The Farmington Tiger Marching Band is accustomed to tweaking productions as its fall season moves along, but claims that it had steered the marching arts into the world of politics have forced bigger changes.
This year’s field show, “Dystopia,” initially featured 10-foot-high boards spelling out the word, “RESIST,” a term familiar to those who bristle over President Donald Trump and his policies.
But its debut last week had critics crying foul, and a new ending was ordered up by district administrators. A new message, “UNITE,” is set to be unveiled at Friday’s home football game against Shakopee, along with an image of clasped hands instead of that of a fist.
Fortunately for parents who fashioned the signs, and who this week had only a few days to do so, the two words share three letters.
Of the controversy, Principal Dan Pickens said, “This has been blown out of proportion.” But he added that he deemed the changes necessary to redirect attention to the students and their artistry.
“Dystopia” has all the marching band bells and whistles: tight formations, quick turns, rolling placards. Then, there’s the “storytelling,” in this case a message inspired by “The Hunger Games” and George Orwell’s “1984.”
“Our show represents the age-old struggle between the powerful and the powerless, while also reinforcing important values like unity and strength,” a post on the band’s Facebook page states. “A central theme of our show is one that is important for both students and adults to consider, ‘What would it be like to live in a world where culture and personal expression are forbidden?’ ”
Pickens, who saw the show for the first time last week and had been unaware that the band would use the word “RESIST” with a fist, said that he fielded five calls or e-mails from people who objected, and while none specifically described it as “anti-Trump,” he acknowledged some could come away with that impression.
A website, “The Deplorable Housewives of the Midwest,” took the case against “Dystopia” further by examining the Twitter accounts of band director Erin Holmes and associate director Brad Mariska to glean their political leanings.
A detailed posting on the site said, “The very idea of inserting the word ‘RESIST’ along with the red raised fist in a marching band field show in today’s political climate and expecting that NO ONE would find that political is preposterous. It either shows that the directors are extremely naive and completely out of touch with the world and US culture in 2018 OR that they truly believe they could use the ‘Dystopia’ theme to veil an absolute political message.”
On Wednesday, Holmes released a statement to reporters that said, “There is not and never has been any intended political message in our fictional marching band show, ‘Dystopia.’ ”
Pickens said he believes her.
“There is no doubt in my mind,” the principal said.
Mariska did not respond to a request for comment, but in an e-mail to families he was adamant about the production not being a political statement.
“The concept of ‘resistance’ goes back centuries and has been utilized by oppressed segments of society — including the founding of America itself — through a variety of simple words and symbols,” he wrote. “The universal nature of these words and symbols is what makes them so effective and relevant not only to our show, but to all dystopian works of art.”
He added that its creators had been transparent about its themes — having made public the story line, symbols and music in an “initial reveal” in February.
On Thursday night, the band rehearsed, with several members clasping hands with focus and power.
Pickens said he is proud of the band and considers “Dystopia” to be a “really cool show.” He said it is not uncommon for some people to attend football games simply to see the band at work. As for the changes, he said, the directors told him that they could make the show even better.
“A blessing in disguise,” perhaps, Pickens said.
Anthony Lonetree • 612-673-4109