Education | Iowa | Matthew Shepard | Theatre

Iowa High School Principal Bans 'The Laramie Project', Says It's 'Too Adult'


A high school principal and superintendent in Ottumwa, Iowa are denying the students the right to perform The Laramie Project, Moisés Kaufman's play about the hate crime murder of gay Wyoming teen Matthew Shepard.

ShepardWatch The Heartland's Connection report on the controversy, AFTER THE JUMP...

The Ottumwa Courier reports:

"None of us can understand why they are shying away from it," said Jordan Young, 16, a student who is secretary of the OHS drama club. "The principal [of OHS] wants to get away from bullying, and he has initiatives he really [pushes]. So to hit so hard on a show that addresses bullying, it makes no sense."

She said other students she's met with feel similarly. "We were all confused more than anything," she said. "We didn't understand what was wrong with it. The planning started in October of last year. We have auditions in a month and a half!" She said students believe the problem lies in the subject of the play.

The Heartland Connection adds:

OHS Principal Mark Hanson denied the play from being performed through the school’s drama department. We reached out to Principal Hanson but he did not want to go on camera but he said “the play is too adult for a high school production but it does preach a great message.”

Ottumwa Community School’s Superintendent Davis Eidahl (pictured, top) says he fully supports Principal Hanson’s decision. “We really want the focus of our Ottumwa High School productions to be for the entire family,” said Eidahl.

The Matthew Shepard Foundation released a statement, which reads, in part:

This is not a play about being gay, or promoting anyone being gay; it’s about being targeted, hurt, murdered for being different, or perceived to be different, whatever that difference may be – and how this affects the community.

It is regrettable that the administration decided not to take the lead to provide their students and their community such an important learning opportunity, and instead is focused on a desire to show off their auditorium in what they feel is a “family-friendly” manner. We respectfully suggest that the main mission of a school district is to educate, not to entertain.

Watch The Heartland's Connection report on the controversy, AFTER THE JUMP...

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  1. Not surprising that this is happening in Iowa. God forbid we should acknowledge "adult issues" to high school children, who already know far too well what the real world is like. Ridiculous.

    Posted by: Jack M | Jul 12, 2013 9:19:46 AM

  2. It is a bit too adult....

    Posted by: Alan Brickman | Jul 12, 2013 9:21:31 AM

  3. Too adult ? These teenagers killed a teenager !!! It's a play about is that too adult ?

    Posted by: mike | Jul 12, 2013 9:30:22 AM

  4. Alan. is it that high school students -- because they are just children -- don't ever ever ever have to deal with adult issues like... oh, I don't know... pregnancy? homelessness? racism? hunger? poverty? violence? Do they magically become aware and capable of understanding and intelligently handling such things upon their 18th birthday? or when they get that valueless piece of paper on graduation? I don't get the logic.

    Posted by: Richard | Jul 12, 2013 9:30:24 AM

  5. Call me crazy, but I think they should cover the event in classes for the upper grade levels but leave the high school play to something lighter...

    Without question, the audience of a high school play is more mixed that simply 'high-schoolers'

    It's unfortunate they hadn't addressed it sooner.

    Posted by: Pete N SFO | Jul 12, 2013 9:32:11 AM

  6. I wonder if he thinks The Diary of Anne Frank is too adult.

    Posted by: James in Hollywood | Jul 12, 2013 9:45:39 AM

  7. I agree it is too adult for a high school production. Not because of the themes, primarily, but because of the language. I know adults who find the language a bit of a shock. I think the Laramie Project is a great play, have seen it a couple of times, including a fine community college production. I have a copy of it in my personal library. No one, not even the principal, is suggesting teenagers should be shielded from difficult issues. But this play is not the only way to have that conversation, or even, the only work of drama that deals with homophobia, violence, bullying.

    Posted by: jpeckjr | Jul 12, 2013 9:48:25 AM

  8. Illogical, irrational and probably fueled by homophobia, misogyny and religitard thinking.

    Posted by: Michael Barber | Jul 12, 2013 9:49:55 AM

  9. Too adult or too gay?

    Posted by: rick scatorum | Jul 12, 2013 9:56:04 AM

  10. No one interviewed ever says exactly what about the play is "too adult". Either the principal or the superintendent said younger family members wouldn't be able to understand the discussion. First of all, it is a HIGH SCHOOL and it is those students' understanding you should be concerned about, not grade school students.

    But if that is indeed the concern, would this district deny the school the chance to put on, "Into the Woods"? How is it easier to explain to younger children all of the deaths of those Brothers Grimm characters than to explain Matthew Shepard's death?

