Let’s say your house is humming along in first weeks of a brand-new high school year, and one day you find out your kid’s in an acting class that’s putting on a play with some questionable content.
Like man-in-love-with-a-goat questionable. Like bestiality questionable.
Incest, too. And perhaps unsurprisingly, other sexually explicit content and a fair dose of swear words.
All acted out and starring teenagers.
That’s the news many parents received when it came to light that drama teacher Andrew Cupo of Cactus Shadows High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., introduced students in an advanced acting class to an absurdist play called “The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?” by Edward Albee.
In the Tony Award-winning play — which students performed in class rather than in public — a middle-aged man with a wife and teenage son admits he’s in love with a goat named Sylvia with whom he’s had sex, the Arizona Republic reports, adding that the play also explores themes of tolerance, morality, and revenge.
So the Cave Creek Unified School District governing board entertained two hours of public comment about the matter, and the Republic reports that while three parents and one student spoke against the play Tuesday night, about three dozen students and parents spoke in favor of it, some adding that those opposed added fuel to the fire by not speaking to Cupo or the school principal first.
“My daughter was not negatively impacted by the play but she was negatively impacted by being asked in the office if she acted out this play and things she never would have thought of,” said one parent, Sharon Smith.
Jacob Emnett is in Cupo’s class and said he was called to the office and “confronted” by parents calling the play into question: “…We were asked what we thought of Mr. Cupo teaching bestiality. Ironic that they spoke to us of bestiality without the consent of our parents — the same act they condemn Mr. Cupo for. Where a few words or an e-mail would suffice, those who stand against him sought to tear him down.”
Elissa Ericson, head of the fine arts department at Cactus Shadows, tells the Republic that Cupo warned students several times about the explicit content in “The Goat” and offered several opportunities to opt out and study an alternate script. In addition, Ericson notes, parents sign a syllabus at the start of the semester which includes a statement that “students may be exposed to stories or characters that express views and beliefs that differ from their own or those of their parents.”
That wasn’t good enough for parent Guy McAtee, who told the governing board members he assumed they vetted curriculum content.
“Having signed an acknowledgement of the course curriculum is in no way authorization for material of this nature to be approved,” McAtee said, who then made a blistering point.
“I’m sure that since it’s appropriate material, that the language I’m about to use will be approved by the school board,” he said before launching into a passage that included several vulgar sexual expressions.
“That’s offensive to me,” he noted to the board, adding that such content is inappropriate for high school classes.
To that end nine parents filed a report with the Scottsdale Police Department in regard to the issue, reports KNXV-TV in Phoenix, and as district policy dictates, Cupo was placed on paid administrative leave.
Which doesn’t sit well with many of his students, who planned a peaceful protest Friday at Cactus Shadows during which they’ll don his signature bow tie as well as their own homemade T-shirts emblazoned with the Twitter hashtag #freecupo.
Speaking of Twitter activity:
Kyle Kuo says the principal, school board, and parents should know that he and his fellow students are mature enough to handle the content of “The Goat,” and Cupo should be brought back to the classroom.
“With all the budget cuts, we need to keep all the good teachers we have,” Kuo tells KNXV, “and to lose such an asset, someone who’s running the drama department and putting on all of these awesome plays that the students love, to lose that is going to be absolutely detrimental.”
Superintendent Debbi Burdick says possible disciplinary action against Cupo could include everything from a letter in his personnel file to dismissal, adding that his only real mistake was not alerting his principal regarding the graphic nature of the play before assigning it.
The Republic’s efforts to reach Cupo for comment on Wednesday were unsuccessful; he’s been on leave since Monday.
Cupo’s class, Acting 5/6, is an advanced drama course that requires an audition for admission, the Republic reports, adding that students in the International Baccalaureate program can take the class and earn college credit depending on how well they score on the end-of-course exam.
Here’s a report from KNXV-TV in Phoenix:
This report from the Arizona Republic focuses on the public comment at the school board meeting:
(H/T: Arizona Republic)