MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Amid growing controversy, New Prague High School has canceled performances of its spring play.
The play in question, Larry Shue’s 1984 comedy “The Foreigner,” is about a man who pretends he can’t speak English in rural Georgia. The play involves the presence of the Ku Klux Klan, which is among the town scandals the main character uncovers.
Earlier, a student posted a screenshot of students dressed in KKK robes. The school principal told the town’s newspaper that they had been made aware of the posting, “and the insensitive nature of this post.”
The spring play, which was scheduled to perform this coming Friday and Saturday, was canceled.
“We feel it is in the best interest of New Prague Area Schools to not present the show this weekend,” Principal Lonnie Seifert told the New Prague Times. “This situation will also allow us the opportunity to have conversations with our students, staff and community as we continue to develop and model our character traits of acceptance and respect for all students within New Prague Area Schools.”
Ben Thietje, the play’s director and New Prague’s theatre teacher, said the cancellation “was a unanimous decision made by school administration and myself.”
“The play has a positive message of acceptance and celebration of differences,” he said, “however, if it also causes stress to a portion of our student body, the point of performing it has been lost. The well-being of our students is the main concern. I take full responsibility in not doing a better job of communicating this message with students from the beginning.”
“Is it disappointing? Yes, I’m disappointed for the kids that invested so much time in the play and performing,” said Seifert. “But I think we also need to look at the big picture of our students and I’m disappointed some of our students had to go through the feelings that they went through seeing that (social media) post.”
Principal Seifert said it was a tough decision cancelling the school’s spring play, “The Foreigner.” It’s been performed in high schools across the country. The story is a comedy and portrays the KKK as antagonists.
“It’s got a good message, a message of inclusiveness and acceptance of all,” Seifert said. “But unfortunately I believe what happened with the social media, the message is now lost.”
The picture taken during rehearsal and posted online includes a caption reading “I think you’re gonna wanna come to the spring play.”
“I really truly don’t believe there was ill intent on the part of the person that posted it,” Seifert said.
But the damage was done. Students and parents offended by the post and the play met with Seifert, the play’s director and other administrators.
He said they felt disrespected and were uncomfortable with the idea of students performing in KKK costumes.
“There were some tough conversations had about it but in the end we’re all in agreement this was probably the best decision we could make at this point in time,” Seifert said of cancelling the show.
Seifert said the students he met with Monday were a mix of races and ethnicities.
The play’s director said he takes full responsibility for not better communicating the play and its message with the student body.
Siefert said students had been rehearsing for the show for more than a month.