Hannah Natanson of the Washington Post reports that high schools are canceling productions of plays that might offend parents and members of the community. The “culture wars” have watered down which topics are permissible in 2023. Once again, we see how fear of offending anyone restricts freedom.

She writes:

The crew had built most of the set. Choreographers had blocked out almost all the dances. The students were halfway through rehearsals.

Then in late January, musical director Vanessa Allen called an emergency meeting. She told the cast and crew of 21 teens that their show — the musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” — was off.

Board members in Ohio’s Cardinal Local Schools disliked some features of “Spelling Bee,” Allen explained, including a song about erections, the appearance of Jesus Christ and the fact that one character has two fathers.

Sobs broke out across the room, said Riley Matchinga, 18, who was slated to play one of the leads: Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre, the character whose fathers are gay. “Everyone’s faces just fell,” she said. “I could see everyone’s hearts melting, because we had worked so hard.”

Following a record-setting surge in efforts to change curriculums and ban books at schools nationwide, the education culture war has now reached the stage. The controversy in Cardinal is one of a number of recent instances in which school administrators have intervened to nix or alter school theatrical productions deemed objectionable — often because they feature LGBTQ characters or deal with issues of race and racism.

In Florida’s Duval County Public Schools this January, administrators stopped a production of the play “Indecent,” which details a love affair between two women, due to its “mature content.” In February, Indiana’s Northwest Allen County Schools pulled the plug on a production of the play “Marian” after adults raised the alarm over its depiction of a same-sex couple and a nonbinary character. And in March, Iowa’s South Tama County Community School District halted a performance of the play “August: Osage County” over fears that its treatment of suicide, addiction and racism was inappropriate for school-aged children.

Censorship of K-12 student productions has been happening for years, said Howard Sherman, managing director of the performing arts center at New York’s Baruch College. Since 2011, Sherman has tracked and fought efforts to end or edit school theater, assisting with roughly four dozen such cases, many of which never became public.

Still, this most recent wave of opposition seems more intense and organized than in past years, Sherman said, and more tightly focused on plays and musicals with LGBTQ content.

“Something that was being dealt with community by community has now, for some people, become a cause, ” he said. “You see politicians and officials enacting rules and laws which are incredibly onerous and designed to enforce a very narrow view of what students can see, read, learn or act on stage.”

The logic: if high school students see a play with gay characters, they might think being gay is normal, and they too might be gay. Counter-logic: the same students are far more likely to see movies, TV, and plays where people are not gay.

Robert Pondiscio of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, defended censorship:

“You have to be mindful of local values,” Pondiscio said. “School has always existed to signal to children what is worth knowing and valuable, what we praise and condemn, and you have to apply that to musicals as well.”

In North Lebanon School District in Pennsylvania, the school board voted down a proposed performance of “The Addams Family,” which is the most frequently performed high school musical. The board thought it was too gloomy.

In Ohio, the students won a minor victory:

In Ohio’s Cardinal schools, Matchinga and her peers were determined to put on “Spelling Bee.” They bombarded the school board with emails questioning the cancellation.

Musical director Allen began revising the script to erase lines board members dubbed inappropriate — eliminating profanity, a line about “[beating] up” kids and replacing the phrase “fake mom” with “step mom,” according to school documents obtained by The Washington Post. She was assisted by Rachel Sheinkin, one of the writers of the 2005 Broadway musical. Ultimately, after requesting more than two dozen edits and receiving 12, the school board voted to let “Spelling Bee” proceed.

Alterations to Matchinga’s lines included replacing “and I’ve heard she is pro-choice/though still a virgin” with “but she will not make her choice/til she is certain.”

“I don’t think that really made a big effect on the story, and the show was still really funny and we got a ton of laughs,” Matchinga said. “Overall, I think it was okay.”

But in the future, the school board will have veto power on which plays may be staged.

Let’s see, “Mary Poppins” should pass muster. What else?