A Texas school district halted field trip plans to see a local theater production of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach after parents began to complain about the production’s “cross-gender casting.”
Students from Spring Branch Independent School District (SBISD) in Houston were scheduled to see the play at Main Street Theater before the district cancelled the trip due to parental concerns raised over its “age-appropriateness.” Some parents felt uncomfortable with their elementary-aged children attending the show.
The performance — based on a 1961 classic children’s book written by Roald Dahl — was recommended for kids first grader and older as per the theater’s guidelines.
The show contains eight actors playing a total of 20 characters during the production, which obviously requires some men to play women characters and vice versa. Some parents with children enrolled in the SBISD distract were not having that due to the cross-gender costumes, according to television station KHOU.
The controversy began after a mother of a student in the district shared screenshots of other parents up in arms over the trip, vowing to keep their kids home because of a “drag queen’s role in the show.”
Spring Branch parent Jessica Gerland, spoke to the school board at their recent meeting, citing her “concern” over the field trip. Gerland then spoke to Texas local news station, KHOU, to double down her stance.
“The way that they are normalizing this — especially in front of 5 to 6 year olds — it just raises concerns for some parents,” she said. “She [woman at the theater] explained to me how they wear flamboyant makeup and wigs to make it fun for the kids.”
When she called the theater for more information, she asked them, “Do you know what the definition of a drag queen is?”
News of the play also spread to a local anti-LGBTQ+ social media account, @htxkidsfirst, which posted an image of a local drag performer named Judy and the Giant Peach, dressed in drag.
Though the drag performer is also in the play, they do not perform as the drag persona pictured in the photo posted by @htxkidsfirst. In true extremist, misinformed conservative fashion, the images are from 2018 and are unrelated to the current production of the play, Houston Public Media (HPM) reported.
In another post, the Instagram account congratulated parents who spoke against the performance calling it “God’s work.”
After the school’s cancellation due to parent’s misguided outrage went viral, Main Street Theater marketing director, Shannon Emerick, refuted the claim the play featured drag queens and said cross-gender acting is common in theater productions — and has been for as long as theater has existed.
“There’s no drag in the show. You are going to see men playing women and women playing men sometimes, absolutely,” she said. “That has happened since the creation of theater 1,000 years ago. Drag is a different art form. There is a whole art form that is drag. The amazing thing is the kids just believe the story. They’re not interested in any agendas or anything else anyone thinks is going on.”
Rebecca Udden — the executive artistic director for the nonprofit theater — said the controversy is rooted in misinformed concerns about cross-gender-casting.
“Except for a few characters in the show, they’re all insects for heaven’s sake. They’re not even people,” she said. “Every theater in the world has men playing women and women playing men. It’s just part of the tradition. This is certainly blown out of context. We do not do drag in our theater for youth.”
Udden added that the school cancellations has not yet negatively impacted the theater, saying, “Nobody has asked for their money back.”
However, she is concerned for the safety of the actors amidst the backlash. “People pick things up and love to spread hate,” Udden said.
The story of James and the Giant Peach is about a seven-year-old orphan forced to live with two abusive aunts. He escapes from them in a giant peach inhabited by friendly insects. There is zero sexual content in the play, although the abusive aunts are ultimately crushed to death by the giant peach (but the parents seem to take no issue with that.)
This “outrage” from parents is a smaller layer of a much bigger issue the United States is facing right now when it comes to LGBTQIA rights. In March, Texas state Republicans introduced four bills that would reclassify any businesses that host drag shows as “sexually oriented businesses” and subject them to higher taxes and zoning laws that could potentially put them out of business.
These bills would ban transgender karaoke singers or any performances with cross-gender casting, including Shakespearean plays and numerous musicals.
There are similar bills attempting to outlaw drag performances across the country, all in a right-wing conservative effort to silence and other the LGBTQ community. These efforts are coordinated alongside book bans, anti-trans laws, and other pushes that take away freedom “for the sake of the children.”
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