CLOVIS, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – Two groups of first-grade students, one from Clovis Unified School District and one from Central Unified School District, walked out of a Children’s Musical Theaterworks (CMT) production of Oliver performed earlier this month by Children’s Musical Theaterworks due to the content of the production.

According to Judy Stene, the executive director for Children’s Musical Theaterworks, the walkout on December 8 took place during the second act of the music after intermission just as a character named Nancy was singing a song titled, “As Long As He Needs Me”. She said the incident was very upsetting to the cast and crew.

The CMT performance in question, Oliver, is based on the classic 19th-century novel by Charles Dickens. This was the same classic version of the Broadway show that has been performed for decades in community theaters and in schools. In fact, it had previously been performed at Clovis North High School.

Stene says that they do these performances for schools as a service to the community. While Stene says some of the content is softened for the young audience, overall the performance is based on the production direction that is dictated by the script that they buy the rights and royalties and cannot change the production, especially as they are considered a crucial part of the story of Oliver Twist.

A Central Unified provided statement says students left due to what was in the play.

“One of our first-grade classes along with other schools outside of Central Unified left a little after intermission due to concerns over the content of the play. Someone with the theater company advised teachers that there would be depictions of death.”

Gilbert Magallon, Central Unified School District

Clovis Unified also provided a statement about what took place.

“Our elementary teachers at the show with their young students made a determination to leave after assessing that the themes of violence, alcohol use, and thievery were not appropriate for their young students.  This was a decision made in the moment by teachers who are highly sensitive to what is appropriate to the age of their students. This decision is consistent with how we assess classroom content for age-appropriateness.”

-Kelly Avants, Clovis Unified School District

As a result of this walkout, the next day, a group of 166-ticketed attendees from Clovis Unified also did not go to the performance as scheduled.

“The experience last week by the one school was shared with other principals, who independently reassessed the content before confirming attendance by elementary or intermediate-aged students.”

-Kelly Avants, Clovis Unified School District Chief Communications Officer

Stene says that she has no issue with the different opinions or views of anyone. But does believe that the decision to walk out during the performance was, “handled poorly” and “dramatic” – especially considering that the kids had already seen the majority of the performance and that it should be up to the teachers to be responsible to know the kind of stories they expose their students to ahead of time.

CMT says that they have had no other issues with other school groups from around the Central Valley. For more information about CMT’s performances, you can visit their website.