Ann Arbor high school modifies musical production due to use of prop guns

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In the United States this year alone, over 160 mass shootings have taken place, claiming the lives of thousands of people. Close to home, the Michigan State University shooting killed three students and left five critically injured in February, not long ago.

Gun violence is at the forefront of public discussion, and it’s being critically discussed by Ann Arbor Public Schools. With an upcoming musical performance involving prop guns and gunshot sound effects, the district debated whether or not they were appropriate for the production given recent incidents.

Ultimately, it was decided Ann Arbor Pioneer High School will eliminate the use of guns in scenes unimportant to the central plot of upcoming musical performance “Oklahoma!”

Traditionally, gun use is prevalent in the production as main character Will Parker is an early 20th century prize-winning steer roper from Oklahoma.

However, the modified version performed by Pioneer students will remove the use of guns in nearly the entirety of the show, except for two scenes.

Those two scenes will have prop guns and gunshot sound effects in an effort to stay true to the story and dialogue, according to a message from the district.

In one scene, there will be two gunshot sound effects by the orchestra as two characters point and fire at the ceiling. A prop gun will also be used in the musical number “It’s a Scandal, It’s a Outrage.”

On Tuesday, Ann Arbor Public Schools leadership issued a directive four days before opening night for complete removal or prop guns and gun-related sound effects from the production.

The Board of the Pioneer Theatre Guild Booster Club issued a message arguing against these changes, encouraging families to contact the district and demanding the performance to go on as normal.

The message emphasized that “Oklahoma!” is a Pulitzer and Tony award-winning musical set in 1906 with no connection to modern day gun violence. Furthermore, little notice was given prior to the show and the changes would altar the overall production.

A compromise was reached Wednesday after faculty members including Theatre Guild Co-Sponsor Mysti Plummer, Interim Principal Alberta Britton, and Executive Director of High School Education Robyne Thompson discussed the issue. The decision was made to keep the props in certain scenes of the production.

By Marina Johnson