School play draws controversy for allowing students to play roles of any gender

UNION COUNTY, N.C. — There is some debate in Union County over a plan to let students play roles of any gender in a production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Despite the debate, the school says the show will go on.

Channel 9 reporter Genevieve Curtis spoke with students and parents Thursday afternoon about the controversy and the support for the show.

An online petition has more than 2,000 signatures in support of the theater program at the Central Academy of Technology and Arts.

“To have a show where it’s like, it doesn’t matter if you are a girl or a boy,” student Gabby L. said. “If you can sing this, you get that role. I think that’s really cool. We see more and more in professional theater.”

Gabby and Brody, who are in the theater program at CATA, are not in the musical but are excited about the gender-inclusive cast. The cast allows students of any gender to play male or female roles.

The students said the theater program had to delete a social media post about the show’s inclusive casting, which included a pride flag, after the school board got involved.

“I think it’s pretty discriminatory,” Brody said.

CATA parent Cherie Martin signed the petition in support of the program.

“A quick Google search showed me ‘Jesus Christ’ has been played by a woman many, many times,” Martin said. “In fact, the entire play has been cast all-female at universities and across the country.”

Theater students said that often happens because the singing range for “Jesus Christ Superstar” is so high.

Beyond that, Martin was upset about the message that she says sends to LGBTQ students.

“In the year 2022, we shouldn’t be having these conversations,” Martin said. “We should just accept each other for who we are and be nicer human beings.”

In a statement, the district stated: “The Union County Board of Education will not discriminate against anyone on the basis of sex in its educational programs or activities, in admission to its educational programs or activities or in employment policies and practices in accordance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.”

Parent James Hutchinson’s daughter isn’t in the theater program, but he has concerns about the show.

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“When we try to water down the gospel of Jesus Christ, I feel like it takes away some of that power,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson said that he is less concerned about it being gender inclusive and more concerned about how it represents Jesus at a taxpayer-funded school.

“I don’t have a problem if the play is done,” he said. “Even in the way that the school wants to do it, but I do feel like if they are going to do it that way, the true story of Jesus Christ should have an opportunity to be presented as well.”

Martin said anyone opposed to the play doesn’t have to attend.

“Don’t buy a ticket,” she said. “Don’t come see a play. Don’t offer your support for something you don’t believe in but it is America. Let’s let freedom of expression still exist.”

The district said it will not cancel the show that has yet to be cast.

There was also another controversial element. Teachers were told to remove pronouns from their email signatures.

Curtis asked about the signatures, and district officials said it expects staff to follow strict email signature standards. Curtis also checked those rules, and staff are not allowed to include their pronouns.

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