all their hard work. The show’s creator also responded to news of the cancellation on Twitter.
“So, this was absolutely an official, licensed production of BMC,” tweeted Joe Iconis, “Be More Chill” playwriter. “I cannot fathom how @turlockhs and @tusdsupdana (Superintendent Dana Trevethan) could let students rehearse for months and allow them to do an ACTUAL PERFORMANCE before pulling the plug because of content? Can someone explain please?”
"We are aware that many are very disappointed that the play was canceled for performances open to the general public after opening night. We are committed to ensuring protocols are in place going forward so this does not happen again," said the school district in a statement.
Students were given the opportunity to perform in front of immediate family during a private show on Saturday evening. While students were appreciative of the opportunity, there was still a lot of frustration about having the remaining performances canceled and not being able to perform for the community at large.
“It’s disappointing to know the show cares more about possibly making parents uncomfortable then how the students feel about getting to do something they worked hard for, and then getting it taken away,” said ensemble member Zefyra Mazuelos.
According to the school district, specific plays are selected to be performed each year by the drama teacher. Students believe they have done shows with mature themes in the past, and the messages in the show were worth sharing.
“What I see and many others see when actually looking deep down into this show is the reality of high school, and how ‘Be More Chill’ goes right next to a different musical, ‘Dear Evan Hansen,’” said Dalton Howry who played the show’s lead character, Jeremy. “These may be portrayed in different ways and ‘Be More Chill’ may go a lot more in depth than ‘Dear Evan Hansen,’ but they both share a common theme of showing the importance of being seen and feeling like you as a student matter to others. Even after the character in the musical Jeremy gets that after sacrificing so much, he realizes that that isn’t even enough, but what really already was more than enough was the relationships he already had with his friends.”
While there were parents who had concerns about the content, other parents felt the it was appropriate and had conversations with their children regarding the mature themes.
“For centuries the arts have been unjustly censored by the minority and this is more of the same,” said parent Melissa Lima. “Because a very small minority of parents don’t approve of the very realistic subjects of sex, drugs, pornography and bisexuality the district is punishing not only the cast and crew of this production but the many students who could have benefited from the message of this musical. On a personal level I am frustrated that as an involved parent I researched the content of this show, which was rated PG13 and labeled mature from the beginning, and talked to my daughter about the subject matter, her costumes, her role in the show etc. I, as her mother, deemed it to be appropriate and allowed her to perform.”
“The infuriating irony is that the content to which parents objected is just the tip of the iceberg of what kids are exposed to on a daily basis at school,” said parent Kristi Mazuelos. “This is high school. There is swearing, bullying, alcohol, drug use and sex. Parents should know that these things are not just talked about, but do happen at school. By forcing the drama teacher’s hand to close down this musical, these parents effectively lost an opportunity to talk about these issues that teenagers deal with. Burying one’s head in the sand and pretending teenagers aren’t exposed to this type of content on a daily basis is not just ignorant but harmful.”
Some of the most frustrating parts for students were that they weren’t able to fully experience the fruits of their labor and the seniors would not get a proper farewell.
“When our incredible, hardworking director announced, while choking back tears, that the show was being canceled I saw the expression drain from the faces of my fellow cast members and silence struck across the room,” said ensemble member Maguire Lima. “After 10 seconds of processing what we had just heard, tears swelled in everyone’s eyes. Tears of anger for the fact that we had worked so hard, so many hours just to be shut down. Tears of sadness from the students whose friends and family were not able to watch them on opening night. Tears from seniors who realized they may never be on stage again and who were robbed of the opportunity to savor their last show. Tears of frustration that a few parents didn’t research the show sooner and then objected after it was too late to make changes.”