    Posted by: Dastius Krazitauc | Jul 12, 2013 10:01:56 AM

  11. Other high schools have performed it, so it's not like there is a universal understanding that it's "too adult." So they're taking away something students are passionate about putting on, a play that speaks to them, in favor of what? Some vapid work the students may not have any interest in but is happy viewing for their 6 year-old brother? Who are these plays really for? The learning experience of the students or the viewing experience of their families?

    Posted by: Ernie | Jul 12, 2013 10:21:15 AM

  12. I'm not sure a play about a real murder is appropriate to a High School's High School.

    Posted by: Ted B. (Charging Rhino) | Jul 12, 2013 10:21:46 AM

  13. Do Not Feed Alan Brickman. He's a b0tt0m/e&& &h/tp/t

    Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC | Jul 12, 2013 10:22:20 AM

  14. Ted B., do you have any idea of the content of the movies, television shows or news shows that high school students watch today?

    Posted by: Dastius Krazitauc | Jul 12, 2013 10:25:37 AM

  15. I can understand this, I think.

    These plays are usually performed for the community and charge an admission for fundraising for the school. Families would not be able to bring their younger children.

    If the Drama classes were studying it as part of their curriculum, perhaps performing parts of it in class, that would be one thing. This is very different.

    Posted by: Vickie | Jul 12, 2013 10:28:05 AM

  16. It's too adult? Matthews Shepard was only a little older than many of these kids when he was slain.

    Too adult? There are assuredly kids in this principal's own school who have been bullied, harassed and persecuted for being gay (even if they're not) and have gone home wondering if it's worth waking up the next day.

    Too adult? Hundreds of schools across the country have tackled this play, because their principals have understood how relevant it still is today to their student base, and how important it is to focus attention on hate and bigotry and the human impact it has on all of us.

    Too adult? No. But treating high school students like delicate flowers and preventing them from being exposed to messages of tolerance can only serve to reward and reinforce the anti-gay and immature bullying that goes on in that school.

    This principal should be ashamed, and these kids should protest this decision until it is overturned.

    Posted by: Ryan | Jul 12, 2013 10:29:30 AM

  17. "Families would not be able to bring their younger children."

    So what? Get a babysitter for that night and then take the younger kids to "The Little Mermaid", which the school also plans on putting on. High school should be about the education of the teens who attend it, not about entertaining little kids.

    Posted by: Dastius Krazitauc | Jul 12, 2013 10:38:44 AM

  18. i certainly hope he's not endorsing them reading the Bible then. it's filled with incest, rape, revenge, murder, wife-swapping, etc. all 'adult' things. that book should be rated XXX!

    Posted by: mike/ | Jul 12, 2013 10:44:25 AM

  19. The poster Zeta on this site is a bigot....please pass it on....enough with pandering to religious trolls who pretend to be our friend on this site.

    In a recent thread, Zeta stated "gays coming out are drama queens who want to shove their sexuality down people's throats"

    In a thread last week, Zeta said:

    "which is it? Is marriage about love or about contracts?

    If it's about love, then no one should tell someone they can't marry the grove they've bonded with, they take of, they own, or which they are going to pledge to own and take care of.

    If it's about contracts, then ditto.

    I don't see the problem. Should homosexuals?" while going on and on about how gay marriage can lead to animals and humans marrying.


    Posted by: Mikey | Jul 12, 2013 10:59:10 AM

  20. Yet we have to have the VIOLENT, HORRIFIC, DISGUSTING VILE book called the Bible spoken about in schools? RELIGION and the nastiness of it is what should be barred from schools.

    Posted by: Leesto | Jul 12, 2013 11:01:33 AM

  21. You can ALWAYS count on towleroad for posters playing devil's advocate and siding with known homophobes. This man is not rejecting this play because it's not appropriate for high schoolers, he's rejecting it because of the gay theme and if you lived in our Iowa town, you'd know tha. But there's too much self hate on towleroad to realize.......homophobia exists!

    Posted by: Klien | Jul 12, 2013 11:02:59 AM

  22. Protest, rally, petition. This play is not only perfectly fine for teenagers, but vital! It's part of American history

    Posted by: Hugh | Jul 12, 2013 11:03:38 AM

  23. We learned FAR more adult themes and intense subject matters in grade school compared to LARAMIE pROJECT. This is about anti gay prejudice on the part of the principal.

    Posted by: Lee | Jul 12, 2013 11:04:33 AM

  24. I hope the school kids fight for it and speak against the principal stopping it.

    Posted by: J | Jul 12, 2013 11:04:58 AM

  25. Too adult? Kids are having sex in grade 8 or earlier, but they can't handle knowing the truth about what happened to Matthew Shepard?

    Posted by: Gigi | Jul 12, 2013 11:17:08 AM

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