By Amalia Webber
Liberty Bell High School’s drama production The Port in The Storm has been banned by the school’s administrative “Committee on the Appropriateness of Dramatic Material,” citing parental disquiet. Students have been working for five months to write and produce this play, which if this committee has anything to say about it, you will never see.
At the forefront of the discomfort seems to be that the students play adult characters in a bar and at some points talk about sex. I have read The Port in The Storm. Yes, there are some adult themes. Characters explore the meaning and importance of love, marriage, sex, monogamy, hormones and the natural stuff of human relationships. The bar setting serves as a meeting place between a variety of diverse characters with different reasons for being there. It is absolutely no more “inappropriate” than the blatant sexism that occurs in Shakespeare or the rape that we read about in Greek mythology; plays where women are bought and sold, where characters violently murder each other.
For all you adults who haven’t been to school lately, this is exactly what your kids learn about, and it’s been deemed important to student learning by public schools everywhere. I’m not saying we shouldn’t learn from these materials, I’m saying to prohibit these students from performing would be to prohibit them from learning.
This play, however, was written both by the students themselves and Danbert Nobacon, the drama director. It is part of an elective class students have chosen to take. They have been working together for five months to learn the playwriting process by actually doing it; writing original songs, lines and deciding on key aspects of plot.
As someone who participated in this very model of learning, I can say that it was invaluable and rewarding experience. The colorful group of cast members had the freedom to openly discuss and decide what we wanted the play to look like and be about.
I think this stands as an important reminder of what our community can look like. The Methow Valley has a diversity of thought that is unmatched, and is many people’s favorite part of living there. So why cut a program that embodies this to a T?
I think it’s important to note that parents are never allowed to be involved in deciding what a school faculty teaches (outside of this mysterious incident). Liberty Bell is subject to the same bureaucratic restrictions as any other public institutions, protecting students and staff from conflicting ideologies that should be kept at home. Furthermore, as part of the school’s handbook (Curriculum Development Policy 2020 – Criteria for Selection of Instructional Material, sub-section D) it states staff should select curriculum that “contribute(s) to the development of an understanding of the … diversity of 21st Century life.”
Liberty Bell is a public school where kids of every background, sexual orientation, or ethnicity are welcome. To impose one’s own discomfort with the themes of a play sends a pretty prejudiced message to those kids and families that identify with the very real themes it represents. Last I checked, we were a community of supportive and nurturing people. If the school administration is afraid of speaking out for equality in the face losing students, thus more funding, shame on them, and it is our job to speak out against it. Liberty Bell has a history of undervaluing programs in the visual and performing arts. It is truly disheartening to see this promising program which has proven to be successful, be threatened yet again.
Danbert Nobacon is one of the most venerated artists in our community, with a wealth of knowledge and experiences that Liberty Bell students are in a unique position to experience. I believe that this decision to ban the production goes against the entire pedagogy of the Methow Valley as well as the school. Let’s not regress into a community that makes students suffer on the part of some community member’s discomfort or private interest.
Amalia Webber is a 2014 graduate of Liberty Bell High School.