If Lewis Carroll were alive today, “curious” might be the word he would use to describe the People’s Light Theater performance of his world-renowned novel, Alice in Wonderland. 

The theater, located in Chester County is currently running a holiday, pantomime rendition of the classic. The website says the show is appropriate for ages five to 105 and includes a drag queen performer in the cast. Eric Jaffe, according to the theater’s casting page, “is a genderfull [sic] glamour monster and the recipient of the 2018 Philly Drag Awards, Best Host, Best Alternative Drag Queen, And Drag Queen of the Year as well as 2020’s Performer of the Year.” 

Just as curious is the fact that multiple school districts in Chester County are sponsoring field trips for students to attend the performance, including West Chester Area, Tredyffrin/Easttown, and Downingtown. Students as young as second grade and up to sixth grade attended the performance. 

The theater website makes a point to highlight Eric Jaffe’s role on the main page. “This year, People’s Light is thrilled to welcome award-winning drag performer Eric Jaffe as the audience’s new guide through the magical mayhem in the role of Dinah/Cheshire Cat.” None of the other performers are mentioned in the overview. 

Controversy erupted after some children attended the show with their school and informed parents that they were required to wear masks at the performance. As parents started looking further into the show, they realized that a drag queen was appearing as one of the main characters and that the theater was promoting this performer above the rest. 

A public Facebook group posted about the issues with parents weighing in on both sides. 

While the majority of comments were very concerned about the field trip, Meghan Reikob disagreed about the content of the show. 

“WCASD did list the show name on permissions slips. I do agree that there should have been advance notice provided by the school about People’s Light mask policy.  But I genuinely don’t understand the rest of your argument,” Reikob said. “Has no one complaining ever heard of a panto before? Nothing about this is new or woke.” ” 

Her comments, however, did not address others’ concerns of a drag queen performing for children or the fact that the theater advertised the show as such. 

No one is questioning or concerned about pantomimes as a theatrical modality or the fact that someone of one gender can play a different role in a performance. Theater has a long tradition of men playing women’s roles, dating back to the Greeks and Romans. In more recent history, the theater term “transvesti” is used to describe the portrayal of a character of the opposite sex. Therefore, the idea that someone of a different gender can play the role in a theatrical performance is not surprising or uncommon, nor is it troubling to parents. 

What concerns many parents is the lack of transparency and communication with the school districts.

Downingtown Area School District’s permission slip (see below) for the field trip did not even include the name of the performance. While some districts did include the name of the show, they did not state that their children would see a drag queen performer. Nor did they state that every child would require a mask. This is despite the fact that the districts are not currently requiring masks for children at school, and some children have mask exemptions that may or may not have been accommodated. Parents were not given enough information to make informed decisions about whether their child should attend. 

One of the Facebook commenters suggested that parents should have researched the show before completing the permission slip. And while that is a reasonable solution, parents should be able to rely on our publicly funded schools and administrators to make good decisions and to provide parents with enough information to also make decisions in the best interest of their child.

Alice in Wonderland was written in 1865 by Lewis Carroll, a deeply conservative and spiritual man and a deacon in the Church of England. I am fairly certain that Carroll did not intend his book to be used as a social commentary on gender fluidity, nor do most parents. Most parents are familiar with the whimsical nature of the book and likely thought it would be an entertaining and educational field trip for their child. 

Several parents of children who attended the show shared anonymously, for fear of retaliation from their district, that they would not have allowed their child to attend if they knew that they were required to wear a mask. Others stated concerns over the performance and promotion of the drag queen performer. Parents also questioned whether there was any discussion following the performance at school. 

Both the West Chester Area and Tredyffrin/Easttown School Districts were asked to comment on the field trip. Molly Schwemler, manager of district communications for West Chester Area School District, responded with the following:

“Sixth grade students from the West Chester Area School District did attend the performance of Alice in Wonderland: A Musical Panto at People’s Light and Theater. As part of People’s Light and Theater’s current health and safety guidelines, masks are required for all those attending indoor performances regardless of vaccination status. Students and staff attending the performance were provided masks and did follow this policy. 

“In advance of the performance, families were informed that students had the opportunity to attend a contemporary, pantomime version of Alice in Wonderland and given permission slips to return. The actors’ biographies and acting credentials were not included with this information but were accessible on the People’s Light and Theater website.” 

Tredyffrin/Easttown School District did not respond to the request for comment.

Beth Ann Rosica resides in West Chester, has a Ph.D. in Education, and has dedicated her career advocating on behalf of at-risk children and families. She enjoys drag queen shows and chooses to leave her children at home for those performances.

21 thoughts on “Beth Ann Rosica: Alice in drag — curiouser and curiouser when it becomes a school field trip”

  1. Child abuse… plan and simple.

    From the School District(s)
    From the parent allowing their kid to go
    From the teachers and chaparones
    From school Principal, admin, Superintendents
    From the Sponsor of the pervert show.

    To the bus driver driving the child to the pervert show, to the owner of the bus company hired to drive the kids to the pervert show, etc etc etc…



    Downingtown Area School DIstrict has been pulling this crap for 4+ years.. I know, because I yanked my kids out because of this,.. and their sneaky way of white shamming, perv pre-moting in their curriculum.

