Texas school cancels field trip to theatre after parent complains about cross-gender casting

A Texas elementary school is accusing a local theatre’s production of “James and the Giant Peach” of not being “age-appropriate” for young children after one student’s mom complained about cross-gender casting.

The Spring Branch Independent School District recently canceled a field trip for students to see the show at Main Street Theater after social media backlash over gender-neutral pronouns and actors who play both male and female roles.

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The incident gained attention when the Instagram account @htxkidsfirst —a problematic account that regularly posts homophobic content about the LGBTQ+ community—shared screenshots of messages appearing to be from SBISD parents who said they would keep their children home from the field trip due to unverified claims about a “drag queen’s role in the show.”

SBISD parent Jessica Gerland’s kindergartener was scheduled to go on the field trip until she complained about the casting.

“The way that they are normalizing this, especially in front of 5- to 6-year-olds, it just raises concerns for some parents,” she said.

Gerland says complained about her concerns during a recent school board meeting, after calling Main Street Theater to get additional details. She says the theater told her actors play multiple roles that are both male and female.

“She explained to me how they wear flamboyant makeup and wigs to make it fun for the kids,” she said. “Do you know what the definition of a drag queen is?”

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Shannon Emerick, the director of marketing and communications for Main Street Theater, says cross-gender acting is common in theatrical productions.

“There’s no drag in the show,” she said. “You are going to see men playing women and women playing men sometimes, absolutely. That has happened since the creation of theater 1,000 years ago.”

She’s right. Actors playing roles of the opposite sex is as old as theater itself (“Shakespeare in Love” is a great depiction of just how long this has been A Thing). Male actors portrayed females in productions in Ancient Greece and Rome—mostly because women weren’t allowed to take part in the art back then.

As a local thespian myself (I have 10+ years of community theater under my belt), I’ve seen a number of these performances and even participated in them myself. It’s not considered even remotely abnormal to anyone involved in any aspect of theater, and there is plenty of documentation and material available to educate oneself on it at any given moment. It’s not considered “drag,” as drag itself is a separate art form.

Gerland said the performance of “James and the Giant Peach” would be more appropriate for “high schoolers,” though in my opinion (and speaking from personal experience), you probably couldn’t pay a high schooler to see “James and the Giant Peach.”

The school released the following statement to families about the field trip last week:

“Spring Branch ISD’s pending field trips to the Main Street Theater performance of ‘James and the Giant Peach’ are being canceled due to concerns raised about the age-appropriateness of the performance,” the statement said.

As for the specific cross-gender casting to “James and the Giant Peach,” well, the theater company was just trying to stay true to author Roald Dahl’s work.

“This is a technique we have used for years (which has produced great humor!) to allow us to produce works with smaller casts,” Main Street Theater said in a statement. “In addition, there was a question of the use of pronouns for the insects. True to Dahl’s book, the Glowworm explains that it is not a male but rather a female because male Glowworms do not light up.”