School officials put brakes on 'Rent'

AUSTIN, TX Concerned by the content in the smash pop-rock musical, the Austin Independent School District halted $10,000 in planned assistance for what is expected to be the first licensed high school production of "Rent" in Texas.

The school version of the musical includes scenes involving drug use, HIV, prostitution and homosexuality but is more toned down than the Broadway production.

Student performers say the show will go on beginning Thursday, minus the props and costumes since the production lost the district's financial support.

"While Rent may be very well received in some campus communities, it is obvious that this is not at all the case in many others," John May, the district's interim administrative supervisor of fine arts, wrote in a May e-mail.

May said top administrators and principals who had seen the original version of "Rent" expressed concerns over content. He said he did not ask what, specifically, they found objectionable.

M. Scott Tatum, the technical theater director at McCallum High School, told the Austin American-Statesman he thinks the objections are less about the musical's drug use and AIDS than homosexuality.

"This is Austin. We've had a lesbian sheriff and have gay and transsexual people running for office all the time," Tatum said. "It's 2008. To pretend we don't have gay kids or that kids don't face gay issues is just silly."

May, who said he personally doesn't have a problem with "Rent," said he did not receive an official copy of the script until June. He said it probably would not have been a problem if "Rent" had been done next year, giving the district more time to review the script.

The production will be held at McCallum High School under a rule that campus productions only need approval from the school principal.

J.P. Ponce -- a 16-year-old cast as Angel, a gay man who dies of AIDS -- said he and the actor playing his character's boyfriend had planned to just kiss on the forehead on stage.

"But for the last night, we're going to do it all out, just to rub it in the district's face," Ponce said.

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