Show will go on after Herriman High receives permission to edit play

Published: Thursday, Jan. 3 2013 3:20 p.m. MST

Residents that were evacuated by fire threats are cared for at Herriman High School in this file photo from Sept. 19, 2010. School officials canceled this year's school play "All Shook Up" at the high school after receiving a complaint from a parent, but have now decided to allow it to proceed after reaching an agreement with the play's publisher.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

HERRIMAN — The show must go on.

One day after announcing the Herriman High School production of "All Shook Up" had been canceled due to potentially offensive content, Jordan School District officials reached an agreement with the play's publisher on Thursday to make adjustments to the script.

"We called the publisher today to get a refund," district spokeswoman Sandra Riesgraf said. "In that discussion, we were made aware of options we did not have before."

Steve Dunham, communications manager for the district, said a song will likely be removed from the play as well as a few other tweaks to scenes.

"We're going to make the adjustments necessary to meet community standards," Dunham said. "The publisher is working with us on that."

Just before classes let out for the Christmas holiday break, a community member approached the district with concerns about a sexually suggestive song in the play, which is a modern retelling of William Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" set to the music of Elvis Presley. After receiving the complaint, district officials reviewed the play's script and determined that it did not comply with the district's approval policy, which had been revised in August.

Dunham said he did not know which song had prompted the complaint, except to confirm that it was not the play's title track, "All Shook Up."

Because the copyright for the play does not typically allow for alterations, district officials elected to cancel the play entirely, even though rehearsals had begun and it was scheduled to be performed in February. Dunham said the publisher agreed that it would be better for all parties to allow minor alterations to the script rather than reimburse the district its licensing fees and cancel the production.

"All Shook Up" had received district approval when it was selected by Herriman faculty last March, but a more stringent district review policy was put into place after Bingham High School's production of "Dead Man Walking" came under fire last year by the Utah Eagle Forum.

Specifically, Dunham said, an extra level of district approval is now required that the play had not passed through before. He also said that the district is being more careful in its reviews following the backlash it received from "Dead Man Walking."

At the time of the play's cancellation, the school had invested rehearsal hours into the production, but other than the $5,000 licensing fee had not yet spent any money for sets, costumes or other items, Reisgraf said.

After news broke of the play's cancellation, students, parents and community members took to social media to either laud the district for encouraging good values or lambast the decision that allowed one person's objections to derail an artistic production. Reisgraf said that following "Dead Man Walking," the public made it clear that the district needed to review its drama selection policy and in this case, the district had simply followed through on that expectation.

"This is not a case where we're caving to one individual," Reisgraf said. "We noticed that this particular play, some of the content, some of the lyrics, did not meet the standards that are in our revised drama policy."

While Riesgraf said that district officials found the original material in "All Shook Up" to fall short of community standards, she also said that the play would likely have gone on unhindered had it not been for the community member's complaint.

The revised version of "All Shook Up" is scheduled to be performed at Herriman High School on Feb. 27 and 28, as well as March 1 and 2.

Theatrical productions in the Jordan School District must be approved by review committees at the school and district level. Those committees are made up of educators, administrators and parents.

The process is not dissimilar to other school districts, where local community councils typically review and approve theatrical selections. But not all districts require a second, district-level approval.

In Canyons School District, district approval is required if a school's local committee selects a play that is not on a pre-approved list, according to spokesman Jeff Haney. He said the policy is a carryover from the district's split from Jordan and will likely be revised in the future, but the current practice is to empower principals, drama teachers and community members in making drama selections. 

In Salt Lake City School District, district approval is not required for theatrical productions, but the district fine arts supervisor is available to assist schools, spokesman Jason Olsen said.

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com

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