Philly drag cabaret legend Martha Graham Cracker has performed in front of almost every kind of audience imaginable — from gays and straights to, well, Bill Murray — but recently she was asked to do something she’s never done before: read to kids at an after-school program. The unique opportunity was nixed dead in its tracks, however, when school officials chimed in that her act was “inappropriate” for children.
It all started when Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret bandleader (and Philly Post contributor) Victor Fiorillo received an email from Mark Simmons, a supervisor at Haddonfield Child Care, an after-school program in New Jersey with around 25 kids ranging in age from kingergarten to fifth grade. He wanted Martha to take part in his upcoming Read Across America series that paid tribute Dr. Seuss. She would read from a Seuss book of her choice, and maybe sing a few kid-friendly ditties. Simmons stated that he usually invited “local authors, police, politicians and illustrators,” but wanted to ask Martha, because he was “trying to add a bit of variety to our program.”
Fiorillo says the group was excited to accept the invitation. A message was posted on the Cabaret’s Facebook wall, and “likers” seemed ecstatic about the idea. A few days later, however, Fiorillo received this message from Simmons:
I’m in a bit of a quandary here … I’m being told by some of my superiors in this organization that this guest choice is inappropriate. I cannot, however, get any of them to tell me why or how Martha Graham Cracker reading Dr. Seuss to our after-school program is inappropriate.
Simmons, it should be noted, said he was “happy to advocate for this to happen,” volunteering to gather letters of support from the community and “make a presentation to the company decision-makers with the hopes of changing their minds.” This idea, too, was thrown out, however. In an email that came through today, Simmons wrote, “I have been given an official ‘no’ as far as bringing in Martha, and have been told not to send my letters to the parents.”
Now we all know Martha’s regular act isn’t kid-friendly, but we also know she’s not stupid enough to take that same performance to a school room. Each year, The Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret performs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where, Fiorillo says, “there are dozens of young children.” One mother even remarked on the aforementioned Facebook post that:
My daughter has seen your show about 3 times. She frequently refers to Martha Graham Cracker as one of her characters while she plays. Bath time is particularly funny when she names her gaudiest mermaid Martha. She really adores you, and she’s a tough critic.”
So what’s the problem here? Is it the fact that he’s gay? Are supervisors afraid seeing a man in a wig and dress would corrupt the children? In a letter Simmons sent to the school’s director, he said, “I think that this unique mix of costumed characters shows a wide variety of careers and personalities and fits in with our lessons of being accepting to everybody and all lifestyles.” If the program harbors such a mission statement, why would it have a problem with Miss Graham Cracker?
Updated [4:35 p.m., 2/26/13]: The school has yet to respond, but there is good news to report: Martha Graham Cracker has been invited to read Dr. Seuss to kids at the Christ Church Neighborhood House on Sun., March 3 at 2 p.m. Go here for all the details.
Updated [2:19 p.m., 2/27/13]: Haddonfield Day Care released a vague statement on its website, saying, “We strive to provide a variety of activities that respect the individual needs and parenting styles of all of the families we serve.” Go here for complete text.
Updated [2:17 p.m., 3/3/13]: Martha Graham Cracker reads Green Eggs and Ham to parents and children at Christ Church Neighborhood House. Click here for video.