Disney edict halts school's big show

N. Carroll High calls off `Swing Kids' after trademark use refusal

Play adapted from '93 film

May 11, 1999|By Melody Simmons and Brenda J. Buote | Melody Simmons and Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

At North Carroll High School in Hampstead, the show will not go on this year -- and some parents are blaming Walt Disney Co.

Just days before the curtain was to go up on the school's production of "Swing Kids," Disney pulled the plug on the play. The company, which owns the rights to the 1993 movie, refused to allow the school to use its trademark, characters or name.

Faced with Disney's response, school administrators canceled the production last week. Some parents are miffed and say the play's positive message of tolerance is much needed after the massacre at Columbine High in Colorado.

After the shootings, "everybody was talking about how those kids -- the shooters -- were using Nazi symbols and did this horrible thing on Hitler's birthday," said Marta Hnizda, whose son was to be part of the production.

The play was adapted from a Disney movie that was set in 1939 Hamburg as the Nazi movement takes hold. With a backdrop of the vibrant music of Benny Goodman and Count Basie, two teen-age "swing kids" -- a group devoted to jitterbug dancing -- try to use the tunes as a buffer from the Hitler youth movement.

"I immediately saw a connection," Hnizda said. "These kids were telling us, `Hey, we know this is wrong.' It's pitiful nobody could see it.

"The play promoted tolerance and love," she said. "We're always telling kids to do something positive. Here they are, doing just that, and they can't take it to the end."

Administrators say they had no choice.

"Disney told us that as long as the show focused on the historical time period, and as long as we didn't associate ourselves with Disney, we could go ahead with the play," said Tom Scanlan, the show's director. "But we didn't have enough time to make the changes that would require."

Disney officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The cast put on a full dress rehearsal Thursday night for parents and relatives, said North Carroll High Principal Gary Dunkleberger.

"Some scenes had been taken from the movie and so as a result, we couldn't in good conscience say we weren't using the script from it," Dunkleberger said. "So to have proceeded would have given the kids the wrong message.

"As a school we talk about character traits of respect, honesty and responsibility, and to have put the play on would have given the kids the very wrong message of what we value."

About 80 students rehearsed for two months. It was to be the largest production in the school's history, Scanlan said.

"It was a lot of hard of work. I was disappointed," said Vaclav Hnizda, 17, who practiced three to four hours a day for the show. He was to play the saxophone during the production. "I don't understand why Disney wouldn't allow us to do this show. It was educational, not just the typical play."

Joyce Applefeld, grandmother of the lead actor, junior Scott Applefeld, said canceling the production disappointed students.

Applefeld said her grandson held off getting his hair trimmed before the North Carroll prom two weeks ago because of the school play.

"His prom pictures will show him with all this hair. [Canceling the play] has a snowball effect," she said.

"I think they all are disappointed. It's still hard on them with all the work they put into it and then to not be able to do it," Applefeld said.

Pub Date: 5/11/99

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