    Its only going to get worse.

  3. Only want to comment that in its time Upper Class English society had somewhat less than stellar opinion of Lewis Carroll’s hobby of photographing young children nude and semi-nude in “art” poses. One English society matron is reputed to have said that “she didn’t think he could love anyone over ten.” However, that may be, if he was a pedophile, he appears to have been a celibate one.

  4. First the media told us we were supposed to go crazy over CRT and people on the right started harassing school boards. Then the media told us to be scared about kids learning that not everyone has the same opinions about them when it comes to gender and the right started violently assaulting school board members.

    Now we’re told that a single male actor in a show (among many) wearing women’s clothing constitutes a “drag show” and right on cue we see literal NAZI SALUTING thugs intimidating people with weapons to silence them. (Don’t take my word for it: https://youtu.be/O1HSL6d8Geg?t=1505) You know Shakespearean productions originally had men playing women? I guess the right wants us to cancel Shakespeare now too. Where does it end?

    1. I dont know who the media is. The media doesn’t set the democratic agenda of mainstreaming these ideals and promote it along their social media platforms.

      A far cry from your argument is the crux of the problem SOCIETY has with this. A man can dress like a woman and tell everyone he believes he’s a woman. As an adult making adult decisions about adult things.

      It is inappropriate to create a story and message through society, media, children’s stories, marketing, toys, etc. Whatever, and tell children these adult issues through an ignorant political lense of ” if you disagree it’s because you are a racist/bigot/etc.

      Leave the kids out of it.

      It’s not a whipped up frenzy caused by right-wing nutjobs when you see these books in elementary schools, see the topics in young children’s TV shows, and see the left pushing back on teachers taking young children to see drag queens perform – no matter the venue.

      There are plenty of problems with where Righwing true believers go astray, but this is not one of them.

    2. Open your eyes & quit minimizing the indoctrination of our children to accept & normalize the unnatural. Parents are in charge of their children, not the schools.

  5. There’s a word for “articles” like this: agitprop (ăj′ĭt-prŏp′) abbreviated from Russian agitatsiya propaganda (agitation propaganda), political strategy in which the techniques of agitation and propaganda are used to influence and mobilize public opinion.

    The goal of agitprop now, as it was for the radicals and soviets who developed the term, is to use half-truths and sometimes outright lies to drum up mob resentment against a political enemy.

    It’s no wonder Trump “loves the poorly educated” (notice he didn’t say “undereducated” or “self-educated” but “poorly educated”) Just like in 1917 Russia or 1933 Germany the poorly educated are the least likely to question these sorts of talking points and narratives coming from the party machine. Not when scapegoating and straw manning is so easy.

    1. Teach your little infants about drag queens and porn all you want.
      Insult all other parents all you want.

      Leave the other children alone, you pervert.

  6. why in the world would these teachers take it upon themselves to take kids to performances by a bunch of freaks on the taxpayers’ dime? And then keep facts hidden from parents. Time to make changes from the head down. Seems the school district approved and condoned everything. Why?

  7. Right? They should have gotten a real cat to play the Cheshire Cat! Not a man in a cat costume! The libs have gone too far – we pay good money to send our cats to acting school! Ever heard of GARFIELD? Or the ARISTOCATS! One of them should have played Cheshire. Not some man! Next you’re gonna tell me the Queen of Hearts wasn’t played by a REAL ROYAL QUEEN!

    Seriously. This is how you all sound to normal people.

    You keep saying you can’t trust and don’t trust the school or the government, and then still expect to be spoon fed every detail about every operational aspect without asking a single question, reading a single website or handout or attending a single meeting. If you don’t like the choice of field trip, don’t send your precious cherub. It’s simple.

    1. An absurd argument by someone who wishes to sexualize and indoctrinate young children. This is how you sound to normal people. Normal people who don’t try to have people fired from their jobs for political opinions, normal people who don’t censor, ban and bully at every turn, normal people who don’t picket children’s grade schools, normal people who don’t push their values on young children because they can’t push them on adults.

  8. This was a pantomime performance of Alice in Wonderland. I suspect the Drag Queen performer who was hired because of his general performance abilities and not his drag queen abilities specifically, had the write up because he probably required it as part of his contract. He wants to promote his talents and accomplishments. It is not unusual for men and women to play gender roles opposite of how they were born. Dinah I assume is a female role but the Cheshire Cat is a cat. I agree, parents should have been informed about mask requirements, especially since some children (like my autistic child) require specific masks in order to be comfortable or some may have difficulties with masks causing them to prefer not to go. Honestly, one performer being a drag queen but not doing a drag queen specific performance is a non issue.

  9. The children’s panto for many years has included an actor playing traditional female roles. I’ve seen some performances, I have not found them salacious but I do find them confusing for young children so we stopped attending as it was not for us.

  10. As a tax payer in this county since 2006….This is unacceptable and my voice will be heard.

    Messing with kids or the mind of a child is where I draw the line.

    Fair warning.

  11. I am surprised at the number of clearly disrespectful comments left in this comments section.

    I guess “Leave a (Respectful) Comment” is a mere suggestion to be abandoned in the service of manufacturing outrage.

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