Austin Cancels Gay Penguin Play

Play about two male penguins raising a chick not allowed in the district's elementary schools.  
Thu November 15, 2012 2:32 am
AP Images | Kike Calvo

Same-sex marriage may now be legal in nine states, including the country's capital, but here in Texas, it is not, and when and how to introduce the concept of homosexuality to kids remains a question. 

The debate is alive even in liberal-leaning Austin, which became the first Texas city to endorse same-sex marriage in September.  According to  the Austin-American Statesman , the Austin Independent School District recently canceled ten performances of a UT play about a gay couple that was scheduled for various elementary schools. The couple, in this case, is two male penguins. 

And Then Came Tango  was written by Emily Freeman, a graduate theater student at the University of Texas at Austin. It is inspired by the true  story of Roy and Silo, two formerly inseparable male Chinstrap Penguins at Manhattan's Central Park Zoo. In 2000, after trying to incubate a rock together, Roy and Silo were given a fertilized egg, which they successfully hatched and raised. The zoo named their chick Tango. 

UT students initially performed Freeman's play in October at Lee Elementary School in Austin. Afterward, Jody Serrano reported in the  Statesman that AISD officials, unsure of how approriate the content was for second-graders, suspended further performances before canceling them altogether at the end of October.

The discussion surrounding the cancellation has been relatively civil, with no one directly disparaging the play. According to Serrano, the school district's fine arts director, Greg Goodman, sent an explanatory letter to the head of UT's youth theater program, Coleman Jennings, saying:

The subject matter communicated in the play is a topic that Austin ISD believes should be examined by parents/guardians who will discuss with their elementary school age children at a time deemed appropriate by the parents/guardians.

On November 12 the university  responded in a press release:

For Freeman, "And Then Came Tango" is about love and family. She explains, "Throughout the play, the definition of family is extended beyond normative representations."

The Conservative Texas Values group, of course, approved the district's cancellation. President Jonathan Saenz said, "We define marriage very clearly in the state of Texas. So if you have a play that tries to push and promote a different marriage definition, which is clearly illegal, it leads students to ask questions about it, and it leads to the discussion of sex."

But not all parents were pleased. Carmel Drewes, whose son attends Ridgetop Elementary School in Austin, hopes her son will still get the chance to see the play, Serrano wrote. “The more that kids are encountering various symbolism and representations of family structure, the more normal it becomes,” said Drewes.

And he will get a chance. Free performances are scheduled for the Oscar G. Brockett Theatre from November 30 to December 1.

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