"Of course I'm queer / That's why I left here / So if you infer / That I prefer / Alad to a lass / And I'm working class / I'd have to concur..."
The lyrics aboveare the center of a battle between "Billy Elliot" writer Lee Hall and England's OperaNorth over a dispute about a gay character. The Leeds-based Opera North, which boasts that it is "England's national opera company in the north," just canceled "Beached," a community opera that was set to star280 children from a local elementary school.
"Beached" tellsthe story of a single father, who after being recently laid off, is forced totake a "staycation" at home in the seaside town of Bridlington,rather than bask on the beaches of Ibiza.Unfortunately, his efforts towards a peaceful holiday are interrupted by aswarm of school children and locals who are rehearsing for the town's pageant.In a piece he wrote for the Guardian protesting the cancellation, Lee calls it"a comedy about tolerance and inclusiveness."
After six monthsof work involving approximately 400 people, costing over £100,000, Opera Northgave Lee an ultimatum: Remove the lines (which the primary school requested) orjeopardize the future of "Beached." Lee refused to delete the lines from hislibretto, and as a result, Opera North canceled the production, which wasslated to open on July 15.
Despite the factthat no children were in the scene where the character performed thequestionable lyrics, the elementary school threatened to pull its students fromthe production unless changes were made. "It seemed the school believed thisparticular scene threw up issues that were age-inappropriate even though nochildren were involved in this part of the libretto: it was purely an exchangebetween adult performers," he wrote in the Guardian.
The writer evenoffered to pay for courses by the gay, lesbian, and bisexual charity Stonewallto educate the community on homosexuality and tolerance. Local officialsrejected the idea.
Mike Furbank, headof improvement and learning for East Riding of Yorkshire Council, had said in astatement that "of particularly concern and offense was a character who groomedand abused children in his early days in Ibiza."Interestingly, the statement was removed after Lee's protested that the opera"does not now and has never contained such a character," reports the Telegraph.
Indeed the moveshows blatant ignorance. How can the demands be anything else? "What I findbizarre is the insistence that no one not the school, not Opera North, notthe local education authority is being homophobic," declared Lee.
Rather than sweepthe issue under the carpet, let the debate begin: After all, this is a timewhen homosexuality is openly acknowledged in the theater, to the countlesschildren of homosexual couples, and in cities around the globe wherehomosexual marriage is lawful. Opera North and citizens of Bridlington, showyour tolerance and openness to diversity and let the show go on.