Letter: Five reasons we should be concerned about cancellation of Rent

To the Editor:

I don’t ever comment on or respond to news items but the cancellation of Rent has got to be one of the most discouraging things to happen to Trumbull in quite some time. Principal Guarino’s letter is the perfect embodiment of everything that is wrong with this situation. (http://www.trumbulltimes.com/16819/)

1) Mr. Guarino chose to have someone else read this letter to parents and community members. This was an important letter. This is the type of letter where you stand up in front of people, read it, explain yourself, take questions and criticism and address them. You don’t shoot off a missive to be read by someone else. And if it was the Board of Education’s idea to conduct the meeting this way, you object and say, “this was my decision, I will be the face of it.”

2) This letter does a very good job of throwing the faculty under the bus. I don’t know from where Principal Guarino derived his leadership ethos, but certainly the message is clear to the people he manages: “I definitely don't have your back.” Furthermore, if you were looking for him to offer up specific individuals, Principal Guarino has obliged. “The buck stops here” is not simply presidential lip-service, it is a fundamental understanding of leadership wherein you take sole responsibility; you give your subordinates credit when things go well and you take the blame when things go awry.

3) We get that this was the “School Edition.” He doesn’t need to tell us that eleven times. As any of the English teachers at Trumbull High School would point out, writing consists of choices — words, style, content. By pointing out that this was the “School Edition” eleven times, he is trying to force the point that this was always going to be a watered-down version of Rent. Strictly speaking, he’s allowed to drop the subtitle after the first time he uses the full title (his language arts department will confirm that), so why does he do this? Because he’s afraid of the potential reaction to THS performing Rent. And in that repetition, he softens us to the fact that Rent is, indeed, an edgy play; it betrays that fear was the primary driving factor behind his decision by assuring us that this is actually the ‘dull edge.’ That misses the whole point. We all experience fear, but it’s the strength of our convictions that bear us through those  times when life challenges us. We grow by matching our convictions against that which makes us afraid. There is no conviction in his letter — only fear.

4) Mr. Guarino writes, “There is no evidence that an open communication, collaborative process—with either my predecessor or me—was considered to further explore Rent: The School Edition’s inherent opportunities and challenges.” I was not aware that a precedent existed whereby the school’s curriculum was integrated with the theatrical efforts of the THS Musicals group. Were there discussions about stoicism and personal agency when they performed Crazy for You? With The Wiz, did the school incorporate thematic elements that touched upon the power of juxtaposing fantasy escapism with the struggles of urban black Americans? When Trumbull residents enjoyed Fiddler on the Roof, did the school administration “provide a safe environment educationally, artistically, and emotionally for all of our students” to learn about and internalize the plight of Russian and European Jews in the 20th Century that serves as the emotional core of that play? As someone with three children in the Trumbull school system, I don't recall seeing or hearing about any pedagogical support for what was happening in the THS theatre.

5) Which brings me to my final point. These are high school students. They can handle this. To suggest that the student body requires a comprehensive, board-approved coddling betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the very students he is supposed to be serving. They don't need to be coddled. And just to be clear, this is only an issue because Rent deals indirectly with homosexuality, AIDS, and addiction. Quite honestly, I think the THS Musical players will provide a much more insightful and compelling treatment of this subject matter than Mr. Guarino will be able to cobble together in the next year.

I find this whole business to be very concerning. What happens when Mr. Guarino gets ahold of the AP English reading list and takes exception to some of it? This is a dangerous precedent to set. I suppose the one lesson that the THS students can benefit from is that sometimes we all experience authoritarianism and it's maddening. You know it's authoritarianism when you witness righteous anger from its recipients — which is what I see with this fine group of THS players. The silver lining in all of this is that they have handled that anger beautifully — with grace, poise and maturity. Take a look at their Facebook page (www.facebook.com/thsforRENT) and you will see a group who has been let down but have risen up and are more determined than ever to express what is in their minds and hearts.

John Blyberg