Jungal Book Scripts Confiscated and Revised After Complaints About Profane Language in Murray’s Draft

Phillips Academy’s Spring Term Theatre 520 production of Jungal Book, a provocative play dealing with gang violence, will be performed with an edited version of Instructor in Theatre and Dance Billy Murray’s script, itself an adaptation of an earlier work. Laden with profanity, Murray’s adapted scripts of Jungal Book were confiscated last week at administators’ request. A cleaner script edited by Murray was returned to cast members of Jungal Book a week later on Tuesday, April 22. Billy Murray, Instructor in Theatre and Dance and Director of Jungal Book, had adapted the original script, written by Edward Mast, to modernize the version for mature audiences, and his version of the script included a variety of expletives and racial epithets that some considered derogatory. According to Dean of Studies John Rogers, word reached the administration from cast members regarding the strong nature of the script’s language. Students involved in the production had expressed concern with the language in Murray’s versions, Rogers wrote in an email to The Phillipian. The adapted Jungal Book is “a violent show because it looks at gang violence,” according to Murray. His intent in using such strong language was for “actors to see these words…[and] internalize the anger of the characters.” Murray explained that he prefaced the script introduction with a disclaimer. “I told them, ‘This is offensive. If you’re not offended, then we have a problem,’” he said. According to Rogers, the administrators consulted with the Department of Theatre and Dance and deemed much of the language inappropriate for a secondary school production. At that point, administrators determined that the script required extensive revision. Murray said that he had anticipated such problems, and had planned to create a workshop in which the entire cast would work together in editing the strong language from the script. This learning process would allow cast members to understand the intent behind the profane words and decide their necessity. According to Theater Producer Molly Shoemaker ’08, Murray proposed the idea for this workshop approximately two weeks before the scripts were confiscated. “All throughout the term, we would edit the play and tone down the language and make it so that we could convey hatred without having to say [expletives] with acting and moves, but with the same amount of passion,” she said. The language, Murray said, “is very hard, but it’s very real.” But some students in the play were still uncomfortable with the script. “Rumors fly around, so people were concerned,” said Murray. It is unknown whether the administration was aware of the proposed workshop when it confiscated the scripts. However, Murray said, “No one in the administration said, ‘You have to change this.’” According to Rogers, the administration very rarely intervenes with a theatre production, and they did so only in this case because the circumstances necessitated it. Erin Strong, Instructor in Dance and choreographer for Jungal Book, said, “I know that there was some perception that we were handed this script by the administration saying, ‘Do this.’ But that’s really not how it happened.” She continued, “Billy [Murray] was in talks with [the administration] and consulting them, but the final script Billy wrote.” Jungal Book was originally a play designed with young audiences in mind, based on Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book stories. Shoemaker said, “Billy Murray wanted to give the play a tougher image and change it to something that would appeal more to older audiences.” She continued, “Mainly from a cast perspective, many members of the cast did not feel that it was necessary to have those words in there, because on the surface it’s not a play about race, it’s not a play about the ghetto. It’s a play about different social groups of people and how sometimes they hate each other and sometimes they get along.” Murray said that the script “wasn’t all about cursing” and in fact represented “the language of [gangs and gang violence].” His objective in filling the script with offensive language was to promote dialogue by examining its roots. But, explained Murray, the “language itself became such an obstacle” that it had to be scaled down. Murray believes that the play is stronger now that physical movement has replaced the offensive language. “It still has the same energy,” he said, especially due to the input of a fight coordinator, whom the Theater Department hired to choreograph violent scenes using funds from an Abbot grant. The administration has traditionally been laissez-faire with regards to the department’s productions, said Murray. The largest instance of intervention from Andover’s administration in recent memory occurred in 2001. After the Theater Department debuted its production of Things Fall Apart in 2000, based on the 1958 novel by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, the administration cancelled any further showings. The play, which deals with suicide, was “too close on the heels” of a recent suicide on campus and the Andover community was “still healing,” said Murray. A STATEMENT FROM DEAN OF STUDIES JOHN ROGERS: A number of students involved in the production of the Jungal Book expressed concern over the language used in the heavily altered version of the script that was originally provided to the students. When the students brought their concerns to the attention of other adults in the community, we looked into the matter, consulted with the Theater Department, and agreed that much of the language was, indeed, inappropriate for a secondary school production. We decided that the script needed to be modified immediately. It is very rare for the administration to become involved with a theater production in this manner; we did so only because it was absolutely clear that the circumstances required us to act.