Parents of students who were exposed to a raunchy performance from the musical “Rent” during a high- school music festival at Arizona State University are upset that their teens were not warned about the explicit content of the show. Andrew McConaghie of Mesa said his 17-year-old daughter and “rows and rows” of students filed out of Gammage Auditorium last week when a song from the show was performed during a larger concert showcasing the university’s various musical ensembles. The university’s Lyric Opera Theatre program performed a song called “La Vie Boheme,” which high-school students said was full of sexual overtones and included a woman mooning the audience. McConaghie said his daughter was embarrassed and shocked. “If they were exposed to this anywhere else, the police would be there arresting them for public indecency,” he said. Heather Landes, interim director of ASU’s School of Music, said that the young audience should have been forewarned about the content and that she “deeply regrets” the situation. She said in a statement that the university is taking steps to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again. Parents say the lack of warning is what frustrates them most. They say it’s one thing for people to buy tickets to a show they know is going to include sexual themes. It’s another to have the material presented to minors with no warning. “Rent” is a popular rock musical that explores the journeys of young artists in New York City and deals with serious subjects such as AIDS and drug addiction.
The performance in question took place last week when several hundred high-school students were gathered for the Arizona All-State music festival. Students had to audition and be selected for the three-day event, which culminated in concerts. The university received about 15 e-mails or calls after the “Rent” performance, mostly from parents who heard about it from their children. Some theater advocates have a different take on the material contained in “Rent.” D. Scott Withers directed a youth version of the musical five or six years ago at Scottsdale’s Greasepaint Youth Theatre. He said the adult version is “absolutely appropriate” to show to teens. There should be a warning that the show contains sexually explicit material, Withers said. “(Teens) certainly can see anything in a movie that is PG-13 that could be every bit as scandalous, if not worse,” he said. Withers said he doesn’t know the circumstances surrounding the production at ASU. He could see how some students might be offended, but he urged an open mind. “I feel like you need to see all perspectives and all aspects of life,” he said. “It’s not necessarily calling your morals or ethics into question if you watch it.” Mesa Public Schools Superintendent Michael Cowan said Mesa students were among those who left the performance. He said he received calls from staff members who were at the performance but does not recall getting calls from parents. “We sent a letter of concern to ASU,” he said. Spencer Warren, a junior at Mesquite High School in Gilbert, attended the festival and took part in the choral production. The 17-year-old got a text message from a friend before the song from “Rent” began. He said the text was passed on to his friend by a faculty member at a Valley high school who had seen a rehearsal of the song the day before. The text said to let students know that the “Rent” performance of “La Vie Boheme” “will be extremely suggestive and crude — I saw it yesterday and they R not planning on editing it. Just FYI. Sorry. No control.” More