Wheatland Middle School Principal Cancels Controversial Play Day Before Opening Night

Some Wheatland Middle School parents and students are upset the principal canceled their production of “The Bullying Collection” a day before opening night, saying it doesn’t align with the school’s values.

Clair McFarland

December 22, 20238 min read

Wheatland Middle School play 2 12 21 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

The principal at Wheatland Middle School canceled scheduled public performances of the drama club’s play “The Bullying Collection” last week, citing misalignment with school district values, according to the school’s drama teacher and parents.  

“There were tears, definitely,” Stephanie Ann Bradley, drama teacher for Wheatland Middle School, told Cowboy State Daily about the students’ reaction to the sudden cancellation, which came right before opening night.  

Ten kids spent nine weeks learning, memorizing and building their production of “The Bullying Collection” — a play composed of nine shorter plays about bullying, especially in a school setting. The club cut one of the short plays out and built a production of the eight remaining shorts.  

The students performed for their peers at the middle school last Thursday. They were scheduled to perform again for the general public in Friday and Saturday shows.  

Robert Daniel, the school principal, canceled the public performances after seeing the show during the performance for students, Bradley announced last week.  

Daniel did not respond to multiple Cowboy State Daily requests for comment.

‘Worked So Hard’ 

Payton Clark, the stepmother to a 12-year-old boy in the play, said she and her stepson were disappointed.  

“He worked for months on it and put costumes together and did makeup and ran his lines and just worked really hard on it,” she said. “We were looking forward to seeing it. It’s also disappointing as a parent to not get to see my child put something on he’d worked so hard for.” 

Another mother, Delaney Ledkins, said the play itself was “beautiful.”  

“Those kids put so much hard work into it. They all did such a good job. It’s a message that needs to be heard,” said Ledkins. “Talking about things these kids deal with every day.”  

Both Ledkins and Clark said they thought the instances of profane words in the play were not inappropriate in their context.  

What’s In The Play? 

Cowboy State Daily read “The Bullying Collection” on Thursday.   

The play delves into intense themes and situations, including a class president memorializing a gay classmate who had killed himself.  

That short is called “Say Nothing” by C.R. Wright. In it, the class president gives a speech in memory of Elliot, who had killed himself.  

After the speech, Elliot’s friend Jack rebukes Emily for not intervening when her boyfriend and her friends were bullying Elliot.  

“Rude is writing ‘DIE FAGGOT’ on someone’s locker,” Jack yells at Emily, after she calls him “rude” for confronting her.   

“Rude is being an IGNORANT BIGOT who thinks it’s FUNNY to make jokes about gay people,” Jack adds.   

Wheatland Middle School play 1 12 21 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

The Boy Who Didn’t Enter The Stage 

Bradley said the principal canceled the play for “promoting” LGBTQ issues.  

She noted in her interview that other than the character who killed himself – who does not appear on the stage but is only referenced – there are no gay characters and no homosexual romance situations.  

“But I was told that it’s not in line with the values of the school district,” said Bradley, who said her response was, “What I’m promoting is not bullying children to the point that they kill themselves. For any reason.”  

Bradley said she also did not cast that short until the parents had had a chance to read the script, and that she cautioned the children not to use slurs like those in the play in real life.  

The Curse Word, The School Shooting 

Another short presents a handful of students reflecting on where they were and what they felt when a boy who’d been bullied started shooting people at school. That short, “I Was There” by Sam Guzman, discusses the school shooting from the perspectives of different students.  

All perspectives are laced with trauma. One student recalls how his teacher “lost her shit,” and he realized how young the teacher was.   

One girl confesses, with guilt and surprise, that she could rationalize the shooting.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this. But. I get it. I really GET it. You can only get called ugly, a loser, a freak, a weirdo, or a waste of life so many times before you start to hate them,” she says.  

The shooter himself thinks, regarding his bullies: “I will be etched in your mind forever. You will think of me always. You will never forget who I am, or who you were to me.”  

Virgins And Politicians 

One short presents two girls editing and posting to social media a photo of a boy in his Superman undies to punish him for being a “creeper.”  

The protagonist, Petra, fails to stand up for the boy, and a voice haunts her over it.  

In that play, one of the bullying girls asks the boy in a text thread if he had “hook(ed) up” with anyone. The boy tells her he’s a virgin; and the two bullying girls later make fun of him for being a virgin.  

Another short posits that bullying can happen anywhere. It shows politicians bullying each other, and two moms bullying a third mom over the quality of her body and her mothering skills.  

Show Goes On 

The students were “all very, very upset” about the cancellation, Bradley said. “It’s really frustrating for them, and for me.”  

But the show will go on. 

Bradley reached out to the company that licensed the play, and it is allowing the troupe to perform it at a later date than the one for which the school contracted. The plan is to perform “The Bullying Collection” for the public Jan. 12 at the Wheatland High School auditorium. The Platte County Players, a local theater group, is sponsoring the new license date.  

The students signed up for nine weeks of hard work. Now they have to push through another three weeks, Bradley said.  

“They poured their hearts into that and had their hearts broken,” she said. “I hate having to ask them to do that (for another three weeks). But that’s what has to happen.”  

The Public Debate 

Local residents and parents gave mixed reactions to the controversy in the Facebook group Wheatland Rants and Raves.  

One father said the school was right to cancel the play because of its mature themes. He was primarily upset that parents weren’t warned about the play before the troupe performed it in front of the middle school – and the school reportedly did not dispatch permission slips to parents beforehand.  

“The flyer, which we’ve only just seen, states ‘some adult themes,’” he wrote. “Seems that would be grounds for a permission slip.” 

The father went on, saying the school dispatched permission slips before showing “A Nightmare Before Christmas,” which is rated PG.  

“We had no clue our child was even going to be seeing a play today,” he added.  

The father also said the play cloaks social agendas under an anti-bullying guise.  

“Being aware of bullying is one thing. Assuming that you can put on a play that includes adult themes with the scapegoat of, ‘well it’s to raise awareness about bullying’ is also garbage,” he wrote.  

A woman posted that middle school students and teachers had complained that the play was inappropriate for a middle school audience.  

Vet This  

Another woman commented, saying school administrators were the ones who dropped the ball for not vetting the play earlier, and not warning the parents.  

“Perhaps in the future a better approach would be to have a private screening for the parents before the school kids see it and then let the parents decide if it is something they feel is of appropriate material for their individual children, then after the screening have parents sign a consent form,” she wrote, adding that she’s a “huge advocate of the arts” and doesn’t support censorship.  

She said she was sorry for the performers and crew, and their wasted efforts.  

Bradley told Cowboy State Daily that she gave the principal a sample of the play before starting production, and that he signed off on it. She also posted a photo to her Facebook page of Daniel’s approval message. 

Because the school had not yet bought the full play and could only review a sample, however, Daniel did not get to pre-review the final two shorts, one of which was “Say Nothing.”   

Clair McFarland can be reached at clair@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter