The performance of a play about Shakespeare’s work featuring a gay kiss, drinking and suicide has caused concern and a Christian group prayer over its “inappropriate content.”
A pastor in North Carolina’s Mitchell County organised a group prayer on November 9 after The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) was briefly staged at Mitchell High School by members of the local Parkway Playhouse.
“In light of what happened at Mitchell High School today, I think a group of preachers should make an appearance tomorrow,” group prayer organiser Pastor Timothy Rupard, of Temple Baptist Church, wrote in a social media post on November 8 that was quoted by local news outlet Mitchell News-Journal.
The publication’s report on the controversy sparked further discussion on social media, as the article was shared among the community.
Some parents supported Mitchell County Schools Superintendent Chad Calhoun’s decision to shut down the play soon after it started, while others thought the move showed bigotry and ignorance.
What is The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) about?
The 1987 play takes a satirical approach to The Bard’s best-known work including Romeo and Juliet, Othello and Antony and Cleopatra. Like the original plays, it references to drinking, violence and suicide.
Traditionally performed by three male actors, just like Shakespeare’s plays would have been originally—because women weren’t allowed to act in Elizabethan times—the play also features a gay kiss.
Calhoun told local news outlet WLOS that he began receiving complaints from parents and students in attendance about the contents of the play.
“They were acting out drinking out of a flask, a suicide was being acted out,” he said.
But while Calhoun made no reference to the gay kiss, much of the online discussion around the events mentioned homosexuality as being one of the themes deemed “inappropriate.”
Gay kiss controversy
Parent Sherry Cook, who shared the Mitchell News-Journal article on Facebook, said the playhouse “should be ashamed” and described the play as containing “homosexuality, suicide and horrible language,” making apparent reference to the play’s gay kiss.
Drama student Evan Briggs also addressed the gay kiss controversy.
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“The so called ‘kiss’ that happened was a stage kiss that WASN’T real, at all. We’re there some other touchy subjects in the show, definitely, but there is no reason for it to be getting this much attention at all!!” the student wrote on Facebook on November 8.
Group prayer takes place as planned
Despite the controversy, the group prayer took place as scheduled. “Prayer at Mitchell High school 12 noon. This is not hate, homophobia, or hysteria, IT IS PRAYER!!” Rupard wrote again on Facebook on the morning of November 9, calling on the community to assemble in front of the Board of Education building.
He later posted a thank you message to the people who answered the call for the group prayer.
Pictures of the event shared on social media by reporters from local news station WLOS show around 30 people in attendance.
The Toe River Arts Council, which supported the play, apologised for the performance in a statement.
“We realise that there was inappropriate content in the original script of the play which we were told was to be edited to make it appropriate for high school audiences,” read their statement.
“The intention was for it to be funny as well as to show how plays were actually performed in Shakespeare’s day.”
Locals set up a petition in solidarity with the Toe Rivers Art Council on change.org, on November 12 gathering more than 140 signatures within the first 24 hours of being online.
The petition bears a quote Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: “There is no darkness but ignorance.”