‘N word’ sinks ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ performance in Wisconsin school

The school chief in Shorewood, Wis., has pulled the plug on this year’s fall play at the local high school. The “N word” in “To Kill a Mockingbird” was too hot to handle, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

“We’ve concluded that the safest option is to cancel the play,” superintendent Bryan Davis said in a statement.

He canceled the production just a few hours before the first performance. He said the school should’ve done a better job educating the public about the sensitive nature of the play.

“That was never our request. We asked for the word to be omitted,” said Patience Phillips, the mother of three African-American students involved in the protest, the Journal Sentinel said.

“I understand that the children put a lot of work into this play,” she said. “This doesn’t create dialogue. It causes more of a division.”

Another parent, with two kids in the play, called it one of the most poignant productions she’s ever seen.

“Art is a way for us to deal with these issues. And now we can’t. We’ve lost that opportunity,” Stacy Synold said.

Shorewood officials recognized this potential land mine and attempted to brace parents and students from the beginning. When the cast was first selected, they issued a statement saying it would use the word out of “fidelity to the production,” but stressed that they do not condone the use of the word in any other context.

“The fact that our society still struggles to truly embrace racial equality symbolizes that our work is not yet done and that Harper Lee’s Mockingbird is as relevant in 2018 as it was in 1960,” they said.

To prepare the broader student body, English classes read the book and discussed the language and themes of the play.

And in early October, Drama Director Joe King sent an email to parents of children whose characters were to utter the word, encouraging them to talk to their children about their feelings of discomfort.

“It’s going to be quite a challenge for your students and the student body to say and hear this word,” said King. “But we are confident that … we are going to get this powerful story told … and told sensitively and beautifully.”

The debate over the word didn’t cut across racial lines, the paper said.

Grace Dresang, a senior, was one of the kids who was to say the word.

“What’s most disappointing to me is the fact that this is a show about racial acceptance and the fact that segregation and racism are not OK. And I don’t think that theme was really well-understood by the community around us,” she said.

“I don’t think anyone would have gone home upset because they didn’t get to hear the n-word,” Phillips, the parent, responded. “You can still get the point across.”