A child-friendly show called "Cootie Shots" is causing an uproar with Minnesota school officials who say the University of Minnesota at Morris' production of the play promotes homosexuality.
While the play's theme is tolerance, four school districts have withdrawn their ticket requests for 1,200 elementary school students for Thursday's (April 21) opening, nearly 40 percent of the show's anticipated audience, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The controversy over the show began when a script began circulating among parents, who became concerned the play contained gay themes. Soon, word spread through e-mail and schools started canceling their reservations.
Ray Schultz, the show's director, told the Star Tribune that his production "does not mention, refer to or portray sexuality of any kind in any way." The show, described as a heavily edited version of a series of scripts called "Cootie Shots: Theatrical Inoculations Against Bigotry," was originally developed and produced by a California theater company, according to a statement by the UMM Theatre Discipline. The collection of stories promotes messages of tolerance by encouraging children to embrace the differences and similarities they share with others of various backgrounds. " 'Cootie Shots' is the best kind of theater. Its purpose is both to entertain and to teach," Schultz said.
One of the skits under fire, "The Parable of the Stimples," asks the audience to explore the idea that differences are never as big a deal as they are made out to be. However, Morris school board member Laura Carrington told the Star Tribune it was obvious the skit was talking about those living alternative lifestyles.
"The Stimples are people who are told that it's OK to make loud noises, but just don't make them in public. Isn't that similar to what homosexuals were told for years?" she said. "They mention that Stimples don't seem quite so 'queer.' That's pretty out front. I don't think it's the school's responsibility to promote a homosexual lifestyle."
The schools that have withdrawn their requests will not be bussing students to the matinee performances as intended. Instead, parents will have to take their children on their own to the University of Minnesota at Morris, which has brought children's theater to the community for the past 35 years.
James Bordewick, editor in chief of UMM's University Register, thinks school officials are depriving students of a valuable lesson about acceptance.
"After reviewing the facts, it becomes apparent that this particular production of 'Cootie Shots' is being judged on its reputation and not on the merits of what is being presented here in Morris," Bordewick wrote in his op-ed piece on Thursday. "It should be noted that there is a fair amount of support in the community for this play [and] the school administrators who reneged should consider the opinions of the parents that they upset when they decided not to bring the kids to the show.
"It is ironic that a show about tolerance is coming under fire from people fearful of homosexuality being viewed as normal," he continued. "This in itself is a sort of intolerance, and only proves the point that a play that teaches acceptance of others different from ourselves is a needed medicine in our community."