Interview with Howard Sherman

This September, La Jolla Playhouse is producing KINGDOM CITY. The play takes place in Missouri about a high school production of THE CRUCIBLE and how a local youth minster threatens to cancel the play.  On Sunday September 28th, Howard Sherman will be doing a talk back after the show exploring issues and themes related to the play. Howard is an arts consultant, advocate and writer. He is currently serving as the Interim Director of the Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts in New York City. He was the executive director of the American Theatre Wing from 2003 to 2011.
The Playbill Collector (TPC): How did you get involved with Discovery Sunday?
Howard Sherman (HS): The Playwright, Sheri Wilner, became aware of my blog about censorship on school theater and urged the Playhouse to invite me. I think it helped that I’ve known Mike Rosenberg and Chris Ashley for many years.  
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TPC: What is the Discovery Sunday going to look like?
HS: It will be directed conversation between the audience and me. I don’t know yet whether they want me to speak for a while, or just take questions, but I have a tendency to work on an improv basis, so however it works out is fine. The issue (censorship) is one I have steeped myself in.  I’m thrilled that there is a play that sheds light on this issue. I would hate for people to see this play and just think its just a story because the reality of censorship of high school theater is absolutely true.  Almost every time I’ve encountered it people say “I can’t believe this is happening here.”  It’s a surprise to people.  It’s not a surprise for me, which is why I can try to help.
 
TPC: When is the first time you started dealing with censorship at schools?
HS: Three years ago there was a production of August Wilson’s JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE at an arts magnet high school in Waterbury, Connecticut.  I am from Connecticut, grew up 30 minutes from Waterbury and I had worked in Connecticut for the majority of my career. After helping out on that production, which had been canceled and was restored, I thought that was that. But it was just the start.
 
TPC: How do you know which shows to cover?
HS: When situations pop up, I will get a phone call or multiple phone calls from people professionally, a teacher at another school, from reading the newspaper, and so on.  

 

TPC: Is there criteria for choosing which schools to highlight?
HSI write most about shows that have been announced (at the schools) and then don’t actually come about. My greatest fear is less about the ones we hear about then the ones we don’t hear about.   These shows are usually ones that teachers think would be great for their students but they are afraid of presenting them to administration.  I feel I probably hit the tip of the iceberg when it comes to censorship of shows in schools.
TPC: How many shows have you directly involved yourself with over the past few years?
HS: I’ve probably written about a dozen or more and had direct communication with people in communities, or personally visited, five so far. I’m limited by my day job and travel expense.
 
TPC: After working with students and administration to get their voices heard, when a new situation arises, what do you believe you bring to the table to help these people?
HS: I’ve learned more how to help teachers, students and parents how to speak to issues.  When I become aware of a situation I think I have increasingly more to offer each time.  For example, in my recent work with South Williamsport on SPAMALOT, it was the first time I’ve filed a state document to get records release. That has proven to be a valuable tool and I would use that again.
 
TPC: What would be the best outcome for these schools who are not being given the right to do as they please?
HS: When appropriate, students should have the opportunity to do shows that would stretch their knowledge and skills. My hope is that there could be a variety of shows done according to the needs and talents of kids at the schools.  
 
For more information on KINGDOM CITY and Discovery Sunday: http://www.lajollaplayhouse.org/kingdom-city
To read Howard’s blog: http://www.hesherman.com/
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