Online fundraiser hits goal after London school boards cancel funding for high school musical

London's Grand Theatre on Richmond Street. .
London's Grand Theatre on Richmond Street. . Liny Lamberink / 980 CFPL

A decision by London area school boards has prompted outrage online.

The London District Catholic School Board (LDCSB) and the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) have pulled $30,000 in funding for the annual High School Project at the Grand Theatre in London.

Both school boards have decided not to fund this year’s production of Prom Queen, which is still slated to be staged in September.

The musical is based on the true story of Marc Hall, a gay Oshawa student who fought to bring his boyfriend to his high school prom in 2002 despite opposition from the local Catholic school board.

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In a statement to 980 CFPL, the Thames Valley school board said it had issues with the script.

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“Thames Valley District School Board will not be financially supporting the Grand Theatre’s High School Project this year. Together, our school communities – principals, teachers, trustees, staff, students, parents – work very hard to ensure all students are supported and cared for, which is not reflected in the script.”

The school board’s decision has captured attention as an online fundraiser seeking $30,000 has now surpassed its goal and raised, as of writing, more than $37,000.

Matthew Reid, chair of the Thames Valley board, says they took issue with profanity and certain characterizations.

“The concerns with the script really centre on how certain things are portrayed. There’s a lot of profanity in there, and you have a priest who is blackmailing the student. You even have a teacher who betrays a student and lies on the stand to keep her own job,” Reid said.

“There were a lot of people who reviewed the script before, and they felt that it didn’t give students the impression that they could trust any adults in the school, and it wasn’t promoting the positive culture and inclusive nature that we try to promote in our schools.”

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Last year’s high school production was Les Miserables, while in 2009 they did Grease. Each featured content not fit for young students, but Reid distinguishes Prom Queen.

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“There’s a couple differences. This is a true story that deals with students, teachers and principals,” Reid said.

“As a gay man myself, I am very familiar with this court case, and very familiar with what was happening in 2002, and I do think it’s something we need to promote,” he said.

“I just do not feel comfortable, and the board does not feel comfortable, with the mature content that is being portrayed, especially with our younger views.”

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Reid says a big part of the high school project is to bring in elementary school students to take in the performance.

“When I look at this and think of the 50,000 elementary students in our board, we wouldn’t be able to have them exposed to language that, if they used on the playground, quite frankly they’d be suspended,” Reid said.

“The challenge we have as a school board is that, if we are not able to support things that line up with our values and the positive messaging that we are trying to do, I would rather see that money spent on our own local productions at our high schools that our elementary students could actually attend.”

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While the school boards may take issue with the play, TVDSB trustee Jake Skinner believes “the show must go on.”

He released a statement shortly after noon on Thursday, stating that he was never consulted on the decision to eliminate financial backing for Prom Queen. 

Skinner wrote that he is working to bring forward an immediate motion that would direct staff to consult with trustees about any funding decisions related to theatre productions “so we can… prevent this from ever happening again.”