After High Schoolers Walk Out Offended, University Adds Trigger Warning to ‘The Fantasticks’

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By Jillian Kay Melchior | 10:07 am, June 19, 2017

High school students attending a University of Wyoming pre-college summer camp are already engaging in activism, walking out of the theater department’s summer musical because they considered its content deeply offensive and triggering.

The Department of Theater and Dance is performing The Fantasticks, a famed Broadway show that debuted in 1960.

In one scene, characters dress up like Native Americans. The show has also courted controversy for a song called the “Rape Ballet.” The song originally used the word “rape” in its more archaic form, as a synonym for abduction. But in recent years, the original lyricist Tom Jones wrote an alternative set of words and has periodically requested that the original version not be performed at all.

Both the costumes and the rape song upset high school students who had attended as part of the Native American Summer Institute, prompting them to leave before the second act began. Upward Bound, another University of Wyoming recruiting program for low-income and first-generation students, also announced it would boycott the play, the student newspaper reported.

The university’s United Multicultural Council also joined the pile-on. “The show especially demeans Native American cultures with outdated stereotypes of Native American appropriation by non-native actors wearing headdresses/warbonnets,” the group said in a statement. “It also portrays Native American and Latino/Hispanic characters as the villains or antagonists of the show.”

The Department of Theater and Dance quickly drafted a trigger warning for the whimsical musical, including it in programs.

“With historical productions, we see ‘a point in time,’ which is different from the one in which we live,” the new insert says, according to the Laramie Boomerang. “We see portrayals of characters that are painful to watch as 21st century audiences. The challenge, then, in producing historical works, is to help audiences understand the context and/or story for the play without taking undue or illegal liberties with the script.”

Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.