The Bel Air High School production of "Almost, Maine," almost debuted in Harford County absent a scene many students considered critical to the drama about love in a small town.
When county school officials demanded that the scene involving homosexual romance be deleted from the show, students cried censorship and discrimination and contacted the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.
After a strongly worded letter from the civil rights organization, officials reversed their decision with apologies. The show will open Thursday evening at the school with all story lines intact.
"Cutting the scene was definitely censorship," said junior Julia Streett, president of the school's Gay Straight Alliance and sound engineer for the show. "It repressed creativity."
The drama, written by John Cariani, depicts characters falling in and out of love through a series of vignettes. In "They Fell," the scene at issue, two young men, who are longtime friends, compare notes about disastrous dates with women and come to realize that they are attracted to each other. Both actually fall several times in almost slapstick fashion. The two make no physical contact and use no graphic language.
"The show is all about different couples falling in love," said junior Krissy Vogt, a member of the show's technical crew. "Adding a gay couple created diversity. I think that the scene is definitely necessary to the show."
The play was well into production when the faculty director asked school officials to review the scene for appropriateness.
"They told us to cut the scene but gave us no reason," Vogt said. "We were puzzled. The scene is really lighthearted and there is no physical contact. We decided to go to the ACLU. We knew they could get something done for us."
The ACLU argued that the decision violated the students' right to free speech.
"It is the only portrayal of same-sex love in the play; it is also the only portion of the play the drama club was required to remove," Deborah A. Jeon, ACLU legal director wrote in the letter dated Wednesday. "The decision to censor the play to eliminate representation of same-sex love and gay identity is unlawful and we demand that the decision be reversed."
Contacting the organization showed prescience and tenacity on the part of the students, she said.
"It shows how courageous they are in standing up for their rights," Jeon said in an interview Friday. "They took a stand in a non-disruptive way."
Teri Kranefeld, Harford schools spokeswoman, said officials have "discretion to determine whether the content of material in items such as school plays and school newspapers are appropriate and have educational value." Upon receipt of the letter from the ACLU and further review, the decision to remove the scene was reversed, she said.
She apologized for the error made in pulling the scene and commended the students for their foresight.
Streett and Vogt said they had been prepared to "go to court" if officials did not reverse the decision. If officials were trying to avoid controversy, they failed and probably boosted ticket sales, Streett said.
"There was a lot more controversy about cutting the scene," she said.