What the what?

Gay penguin controversy causes AISD to cancel performances of "And Then Came Tango"

Gay penguin controversy causes AISD to cancel performances of "And Then Came Tango"

Gay penguin controversy causes AISD to cancel play performances. Photo by Michael Van Woert
And Here Comes Tango
Playwright Emily Freeman says that the two male penguins don't get married, "but they do form a pair bond, sit on a rock, and Lily, a young visitor to the zoo, gives them an orphaned egg." Photo courtesy of the University of Texas at Austin
And Here Comes Tango

Austin ISD has canceled 10 performances of a play put on at area elementary schools by a UT graduate theater student because of gay penguins.

Emily Freeman’s "And Then Came Tango" was inspired by the true story of two male Chinstrap Penguins named Roy and Silo that incubated and raised a hatchling at the Central Park Zoo in New York City.

Apparently, there were concerns about how two dude penguins raising a baby penguin might lead to questions about human homosexual acts from second and third graders after UT students first performed at Lee Elementary.

It’s the first UT play to be canceled by AISD. Graduate students usually perform for the school district to satisfy graduation requirements.

According to the Austin American-Statesman, AISD’s fine arts director, Greg Goodman, sent a letter to UT’s head of youth theater program Coleman Jennings stating that “the subject matter communicated in the play is a topic that Austin ISD believes should be examined by parents/guardians who will discuss with their elementary school age children at a time deemed appropriate by the parents/guardians.”

Freeman said in a press release that "And Then Came Tango" examines how families are not limited to the traditional nuclear family construction.

Throughout the play, the definition of family is extended beyond normative representations. Family is an entire colony of penguins, a young girl and her single mom, a zookeeper and the animals he tends, and two male penguins and their adopted egg. As these family structures are threatened in the play, we learn the power of voicing your opinions and standing up for your beliefs, no matter how old you are.

The Statesman also spoke with Jonathan Saenz, president of the conservative Texas Values group, who said, shockingly in favor of the ban, “We define marriage very clearly in the state of Texas. So if you have a play that tries to push and promote a different marriage definition, which is clearly illegal, it leads students to ask questions about it, and it leads to the discussion of sex.”

Freeman says that Roy and Silo aren't married in the play, anyway. So, what does happen? Freeman says, "they do form a pair bond, sit on a rock, and Lily, a young visitor to the zoo, gives them an orphaned egg. They successfully incubate the egg and Tango is born. The main conflict in the play occurs when there is a public outcry about the fact that Roy and Silo are two male penguins raising an egg."

If you want a final indicator of how this story is playing out on the national media landscape, it has (not incorrectly) been compared to the Parks & Recreation episode “Pawnee Zoo” where two male penguins are married at the zoo and people get mad. They get mad because two male penguins got married. They got mad about that in a TV show and it was played for laughs.

Though AISD has canceled the remaining performances, "And Then Came Tango" has been able to perform at private schools as well as Del Valle Middle School without everyone turning into either a homosexual or a penguin. There are also free performances being put on at the Oscar G. Brockett Theatre Nov. 30 through Dec. 2.