RIVER FALLS – The River Falls high school theater and drama department will not be producing “Sweeney Todd” for its fall 2022 show.
Principal Kit Luedtke said the reason for the pivot is because the production does not align with the district policy and was not vetted with administration.
Teacher Sarah Plum is now the director for the production. She said the department began working on the production in January 2022.
Plum said once the theater and drama department announced it picked “Sweeney Todd,” some parents began to raise complaints. When it was brought to the attention of administration, Luedtke began to research if the school could produce the performance.
“We examined the pros and cons of producing the performance and after much thought we determined we need to abide by our policies,” he said.
Luedtke said all productions must be in compliance with a district board policy that states the administration must be consulted over the selection of theatrical performances. Theater performance ideas must be reviewed by the administration before production can begin, Luedtke said.
He said that policy was not followed. Production began without the administration's knowledge. This forced the department to produce a different musical.
“I didn’t know what the production was until it was announced,” he said.
The policy also states “any student production must be available for all students and must be suitable for all students.” Luedtke said the administration found “Sweeney Todd” does not follow the policy.
In “Sweeney Todd,” the plot focuses around a serial killer whose assistant cuts up victims' bodies and turns them into meat pies.
“When we screen productions we have children as young as kindergarteners come watch,” Luedtke said. “Our administration felt those themes are not suitable for all audience members.”
On March 11, the administration informed the department they needed to find an alternate musical. Following that announcement, music director Kim Miller resigned during the week of March 25.
On April 4 students and Miller met with administration to discuss why they had to change and alternative options to pursue. During the question and answer portion of the meeting Miller announced her disagreement with the decision and informed students of her resignation, Luedtke said.
“She was loved by students and helped build this department up,” Luedtke said. “Students are disappointed by her decision and upset by her resignation.”
Plum took over directing duties for the fall production after the resignation. She said currently no decision has been made about what production will be picked. A decision is expected in mid-May Plum said.
Luedtke said the department has produced shows before that had questionable themes such as “Le Miserable” and “Urinetown.” He said the department has never had to pivot away from a production.
Luedtke said the decision affected everyone including students, the music department and the administration. He feels the administration has lost a little credibility for not being involved in the vetting process and letting the situation get out of hand.
“We’re being transparent and honest about the why and the situation,” he said.
Luedtke said positives have come out of the situation such as allowing students to be more involved in the decision-making process. Before the pivot, students were not involved in choosing performances.
He added a “criteria for vetting” has been established for future performances. He said this will allow future performances to avoid this issue again.
Luedtke thanked Plum for taking on the role of director. He thanked students for being resilient.
“We’re going to continue to support students and the direction of the theater,” Luedtke said.
Plum wants people to expect a successful production of the new musical in the fall.
“We’re going to move past this and be ready,” she said.