It's possible that I wasn't giving young audiences enough credit in my last post. Why the change of heart? Two recent stories I saw this weekend suggest that the larger problem might be with the "let's avoid anything that's uncomfortable" stance of the adults in charge.
In Toronto, school groups have been pulling out of bookings to see Joseph Jomo Pierre's play Born Ready, which in Richard Ouzounian's words "deals realistically with ghetto life in Toronto and the gun culture that young people are drawn into," after two school boards expressed their dismay. In other words, administrations are determining that a play that deals realistically with the world many of its teen audience members are living in might be too mature for them. As Ouzounian says, "A special performance for educators and a four-star review in this paper doesn’t seem to have helped."
Meanwhile, college administrators at a school in my home state banned a student production of Sondheim's Assassins on the eve of its opening, claiming sensitivity to the Northern Illinois University shootings. Unnamed faculty members in this story point out that the administration is banning pretend gun shots even while real gun shots are going off at parties organized by football players. Never mind that Assassins is in large part an attempt to understand why certain people, from Lee Harvey Oswald to NIU's Steven Kazmierczak, resort to this kind of senseless violence. [Extraordinarily Full Disclosure: I'd have to dig through some boxes to be sure, but I believe Ardith Morris, Arkansas Tech's theater director and the director of this production of Assassins, was an instructor at a summer theater program I attended there in high school. Wow.]
To me, this sounds a lot like abstinence-only sex education—attempts by adults to shield young people from a world they're already living in. They don't work. Theater's purpose, in my mind, is to give us ways to understand the world we live in. The fewer barriers we create between that purpose and its audience, the more likely the audience will be to fully absorb it.
*This quote comes from the linked story about Arkansas Tech, from its president. An overabundance of caution, in my opinion.