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West Side Stories


April 22, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Federal Information & News Dispatch, Inc.. All rights reserved.

Voice of America Press Releases and Documents

Radio Scripts - English Feature 7-38566

Amherst, Massachusetts

INTRO: Four years ago, officials at the Regional High School in Amherst, Massachusetts cancelled a production of West Side Story, Leonard Bernstein's classic musical about gang warfare in 1950's New York City, between Anglos and recent immigrants from Puerto Rico. Some 200 students protested the musical's portrayal of Puerto Ricans as racist. Now a group of young people at the nearby Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter School has created a new show based on the controversy. They call it Westside Stories. Charlene Scott reports.


"This is your correspondent Herardo Riviera, coming to you live from Amherst, Massachusetts. Yes, Amherst, picturesque New England college town, and home of Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, idyllic village which prides itself on being a nuclear free zone, and a friend to the spotted salamander..."

TEXT: Khalil Garcia is one of some 20 students who helped create the show, making fun of Amherst's reputation for political correctness, avoiding anything that might possibly offend anyone. It was part of a playwriting course taught by Roberta Uno, and Harvey Erdman. Mr. Erdman says they wanted the students to use the project to explore the issue of censorship.


"We watched the movie West Side Story. We talked about it. We discussed the issues raised in it. We did improvisations. We talked about the controversy. We looked at all the letters to the editor, the editorials that had been written. "

TEXT: So then, the teachers sent the students out to interview those involved in the controversy, and get reactions from the community. When they put all that together with their own improvisations, they had a show, which director Brian Marsh says focuses on a number of issues.


"Racial issues, love, and there's also a thread of the show which deals with a director, a stage manager, a group of actors, trying to put on a politically correct version of West Side Story. And of course that becomes absolutely hilarious."


"I'd really like to register my moral objections on the building of the parking garage. I really do. I mean what are garages made for? Mostly for cars.... We the undersigned hereby declare Amherst to be a parking garage-free zone!"

TEXT: Khalil Garcia says everyone has fun skewering Amherst's reputation for political correctness. And he says he has no problem with the original West Side Story.


"Like I'm Puerto Rican myself, and I didn't find it offensive at all, and I found like the whole situation pretty ludicrous

TEXT: But not every Latino in the cast agrees. Herman Moreno, who came here from El Salvador, says the issues raised by Amherst's cancellation of the famous musical are serious. Currently president of a student organization called Latino Unidas, he says high schools should not sanction performances that offend a large number of students, and he believes the original West Side Story did that by perpetuating negative stereotypes.


"When youth of color walk into honors classes, like how they get accepted, how the teacher checks if that's where they really belong. The same issues come back up again. If so many people are talking about these things, then why is nothing changing. If all these people are telling the same story, why aren't they listening, you know?"

TEXT: Still, Herman Moreno admits that he doesn't know where to draw the line when it comes to censoring art in the schools. And that's perhaps the most important issue in this project, according to director Brian Marsh.


"Out of this conflict, which really tore a community apart, we can put on a show which, while every piece of it may not be completely easy to watch, we think that the whole will be not only entertaining, but will help to defuse a situation that really never was defused, and will also hold a mirror up to the community so that everybody can have a laugh at themselves, at ourselves, while enjoying the process of putting this on. I think that's a wonderfully healthy thing that theater can do. "

AUDIO: CUT 8 MUSIC FROM PLAY 'SOMEWHERE' Sneak under and bring up full after s/o

TEXT: For Main Street, I'm Charlene Scott in Amherst, Massachusetts.

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