As the Burbank Leader has recently reported, a move is underway by the John Burroughs High School administration to relieve Scott Bailey of his duties as drama teacher (“Teacher files grievance,” June 25).
I find this an ill-considered action that does an injustice to the individuals involved and threatens an admirable academic program.
I say this as a parent of two Burroughs High students not enrolled in his classes, as an audience member at a number of recent productions directed by Bailey, as a theater professional resident in Burbank and not incidentally as a high school drama student of a generation ago.
I know that the level of ambition and accomplishment shown in recent productions surpasses all my expectations and memories of high school theater.
The students under Bailey have undertaken work in a variety of styles and periods with excellent results, and I can only believe that they have learned much about the literature of drama in the process.
They must also have learned something about the power of the stage to contribute to public discourse, and that is a very fine thing.
It is unfortunate in the present case that the public discourse involves bringing their teacher into the bad graces of a school administrator, though they will find it’s neither the first nor the last time that authority and theater will look at each other with suspicion.
But a serious decision about the future of an academic program and its leader needs to be made without regard to personality and prejudice, in the light of a frank assessment of competence, and there I believe the facts are clear.
The Community Commentary on June 25 (“Play shouldn’t be such an issue”) raised the issue of Bailey’s recent production of “Romeo and Juliet,” and in particular its sexual content.
Let’s be clear about what this production was. After a framing device that set up the casting conventions and the use of modern dress, the play was presented as written by Shakespeare.
It was not an adaptation, a commentary, a satire or a takeoff.
It was in fact, Shakespeare, bawdy as is the text, but not more so.
One can only hope that Shakespeare is still welcome in Burbank high schools.
Although there was cross-gender casting in the role of Romeo and others, the gender of the characters, as distinct from the performers, was not changed.
Cross-gender casting in Shakespeare should hardly need a defense, with the examples that abound, most obviously Shakespeare’s own time with its all-male casts, school productions down through the ages, star events featuring Sarah Bernhardt and various others as Hamlet or in our own time Fran Bennett as Lear and Othello, or even Bellini’s opera where Romeo is sung by a mezzo soprano.
It’s rather late in the day — several centuries too late in fact — to be finding this a provocative practice.
Finally — but perhaps not least important — the school principal, Emilio Urioste, did not attend the production.
He is clearly therefore in no position to render any judgment on it, and the same would be true of anyone who may have signed the rumored complaint to the Board of Education without seeing the production.
The loss of this class, as taught by Scott Bailey, would be a sad thing for Burroughs High, and an injustice.
KEN STONE is a Burbank resident.