The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), which represents 59 education, publishing, religious, and arts organizations, has joined the Dramatists Legal Defense Fund and PEN America to call attention to the cancellation of Paula Vogel's play Indecent at a Florida high school. The groups have released the following statement:
As organizations dedicated to artistic, intellectual, and academic freedom, the National Coalition Against Censorship, PEN America, and the Dramatists Legal Defense Fund are deeply troubled by the cancellation of a play, Indecent, at the Douglas Anderson School of Performing Arts in Duval County, Florida. We urge school officials to rescind their decision and work with students to stage the play as initially planned. The play was scheduled to open in March 2023, but in early January, a few weeks after casting had been decided, the school officials pulled it from production due to “adult sexual dialog that is inappropriate for cast members and student audiences.”
Indecent is a critically acclaimed and award-winning 2015 play by Paula Vogel that possesses rich educational and artistic merit. It has been produced Off-Broadway, on Broadway, and has been broadcast on PBS. It explores the story behind the 1907 Yiddish play, God of Vengeance, and how it was censored on Broadway in 1923 for obscenity, in part, over its depictions of lesbian relationships. Indecent takes inspiration from the origins and story of God of Vengeance, its subsequent obscenity trial, and its aftermath, to explore themes of LGBTQ+ rights, immigration, censorship, and antisemitism in the early 20th Century—themes which have striking relevance to the issues facing society today.
As is demonstrated through its past productions of RENT and Chicago, Douglas Anderson School of Performing Arts has staged other popular theatre productions with likely as much, if not more, “sexual dialog” as is conveyed in Indecent. If vaguely-defined “adult sexual dialog” is reason enough to ban plays from school productions, these, and many other canonical productions would be banned from student theatres—Romeo and Juliet for depicting sexually active teens, Oedipus Rex for its incestual themes, and other works that have serious literary and artistic value for students and community members.
Finally, the cancellation of the play is also deeply hurtful to LGBTQ+ students, including members of the cast, who see the rejection of the play as a denial of the historical experience of LGBTQ+ people and the persistence of discrimination against them.
For these reasons, we urge Douglas Anderson School of the Performing Arts to resume its preparations for the performance of this important play.
Since its inception in 1974, the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) has functioned as a first responder in protecting freedom of expression, a fundamental human right and a keystone of democracy. Representing 59 trusted education, publishing, and arts organizations, NCAC encourages and facilitates dialogue between diverse voices and perspectives, including those that have historically been silenced.
The Dramatists Guild, founded in 1919, created the Dramatists Legal Defense Fund to advocate and to educate, and to provide the public with a new resource in defense of the First Amendment, fair copyright laws, and a robust public domain. In light of dwindling public funding for the arts, the DLDF advocates not only for dramatists, but for theatres and other theatre artists (as well as audiences, schools, students, and the culture at large), all of whom are confronting censorship and other issues of public import related to the dramatic arts. Download the DLDF's toolkit for Producing Stage Works on College Campuses in Turbulent Times here.
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. It champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Its mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Founded in 1922, PEN America works to ensure that people everywhere have the freedom to create literature, to convey information and ideas, to express their views, and to access the views, ideas, and literatures of others.