Playwright John Cariani has responded to recent news that a North Carolina high school canceled its production of Almost, Maine, one of the most regularly produced plays in American high schools. Students claim that parents and local churches had complained to the school that the play featured a same-sex couple among its many characters, WSOC reports.
Students at Maiden High School in Maiden, N.C., had already begun rehearsing Cariani's 2004 romantic comedy, a series of surreal and whimsical vignettes about the residents of a mythical town in northern Maine. In a scene titled "They Fell," which includes neither physical contact nor graphic language, two weak-kneed male buddies repeatedly fall to the ground as they fall in love with each other.
"Our faculty and staff are still in review of potential performances to be conducted by our students this fall," wrote Rob Bliss, the school's principal, in a statement. "At this time, no final decision has been made regarding whether and what drama performances are to be presented this fall. In regards to the request for students to perform the play Almost, Maine, careful review and consideration was given to the contents of this play. The play contained sexually-explicit overtones and multiple sexual innuendos that are not aligned with our mission and educational objectives. As principal of Maiden High School, I have an obligation to ensure that all material, including drama performances is appropriate and educationally sound for students of all ages."
"On October 15th, 2014, Maiden High School in Maiden, North Carolina canceled a production of Almost, Maine. School administrators say it's because the play contains 'sexually-explicit overtones and multiple sexual innuendos that are not aligned with [the school's] mission and educational objectives.' Students affiliated with the production say it's because of a scene in the play called 'They Fell' in which two young men — literally — fall in love with each other.
"I recognize that gender and sexuality issues are complicated for a public school to navigate. However, parents and administrators at Maiden High School should rest assured that Almost, Maine has been presented at nearly 2,000 educational institutions all over the country with great success and without incident.
"They should also rest assured that the scene in question, 'They Fell,' contains no swearing and no physical contact. It's a sweet, chaste, funny scene that explores the precise moment when a couple of young people — both of whom happen to be guys — fall in love. 'They Fell' asks audiences to consider the wonder of falling in love—which is not something anyone chooses to do. It just happens. And when a young person happens to fall in love with a person of the same sex, and they're from a place like Presque Isle, Maine (my hometown) or Maiden, North Carolina, joy doesn't typically follow. Fear and self-loathing — the roots of homophobia — follow.
"If Maiden High School administrators take issue with 'They Fell' because it's about two young men who are simply stating their feelings for one another, they are calling into question the validity of same-sex love by making it seem wrong and different and other. They are allowing a dangerous cycle of fear and self-hatred among LGBTQ youth to continue, and, consequently, they are tacitly promoting homophobia. This is simply not necessary. Nor is it helpful. We don't need any more Tyler Clementis or Jamey Rodemeyers and Jamey Hubleys. We need kids to know that it'll 'get better.' Falling in love is tough enough when you're young. Let's remove the stigma of falling in love with someone of the same sex.
"Most important, we should all remember that the kids who spearheaded the production of Almost, Maine are the ones who will lose here. As I understand it, the Maiden High School production of the play was to be a student-run endeavor. By canceling the play, it seems to me that school officials are pleasing parents and pillars of the community rather [than] serving the students. I think there's a better solution than to stop the production. I hope that Maiden High School will find a way to contact me and/or Dramatists Play Service to see what we can do to allow the show to go on for the good of all involved."
Students at Maiden High School have created an online petition in an effort to change the principal's decision, which came shortly after a federal judge struck down North Carolina's ban on same-sex marriage.
Following a similar controversy, a Baltimore high school eventually reversed their decision to cut "They Fell" from a production of Almost, Maine in 2011 after receiving criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.
Many videos of high school students performing "They Fell" can be found on YouTube.
UPDATE: A Kickstarter campaign has been launched to fund another production of Almost, Maine in Maiden featuring Maiden High students.