A group of Pennsylvania parents were surprised to learn recently that their children had been taken to see a drag queen performing in a pantomime rendition of Alice in Wonderland.
The People’s Light Theater performance is advertised for ages 5 to 105 and features a drag queen who goes by the name of Eric Jaffe. On the Chester County theater’s website, Jaffe is referred to using female pronouns and described as a "genderfull glamour monster."
According to Broad and Liberty, parents were not explicitly informed about the drag performer being part of the show, and only became aware of the fact after some children told their parents that they had been made to wear masks for the event. This prompted parents to investigate the outing at which point they discovered that not only was a drag queen one of the stars of the show, but also that the theater was promoting this particular character above all others.
A Facebook post about the event highlights the split opinion that surrounds exposing children to the adult form of entertainment that is drag. While most who commented were opposed to the choice of school outing, some took to Facebook to defend the decision.
Mandy Greeny shared the information that there were “several drag performers…on stage with one twerking on another character.”
"WCASD did list the show name on permissions slips. I do agree that there should have been advance notice provided by the school about People’s Light mask policy. But I genuinely don’t understand the rest of your argument. Has no one complaining ever heard of a panto before? Nothing about this is new or woke," said one local woman in reply. "The Dame is another element of the panto and has been, again, for centuries. Sir Ian McKellan has been a Dame."
But that’s only partially correct. The pantomime Dame has been around for centuries, but Dames are not drag queens. The pantomime Dame tradition requires that the character be obviously a man wearing a dress, without glamour or sparkles.
For Sir Ian McKellan, playing a Dame was not about impersonating a woman.
"In my case, playing dame certainly won't be a female impersonation: with my hands, how could it be? I'll be appearing in frocks, with padding to give me a female body shape, but I'm certainly not pretending to be a woman. I'm approaching it more in the tradition of the stand-up comic who puts a frock on," said McKellan in an interview with the Guardian at the time.
Star of the show Jaffe however told local news that the performance is being "misrepresented" which the drag performer suggests could be because people have "never met a transgender or gender fluid person before."
"All that they know about those people is what they see in the media and what plays on TV, and so having those people represented fairly and equitably is important," said Jaffe. "Kids are introduced to gender norms so early, without even you telling them, just from the media that they intake. So since they already have so much knowledge that comes from one side of the gender spectrum, it really is no different to allow them to experience the other side."
The pantomime Dame tradition was never about educating children about gender identities and the gender spectrum. It is a type of comedy entertainment, certainly not intended to be political indoctrination.
"A pantomime dame has more in common with a clown than with a drag act," pantomime Dame Clive Rowe once told the Guardian.
Parents weren’t just upset about their children being unexpectedly watching twerking drag queens, but also that they had to wear masks for two hours while attending the show.
According to Broad and Liberty, many parents would have chosen to keep their children at home had they known beforehand about the theater’s mask policy.
"Sixth grade students from the West Chester Area School District did attend the performance of Alice in Wonderland: A Musical Panto at People’s Light and Theater. As part of People’s Light and Theater’s current health and safety guidelines, masks are required for all those attending indoor performances regardless of vaccination status. Students and staff attending the performance were provided masks and did follow this policy," West Chester Area School District said in a statement.
"In advance of the performance, families were informed that students had the opportunity to attend a contemporary, pantomime version of Alice in Wonderland and given permission slips to return. The actors’ biographies and acting credentials were not included with this information but were accessible on the People’s Light and Theater website."
Downingtown Area School District did not even include the name of the performance on the permission slip. Other districts did, but none stated that it would be a drag queen performance nor did they inform parents about the mask policy.
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