Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Rent Will Perform At Calif. High School, A Web 2.0 Victory

RENT, the Pulitzer Prize winning musical, will perform at Corona del Mar High School beginning April 23rd. The production follows an attempt by Principal Fal Asrani to cancel the musical because of "homosexual" content. Last week, she replaced RENT with You're A Good Man Charlie Brown as the school's spring musical.

Web 2.0 Powered Victory

The performance is a victory for the students and their drama teacher, Ronald Martin, who stood against the administration's decision. A victory won by their persistence and new media, specifically blogs and Facebook.

On Feb. 13th Queerty ran a story about an e-mail they had received from a reader. It was written by an anonymous student, who detailed the circumstances of RENT's cancellation. Two days later the story had spread to sites from The Huffington Post to the New York Time's Arts Blog.

While the story was went viral, the students organized. They created a Facebook group, Save Rent,which now has 441 members, and began (along with parents) to contact media.

"The immediacy the internet provides was key in this victory," Cindy Fulton, of Berkeley, a Corona del Mar High School alumnus, said today. "In the past we might have been writing letters to newspaper editors. You send it in, it gets reviewed, it gets published... maybe a week later." She says that the Internet made the difference, "In this case the internet allowed us to get right in there and work to change situation. We were able to be involved in it rather than react to it."

By the time the story was reported in The New York Times, Asrani was feeling the pressure. Martin, the drama teacher, resubmitted the script to her for written approval. She approved on Thursday.

James Ramsey, Co-Administrator of the Save Rent Facebook group, sent a message to the group, "We could not have achieved this without the support from all of you. It is amazing that we were able to do this in such a short amount of time, and everyone helped."

Principal Vs. Teacher

The LA Times Reports:

What transpired in the original meeting between Martin and Asrani is a matter of dispute between the two.

Martin said that Asrani questioned the portrayal of homosexuality and prostitution in the play -- although he said there is no prostitution in the toned-down school edition of the production -- and requested a copy of the script. He told Asrani that he did not have a script at the time and that there would not be enough time for her to review it and to obtain clearance from the licensing company. Asrani then opted to cancel the show, Martin said.

Asrani claimed she just wanted to read it.

As I first reported, there has been an atmosphere of hate in the school, ignored and even occasionally enabled by Asrani.

Many students don't believe Principal Asrani and expect there is more to the story that she isn't telling. "Even with the victory of getting RENT approved, the next battle is bringing justice to the comments exchanged in the meeting," one student told me today. Several other students and parents suggested Asrani's troubles may not be over.

Looking Forward

Regardless of what happens to Asrani, the students have won a big victory and many are looking forward to how RENT can benefit their school.

"I am ecstatic that we will be able to perform the show," says Ryan Willison, member of the school's Human Relation Council. His group is planning to integrate RENT into their club's campaign, Stand Up, Speak Out, Act Now, which emphasizes the student's voice. He continues, "Now that RENT has gotten so much attention, we want to use that publicity in a positive light and advocate for acceptance of the gay community at CdM. We are thankful that we don't have to fight for our rights in a media struggle anymore, and that we can advocate in a more positive, constructive way. Regardless of whether Mr. Martin or Mrs. Asrani is telling the truth, or some combination of the two, we are all excited to move forward."

And move forward they will, newly formed activists.


  1. followed your tweet here the RENT-head that i am. i just think it's funny to replace RENT with You're A Good Man Charlie Brown. One might argue homosexual content in the good ole Peanuts gang, too. ;)

  2. Oh man... That was my rival high school. I attended Newport Harbor High across town. Well done, CdM.