October 2013 (To print, click the print icon on your browser
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Arizona: Opposition to Sexually-Themed Play Gets Drama Teacher’s “Goat”

By Emily Ike, SIECUS Program Research Intern

Edward Albee’s 2002 play The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? made headlines in Scottsdale’s Cave Creek Unified School District. At the district’s Cactus Shadows High School, opponents of a drama class reading of the sexually-frank play succeeded in removing the play from the curriculum, temporarily suspending the drama teacher, and exacting a pledge from the school to avoid “any production that is deemed potentially offensive…or anything else deemed too controversial for a high school.”[1]

Cactus Shadows drama teacher Andrew Cupo assigned his Advanced Drama class to read the Tony Award-winning play about a man who falls in love with a goat. The absurdist plot explores social taboos including incest and pedophilia, and challenges its audience to consider the limits of free expression in a so-called liberal society. 

Elissa Ericson, head of fine arts at the high school, affirmed that Cupo gave repeated warnings to his students that some might find the material offensive, and offered them other plays as alternatives for the reading assignment. Additionally, Cupo required all students in the class to obtain parental permission at the beginning of the year to study potentially explicit material.[2] Despite these precautions, one student and a small group of parents confronted the school administration to demand removal of Albee’s play from the reading list.

The confrontation was launched when a parent, having first lodged an anonymous complaint, recruited approximately 10 other parents to walk into the principal’s office and demand that the school’s police officer intervene in the teaching of The Goat.

A public hearing soon followed, with opponents outnumbered by over 40 students and parents who spoke out in favor of Cupo and the play. Representing the opposition viewpoint, student Emily McAtee and her father Guy explained that the opt-outs and permission forms were irrelevant given the play’s sexual language and themes. In the view of Guy McAtee, “Having signed an acknowledgment of the course curriculum is in no way authorization for material of this nature to be approved.”[3]

Approximately a week later, Cupo was permitted to resume teaching, but The Goat was gone. District Superintendent Debbi Burdick released the following statement:

“The district does not in any way condone the use of the controversial play in its curriculum. The teacher did not obtain the permission of any parent or of the administration prior to introducing its mature concepts into the classroom, and the item has been removed from use. The district has instituted procedures to make sure that there is not a repeat of this matter, and the district has followed its personnel policies with respecting to addressing the issue with its staff member.”[4]

One of Cupo’s drama students, Andrew Rimmer, expressed support for Cupo’s return, along with resignation over the district’s decision to cleanse all controversy from the curriculum:

 “I’m a huge supporter of the arts, and with the arts comes discomfort and sometimes outrageousness, and I feel fortunate that we’ve been able to confront these issues with a teacher, and in the future they might not be able to. But I’d rather have (Cupo) than the script.”[5]
 


 [1] Mary Beth Faller, “Cactus Shadows Teacher Suspended Over Play Will Return,” AZCentral.com, October 15, 2013, accessed October 30, 2013 at  http://www.azcentral.com/community/scottsdale/articles/20131014scottsdale-teacher-suspended-over-play-will-return.html.

 [2] David Ferguson, “Arizona High School Suspends Drama Teacher Over Play’s Sexual Content,” Rawstory.com, October 10, 2013, accessed October 30, 2013 at http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/10/10/arizona-high-school-suspends-drama-teacher-over-plays-sexual-content/.

 [3] Ferguson, “Arizona High School Suspends Drama Teacher…”

 [4] Faller, “Cactus Shadows Teacher Suspended…”

 [5] Ibid.