Censorship Negatively Impacts Understanding of Theater


Provided by Tigrium staff

The Advanced Acting class put on a production of You Can’t Take It With You last week. This show was not the first instance where drama students were forced to censor language or content.

By Charlotte Varnes, Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy

In our most recent print issue, two of our reporters addressed the dangers of censorship, and how lucky we are to be able to take English courses that teach banned books. However, censorship certainly doesn’t only extend to the page; for acting students, it finds its way to the stage.

I have been a part of the Holy Trinity drama department for six years and have witnessed administration censor and edit out parts of multiple shows. In You Can’t Take It With You, we were forced to remove the word “lust” from a scene, greatly changing the context and meaning of the dialogue. In Freaky Friday, it was turning “Oh my God” to “Oh my gosh.” In The Addams Family, it was removing a line with a sexual joke. Though none of these may seem major, I find it altogether wrong to edit and adjust shows in order to conform to one’s beliefs.

To me, theater is meant to challenge one’s viewpoints, not leave the audience feeling as if they learned nothing from the show. I find nothing comforting about theater conforming to my own opinions. I think the best theater is when the audience leaves the theater feeling that their preconceived notions have been challenged and that they gained something from the experience,  even if that experience included language, inappropriate jokes, or difficult situations.

One of my favorite theater experiences was attending another high school’s performance of the play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime at last year’s Florida Thespians festival. The story is told through journal entries by a teenage boy on the autism spectrum and explores the murder of his neighbor’s dog, which seems to lead back to the boy’s father. As the plot progresses, the boy’s father becomes increasingly distraught with him, resulting in the father resorting to plenty of cursing and even violence. If one were to remove these aspects of the story, it would not only be detrimental to the plot, but also ruin the father’s characterization and reveal little about his angry tendencies. The show focused heavily on how the boy interacted with those around him, and the interactions between him and his angry father highlight the boy’s great compassion. I’m not sure that I would have learned so much from the show had the father’s angry outbursts been censored or removed altogether.

Though this example may seem extreme, the principle is the same: censoring theater and conforming shows is not only damaging to the audience, but also the story itself. For example, in You Can’t Take It With You, the inclusion of the word “lust” would have correlated to the rest of the show’s jokes and further indicated how clueless the character Penny was. Replacing it with the word “envy” seemed odd and out of place, especially considering there was no discussion of anything related to that word prior to that point. Though it wasn’t detrimental to the plot, it was still confusing, especially considering that much of the following dialogue relied on the use of the word “lust.”

What I find most interesting about the censorship of You Can’t Take It With You is that I was approved to read it as a work of literary merit for my AP Literature class, and my teacher never once asked me if there was any language in the show. My teacher never asked if it was an appropriate read. I was given full freedom to read the work, “lust” and all. We read many books at Holy Trinity that contain language, tackle controversial topics, and include violence, such as All Quiet on the Western Front, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Catcher In the Rye, and Night. So, why are we not allowed to perform shows that deal with such content?

More than anything, I call upon administration to think twice before censoring or editing any Holy Trinity theater productions in the future. Though taking out one or two words out of a show may seem minor, this is teaching students that censorship is okay and that theater is only good when it conforms to one’s beliefs. There is so much to be gained through watching a show that challenges one’s views, and I think that the Holy Trinity community can learn a lot through this.

This story was originally published on The Growl on October 31, 2019.