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Connecticut Musical Stirs Controversy After 2 Men Kiss During Performance

By Candice Leigh Helfand
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"Zanna Don't!" logo (courtesy of Theatrical Rights Worldwide)

“Zanna Don’t!” logo (courtesy of Theatrical Rights Worldwide)

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HARTFORD, Conn. (CBS Connecticut) — A Connecticut high school musical causes a public walkout after two men in the cast kissed during the performance.

It happened during the “Zanna Don’t!” musical at Hartford Public High School last Friday.

“There are always circumstances (in organizing these programs) under which the values of the student or their family come into play,” said Adam Johnson, principal of the Government and Law Academy at the high school, told CBS Connecticut.

He added that many students expressed a desire to skip the show due to the subject matter.

“It’s a balancing act of individual values and the expectations of the school … (and) it was interesting, actually, seeing the apprehension,” Johnson explained.

“Zanna Don’t!” depicts life at the fictitious Heartsville High, where students with academically-charged interests sit atop the popularity echelon while football players are the outcasts, and heterosexuals must conceal their sexual preference to avoid public scrutiny.

During the show, two men in the cast share a brief kiss — a lip lock that became a great point of contention.

“There was a public walkout by a bunch of students (when the kiss happened) … mostly male,” Johnson said. “It was visually evident (due to the jerseys the team was wearing) that a lot of football players got up and walked out. It was almost a symbolic kind of thing.”

Reportedly, the school began receiving a great number of phone calls. The dean of students was even allegedly paid a visit by a Bible-wielding parent that spoke about homosexuals in an unflattering manner.

“In the weeks prior … we were told by those organizing the play that there was going to be a boy-boy kiss,” said Johnson, noting the importance of accepting homosexual intimacy as society accepts heterosexual intimacy. “When one teacher asked if I wanted to remove it, I said absolutely not.”

The production was produced by a joint effort between a task force created by Leadership Greater Hartford’s Quest program and True Colors. It was one of 16 projects available for the taking by task forces involved in Quest, participant Louise Provenzano explained.

“Our specific task force voted for this project because we believe in it, especially in light of national and local stories about LGBTQ issues and bullying,” Provenzano, who worked on the marketing committee for the project, told CBS Connecticut. “It’s not a comfortable topic for many folks … but our group is very passionate about bringing the message of inclusiveness and … compassion to the community.”

And with Spirit Day – a holiday during which celebrants promote awareness and widespread acceptance of the LGBTQ community – coming up on Oct. 20, the timing seemed perfect.

“Through humor …  and music, we’re able to address uncomfortable topics and very serious issues for many,” Provenzano said.

“Most change that comes about does require a certain amount of movement through the uncomfortable – the change process can be a bit messy and disruptive,” Ted Carroll, president of Leadership Greater Hartford, told CBS Connecticut.

After the performance, a talk back session was held to promote a dialog between students, administrators and moderators, and materials were handed out for those seeking more information about issues that affect the LGBTQ community.

Though there were members of the community put off by the show’s content, many also received it positively, Johnson said.

Its message of acceptance is especially important to proponents of “Zanna Don’t!” – which is why two more productions of the show will be performed at Hartford Public High School on Oct. 21. One performance will be for the school’s two remaining academies, and the other will be for the general public.

“I think that we’re at a time in history where there is tremendous focus on bullying and the way students are treating each other, and how they are treated, in school,” Johnson said. “We have to teach students how to respect and honor each other. (The students) need to learn about the diversity of the world and respecting the rights of all people. (I’m) really glad that we did this program.”

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