Two school boards in London, Ont., have pulled their financial backing of a play about a gay student's fight to take his boyfriend to the prom, CBC News has learned.
Prom Queen: The Musical is based on the story of Marc Hall, a gay teenager who won his 2002 battle with the Durham Catholic School Board to take his boyfriend to the prom at a school in Oshawa, Ont. It was chosen as this year's fall high school project play at the Grand Theatre in London.
The script has drawn the ire of the London District Catholic School Board and the Thames Valley District School Board, which are pulling the $30,000, leaving a dent in the project's $250,000 budget. It also marks the first time the two boards haven't contributed to the annual play. In the past, productions have included Evita, Legally Blonde, Grease, West Side Story and Les Misérables.
"There are many things in the script [of Prom Queen] that go against the culture and values of our schools," trustee Matt Reid, chair of the Thames Valley board, said Thursday morning.
"I think the message in the story is very important. The issue is how you portray the facts of the story."
Reid also said the play's theme of LGBTQ rights isn't the issue, but rather the language in the script, and how the story portrays school boards, teachers and other adults in a negative light.
Hall, who spoke to CBC News from Calgary where he now works, said he was surprised a school board would pull funding.
"It's about a community coming together, to stick up for yourself, to not allow discrimination, to love who you are."
The boards have traditionally given $15,000 each to the annual high school project. Students participate in all aspects of the production, from acting to stage management.
When asked by CBC on Wednesday why they pulled their funding, both boards released the same statement a minute apart. Aside from saying each board's name, the full statement read: "Together, our school communities – principals, teachers, trustees, staff, students, parents – work very hard to ensure all students are supported and cared for, which is not reflected in the script."
Deb Harvey, the Grand Theatre's executive director, said the two boards' move was surprising. "We weren't prepared for that, but we're always looking for community funders. Always have, always will."
In an effort to fill the funding gap, an online fundraising campaign had raised more than $30,000 after it launched Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET.
Hall also told CBC that he shared his story with the Thames Valley District School Board's Gay-Straight Alliance Conference in 2010.
"This was a story about something that happened to me at my school board in Oshawa, Ont., and the script really revolves around a community coming together to help a boy, me, right a wrong," said Hall, who won the court battle against the Durham board and Monsignor John Pereyma Catholic Secondary School, and attended the prom with his then boyfriend.
Parts of the script that take place at a school board and in a courtroom were verbatim from transcripts of the proceedings, said Mary Young Leckie, the Toronto-based producer of the play.
"Marc was a bit of a reluctant hero, he just wanted to go to prom. He wasn't a political rebel," she said. "I'm really kind of sad that in 2018 school boards somehow think they can't support the story of a kid.
"This is a story about gay rights. When you come up against this really conservative reaction and defensive reaction, it surprises me, but it also tells me that this play is incredibly relevant. This is a story that people need to hear."
Unique opportunity for Grand, students
Grand Theatre artistic director Dennis Garnhum said he chose the play because it allows high school students to play characters their own age in a powerful story of triumph.
"I'm always looking for what's next and how we do we grow," Garnhum said. "I didn't want to keep going through the classics. This is a brand new Canadian musical set in Ontario based on true fact about what happened when a young high school student innocently said 'I'm taking my boyfriend to prom.'"
The play is being offered exclusively to the Grand Theatre and will likely be staged professionally after the London run.
It was a huge hit in Montreal and was chosen for the New York Musical Festival.
The play is about "what happens when young people follow their voice and make a difference in the world," Garnhum said.
"This happened 20 years ago. It's not about the good guy or the bad guy anymore. I want to give more kids a chance to see themselves."