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Her senior recital was on historically censored songs. Then her school censored her

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Caitlyn Fox put on a show - just not the one she proposed. Caitlyn Fox, a senior in the honors program at Friends University in Wichita, Kan. - a Christian university of Quaker heritage, as its website explains - mounted a senior recital called "The Shows They Don't Want Us To Produce: A Study Of Censorship Through The History Of Musical Theatre" - for mature audiences, her playbill advised. Just two days before she was set to perform, the president of the university sent an email saying, people who have worked at and/or supported the university for a long time are considering withdrawing their support if we move forward with having the recital at Friends and suggested moving the show off campus. A show about censorship censored, more or less.

Caitlyn Fox joins us now from Wichita. Thanks so much for being with us.

CAITLYN FOX: Thank you so much for having me.

SIMON: You did perform at a church off campus, but I want to take advantage of the scholarship that you've undertaken in this show by asking you about the history of some of the songs. First, a lot of people will recognize it, the 1967 musical "Hair" - "Aquarius."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AQUARIUS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, singing) Harmony and understanding.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Sympathy and trust abounding.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, singing) No more falsehoods or derisions.

SIMON: That's from your production. Harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abounding - what was the problem anyone ever had with this song?

FOX: "Hair" has a long history of people having issues with the material that it covers. There were even two Supreme Court cases against the musical, along with picketing and protests and even some bomb threats against productions. So I knew I wanted to pick a song from "Hair," and "Aquarius" seemed like a really great opening number for my show.

SIMON: No more falsehood or derisions, golden living, dreams of visions, mystic crystal revelations - in my day, we used to interpret that as an appeal for LSD. Is it still heard that way?

FOX: I would assume so. A lot of people have issues with the drug use in the show...

SIMON: Yeah.

FOX: ...And the way it promoted hippie counterculture during the time.

SIMON: Yeah. Let me ask you about another song. This is from the 1966 Kander and Ebb musical "Cabaret." The song from your production - "Maybe This Time."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAYBE THIS TIME")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, singing) Maybe this time I'll be lucky. Maybe this time he'll stay.

SIMON: Well, tell us why this song is here. I mean, maybe this time I'll be lucky. Maybe this time he'll stay. It's a plaintive love ballad.

FOX: A lot of people had issues with the reflection of life in Berlin under the rise of Hitler. And a lot of people misunderstood the intention of the show, which was to present what life was like in this scary and horrific time and occasionally crack jokes and not make light of the situation...

SIMON: Yeah.

FOX: ...But try and, like, you know, entertain as well as inform.

SIMON: Let me ask you finally about this song by the late Stephen Sondheim from the 1990s musical "Assassins."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNWORTHY OF YOUR LOVE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character, singing) I am unworthy of your love. Charlie, darling, I have done nothing for your love.

SIMON: Now, a musical about presidential assassins is a tough sell under any circumstance, but the show won Tony and Olivier Awards. This song is so heart-piercing, it's almost become a romantic standard. I would swim oceans, I would move mountains, I would do anything for you. But, like, it's sung by Squeaky Fromme - right? - to Charles Manson.

FOX: Yeah.

SIMON: Yes, exactly.

FOX: Yeah (laughter). That was something that I actually spoke about in my presentation. Before we performed the song, I was just like, I want to make you aware who these people are and who they're singing to because on the surface, it's a beautiful love song. And underneath you're like, this person is singing to a cult leader and serial killer.

SIMON: Yeah. But I guess that's the point of it, isn't it?

FOX: It is. We can still look at the show now and discuss, like, how we in America view fame and legacy and how all of this, like, underlying hatred in our nation can really build up to these unfortunate situations. And then you can also end up with really great music, like the song "Unworthy Of Your Love," where you have Squeaky Fromme singing to Charles Manson and John Hinckley singing to Jodie Foster.

SIMON: And the point of it being these are people made up of flesh and blood, human beings like us. They just get savagely and cravenly misdirected at one point.

FOX: Yes.

SIMON: May I ask, you're going to graduate?

FOX: I still have another semester left, so I will be graduating in December of this year. But as far as I know, I am still on track.

SIMON: In addition to what you have learned to put together your senior recital, what have you learned from this experience?

FOX: I spent so much time researching professional productions that had protesting and picketing or educational productions that were shut down by school boards and such that it never occurred to me that it could happen to me. Despite the unfortunate situation and everything like that, it has taught me to be incredibly grateful for the people in my life who do support me and the advisers that I have and my professors who helped me make sure that my project still went on.

SIMON: Caitlyn Fox is a student at Friends University in Wichita, Kan. Good luck to you.

FOX: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: And we have contacted Friends University about the story, and we are waiting for their response.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.