Steamboat Springs On Saturday afternoon, at Steamboat Springs High School's matinee performance of "Into the Woods," Karen Decker handed out fliers to the audience at intermission.
She approached only parents of young children, she said, in the auditorium and sitting at tables in the cafeteria.
The flier read, in large black letters, "WARNING: The second act contains material inappropriate for children. There are numerous murders, an adultery scene, suicide, chaos and a total sense of despair."
"I went to the play Friday night because I heard others were upset," Decker said. "The first act was fabulous, but the second act was very bad. Children should not be seeing this thing. It should be rated PG-13."
That night, Decker passed out a few questionnaires asking parents to assess the appropriateness of the play for children. She returned the next afternoon with the questionnaires and her WARNING fliers.
"I passed it out at intermission to prevent children from seeing the second act," Decker said. "Two people got very angry and in my face. Then (Superintendent Cindy) Simms came up to me and said, 'Let's go talk.'"
Simms was at the school that afternoon picking up her daughter, who was selling refreshments for the French Club. She approached Decker.
Simms pulled Decker aside, Simms said, and the two women spoke about Decker's concerns for the greater part of an hour.
Decker was concerned the contents of the play were inappropriate for small children and she wanted parents to be warned, Simms said.
"I can understand her perspective," Simms said. "We put a notice up and she was satisfied with that. We also told her that she could not come back Saturday night."
By the end of Saturday's performance, the teen-age cast of "Into the Woods" had all heard about Decker and her fliers.
Since then, a serious dialogue has opened up between students and teachers, teachers and administrators, administrators and Decker.
On Tuesday, drama teacher and "Into the Woods" director Stuart Handloff walked into his first class of the week and immediately students began asking questions about what happened on Saturday afternoon.
"I've certainly lost a lot of sleep over this," Handloff said. "Unfortunately, there has been a lot of anger on the cast's part."
Of the accusations made on Decker's flier, "a total sense of despair" was the one that most angered students and upset Handloff, he said.
"This play has such a message of hope," Handloff said. "It's about the power of community."
"Into the Woods" is a musical by Stephen Sondheim that unites characters from the fairy tales "Cinderella," "Little Red Riding Hood," "Jack and the Beanstalk" and "Rapunzel" and set them up against a common challenge defeating the angry wife of the giant Jack killed when he chopped down the beanstalk.
Decker's main concern was what she termed the "adultery scene." Prince Charming meets the Butcher's wife in the woods. They kiss, and then disappear behind a rise in the stage.
The rest is implied.
Decker's concerns about sexual themes and violence echo a discussion that recently ended in the Moffat County school system. Moffat County High School scheduled a production of the musical "Les Miserables."
The announcement was met by angry parents who called the play "trash" at school board meetings in late September. The play was eventually allowed on stage after the director made several changes to the language (i.e. "whore" became "wench").
"This kind of thing is part of a perennial set of events," Simms said. "That is why there are a clear set of rules and plays are chosen within those parameters."
"I love ('Les Miserables'), but I don't think I would do that show here," Handloff said. "It deals with prostitution, suicide and child labor all right in front of your face.
"I'm very careful," he said. "I don't like drugs, alcohol or violence. Not on the (high school) stage."
"Into the Woods" was chosen for the Steamboat Springs High School stage last January by a group of parents, administration and Handloff.
Per school policy, all plays must be approved by the principal or assistant principal.
"I think of the high school audience and try to choose plays about life, growing up and the human experience," Handloff said. "Most of all, I try to find good stories."
Decker, Simms and Steamboat Springs High School Principal Dave Schmid have scheduled a meeting for Monday to discuss Decker's concerns and to discuss the school's policy about distributing anything on school grounds without permission of the principal.