December 26, 2013
A popular part-time theatre director lost her job and an Ohio high school is reassessing its extracurricular theatre program as a result of administrative discomfort over a production of Legally Blonde.
The case of Sonja Hansen, drama director at Loveland High School, became public in mid-December when she told a Cincinnati television station that her principal had demanded that she resign or face dismissal as a result of objections to her staging of the 2007 musical, which had a six-performance run in November that was well-received by audiences. Hansen, who had previously directed Grease and Seussical at Loveland, said the school administration had approved her plans to produce Legally Blonde.
The school district responded to the television report and press queries with a statement that no action had been taken with respect to Hansen’s employment, but a few days later issued a second statement saying the director and the school had mutually agreed to part company. Loveland schools superintendent John Marschhausen apologized to Hansen for the way the matter was handled and said her departure was in connection with a general restructuring of the Loveland drama program. It was not made clear what changes in the program were being contemplated.
The Educational Theatre Association, which issued a white paper on freedom of expression in school theatre in 2007, offered to assist the school district in formulating a policy on play selection.
A recent survey of high school theatre by EdTA and Utah State University indicates that disputes over the content of high school theatre productions are quite common (although it is rare, anecdotal evidence suggests, for a director to lose her job over one). In a series of questions addressing social issues,19 percent of the theatre teachers responding to the EdTA-USU survey said one of their production choices had been the subject of a community challenge or administrative objections during the past two years.