ASU director steps down after 'Rent' performance
Anne Ryman, The Republic | azcentral.com 9:06 a.m. MST April 24, 2014
ASU professor William Reber is still a faculty member but is no longer director of the university's Lyric Opera Theatre.
The director of the Arizona State University music company that performed an edgy song from the musical "Rent" in front of high-school students has resigned his position, and supporters are petitioning to have him reinstated.
ASU professor William Reber is still a faculty member but is no longer director of the university's Lyric Opera Theatre. The change comes after parents of students complained about a raunchy performance during a high-school music festival and that their teens were not warned about the content.
ASU officials said in a statement that Reber made the decision to step down voluntarily and "we respect his decision." He signed the statement.
"He remains a faculty member of the ASU School of Music; where he has served the students of ASU for more than 23 years and will continue to do so," said the statement released Wednesday.It was also signed by Heather Landes, interim director of the School of Music.
However, an online petition launched on change.org claims Reber "took the fall" and calls his departure an "frivolous and unnecessary act used to appease a small minority of people who were offended by the live art."
"Live theatre in a contemporary musical theatre setting can (and should) be raw, thrilling, and edgy," the petition states. "An artists' job is to deliver truth to their art and push the boundaries, creating new works and destroying the rules that hinder their freedom of expression."
The online petition says Reber should be reinstated and that the university "should take steps to ensure that those not interested in experiencing live theatre be educated on the 'risks' of being an audience member."
Reber could not be reached for comment Wednesday. His online biography says he joined the ASU faculty in 1991 and has served as director of the opera and musical-theater training programs since then.
"Rent" is a popular rock musical that deals with serious subjects such as AIDS and drug addiction. The performance in question occurred this month, when several hundred high-school students gathered for the Arizona All-State music festival.
As part of the three-day event, students attended a showcase concert designed to acquaint them with the university's various music ensembles. The Lyric Opera Theatre program performed a song called "La Vie Boheme," which some high-school students said was full of sexual overtones and included a woman mooning the audience. Many walked out of Gammage Auditorium after the song began.
Landes said last week that the young audience should have been forewarned about the content and that she "deeply regrets" the situation. She said the university is taking steps to ensure something like this doesn't happen again.
Parents say the lack of warning is what frustrated them most. Mesa Public Schools Superintendent Michael Cowan sent a letter of concern to ASU after receiving calls from staff members who were at the performance.
Since the story was first reported by 12 News and The Arizona Republic, social media have been buzzing with responses. Some believe the controversy is overblown; high-school students have probably seen far worse, supporters say. Others say the students should have had warning before the show.