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Principal says time, not issues, cancelled play

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Brighton High School Principal Christi Huffman said it was lack of time, not stereotypes, that caused her to cancel a student performance of the musical "Hairspray" last week. 

On March 12, controversy erupted at the high school after the play was called off. Student actors took to the news media to express their disappointment.

"I started crying," cast member Matthew Bailey told WMC-TV. "We're a month away from opening night."

Bailey told reporters teachers told the cast the play could be considered demeaning.

"They said it was damaging to us, but we were never asked if we felt discriminated against when we were cast," he said. 

Set in the early 1960s, at the onset of the Civil Rights Movement, the musical features an overweight white teenaged girl as its lead and focuses on body image as well as racial issues as two of its primary themes. 

It was reported that Huffman and the school board's discomfort with these topics led to its cancellation. Huffman, however, said the play's cancellation had nothing to do with its subject matter. 

"We've never had a musical before, so this is new to us and I'm not up on a lot of musicals or plays, so we discussed it. The choir teacher actually told me that parts of the play had to be modified to be school-age appropriate," she said. "He was supposed to get me a corrected script a week later for approval." 

That was late February, she said, and after missing school for a week due to the ice storm and having another week off for spring break, she didn't believe there was enough time to make the play "a success," so she cancelled it. 

The cancellation also came as a result of the first-year teacher not following the proper procedures. 

"We're still dealing with the procedural issues," she said. "He's a great teacher, we love having him, but we have to make sure everything's followed, procedure-wise. We have to make sure  even the new teachers understand … all of the clubs, organizations, athletics, fundraisers and events we have, we have to make sure everyone follows the procedures or this is the result," she said. "Not a lot of good comes out of surprises." 

Because the school does not have a stage with wings – which is important for set changes and stage management – the play was already scheduled to be performed at the Ruffin Theater. 

Following its cancellation by Huffman, the Tipton Arts League picked up its sponsorship – so it is no longer a school-sanctioned play – and added another weekend to its run. 

The play will open on April 11 and Huffman said she will catch the show. 

"I do recognize the talents of our young people and want to be there to respect their hard work and efforts," she said. "I'm absolutely looking forward to it." 


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