The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0990 Tuesday, 13 October 1998.
From: Catherine Fitzmaurice <
Date: Monday, 12 Oct 1998 18:42:12 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Things that make you say, "hmmm...."
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Monday, 12 Oct 1998 11:34:24 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Things that make you say, "hmmm...."
Greetings, all, from DC--
This was in today's Washington Post.
Shakespeare, Without a Sword to Draw Loudoun Educators Consider Ban on
Weapons in Student Productions
By David Nakamura and Susan Saulny
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, October 12, 1998; Page A01
Loudoun County high school drama teacher Renee Haynes went to her
school's principal last week for advice on how to stage William
Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night."
She wasn't looking for his insights on the play's meaning. What she
needed to know was how her student actors could perform a sword-fight
scene without violating the school system's rule against the possession
of weapons on school property.
The ban, which the School Board strengthened in July, includes "toy or
look-alike weapons" that could "injure . . . or induce fear in another
person." Haynes had decided that the swords specified by Shakespeare
were out of the question. So she asked E. Wayne Griffith, the principal
at Potomac Falls High School in Sterling, if she could substitute wooden
staffs. He objected at first, then gave his permission.
But the issue is far from settled.
The school superintendent's office is considering drafting restrictions
on drama clubs to clear up the confusion. And several Loudoun principals
say the best way to resolve the matter might be to ban all weapons, real
or fake, from school stages.
"We're all very conscious of safety, more so than we've ever been, and
we don't want to promote weapons in any way," said Preston L. Coppels,
the principal at Hillside Elementary School in Ashburn, who has stopped
allowing Civil War reenactors to bring weapons to his school. "You can't
say it's okay for one kid and not for the other."
Several drama teachers in Washington area districts say it is not that
surprising that theater props have come under scrutiny, given how
worried administrators are about student violence after recent shootings
at schools across the country. But so far, Loudoun appears to be the
only school system in the area that is considering such restrictions.
"It's kind of unfortunate that we've come to that point in society, but
I guess that's where we are," said Debbie Reier, a drama teacher at
Sherwood High School in Montgomery County.
Reier said she has been producing student plays for more than 20 years
and has never thought about banning weapons, even in light of Montgomery
County's strict policy against weapons and their look-alikes in school.
Several Loudoun drama teachers are alarmed that officials in their
district are even talking about the idea of banning weapons in student
productions. Great theater has always had its share of fighting scenes,
they say, and no theatergoer would think that the make-believe violence
on an auditorium stage is an endorsement of violence elsewhere in the
"You're going to knock out 60 percent of American plays," said John
Wells, a drama teacher at Loudoun County High School in Leesburg. "You
can't do 'Guys and Dolls,' 'West Side Story,' 'Oklahoma.' It's going to
"No one who walks into a theater and sits down believes anything that
happens is real," Wells said. "If you kiss on stage, you're not getting
married after the show ends. If someone is shot or punched, no one is
Haynes also sees no reason to prevent her students from wielding sticks
on stage. "It's not a real weapon," she said. "It's all illusion, even
Michelle Fowler, who teaches drama at Howard High School in Ellicott
City, argues that banning weapons in school plays would make theater
less educational for student audiences.
"It limits you," Fowler said. "You strive to produce plays that teach
students about life. Avoiding certain plays because of the gun issue
cuts out a lot of good, well-written material with positive themes."
Fowler's class is preparing to present "Play On!" a farce by Michael
Abbott that involves the use of a gun. "There are no regulations in the
county against using guns in a play as props, but I really haven't
decided how I'm going to handle it," she said. "I guess my feeling is
that a gun in a play doesn't support violence. I don't think it sends a
Some teachers disagree.
Ike Stoneberger, the drama teacher at Loudoun Valley High School in
Purcellville, does not allow his students to use any weapons-including
toy guns, cardboard swords and plastic knives-in school plays.
Stoneberger said that after consulting with his school's principal, he
decided that allowing the props was inconsistent with the county's rules
for students. There are plenty of good plays that don't have scenes
requiring weapons, he added.
"I have used weapons in the past, but we have to consider the current
atmosphere regarding the threat involved," Stoneberger said. "I want to
support the administration's desire not to have any weapons circulating
on school property."
Loudoun Valley junior Shannon Skinner, 16, the president of the school's
drama club, said she thinks students should be allowed to use fake
weapons in school productions.
"It depends on what the play's about," she said. "If it really calls for
it, then it should be fine if [the weapon] is obviously not real. I
don't see a problem with it."
Students at Annapolis High School next month will perform Agatha
Christie's "Ten Little Indians," a murder mystery that involves a gun
and other weapons. Jennifer Sjolie, director of the school's drama
department, said the actors probably will use a wooden or cardboard
A written message will appear in the show's program, explaining that the
school does not "accept, encourage or condone" the use of violence.
"That's always worked for us," Sjolie said. The Anne Arundel County
school system bans "look-alike" weapons, but officials have decided that
theater props do not fall under those regulations.
"You can't ban everything," said Huntley J. Cross, special assistant for
student discipline in Anne Arundel. "What about pencils? People have
stabbed other people with pencils."
At a meeting last week of administrators from Loudoun's 42 public
schools, several principals said that putting guns and swords-even fake
ones-in the hands of student actors might weaken the message to students
that they must never bring weapons to school.
Loudoun's high school principals are to meet again this week and may
decide to recommend a policy to the superintendent's office.
"You don't want to be giving kids mixed messages regarding weapons, but
you also don't want to ruin the integrity of classic Shakespeare," said
James E. Person, principal at Park View High School in Sterling. "It's
a fine-line issue. Who would have thought five, 10, 15 years ago that
we'd be discussing this?"
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