If you love musicals, kids who sing their hearts out, and family drama, NBC’s Rise is perfect for you. The show follows a group of high school students as they produce the musical Spring Awakening, and, as you can probably imagine, the racy content doesn’t go over well with the community. Couple that with the pressures of life, school, and family that are looming over the students, well, you’ve got a glass case of emotions. Luckily for viewers, these emotions frequently come out in song. Rise is based on a true story, to add to its impact. There’s a real-life foundation to the musical tale, but some audience members are taking issue with its version of events.
According to the Philly Voice, Rise is loosely based on the 2013 book Drama High, written by Michael Sokolove. The book follows the story of teacher Lou Volpe and his involvement with the Harry S. Truman High School drama program in Levittown, Pennsylvania. As written by The New York Times, Volpe was able to make his high school drama program flourish even in the troubling financial situation cause by the last recession. Budgets were being cut, but Volpe was able to bring the Truman program to national attention with productions of shows such as Les Miserables, Spring Awakening, and RENT. His choice of “controversial” works that spawned conversation about sexuality, social issues, and addiction, to name a few, was the point, and it changed not just the lives of his students but the community around him. Volpe also had his own “Tracey” as he does in the show — a former student, Tracey Krause, who went off to college, got a degree in education, and came back to run the program so Volpe could retire.
Though it sounds like one hell of an inspirational piece of television, Rise hasn’t been without its controversy. Volpe was a closeted married man at one time, and came out as gay later in life. Lou, Rise’s Volpe counterpart, is a straight man with a wife and three kids. Because of this key change, the producers of Rise have been accused of “straight-washing” his story.
Rise executive producers Jason Katims, Jeffrey Seller, and Flody Suarez gave a joint statement regarding the backlash, which appeared in The Hollywood Reporter. It reads:
According to the Hollywood Reporter, Rise “has been working with LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD on many of its storylines in an effort to realistically portray [its] stories.” These stories include that of Michael, a transgender student; Simon, a teen exploring his own sexuality; and Lou’s married lesbian sister-in-law. Bustle has reached out to NBC for comment.
In terms of what else to expect from Rise, Katims, who also produced Friday Night Lights and Parenthood, says that pieces of his old shows will be evident in the new one. In an interview with TV Guide, Katims said he feels a lot of Friday Night Lights in Rise because of the subject matter and location. “One of the things that I was drawn to was that it felt similar in one way to Friday Night Lights and, while the subject matter is very different, both shows were focused in a small town,” he said. “They were working class. I felt like I really wanted to tell this story and, in a similar way, have it feel like, ‘Oh, I feel like I’ve been dropped down into this town. I just know these people and they feel real to me.'”
And in some ways, real they are. Rise premieres March 13 — inspired by a man who dedicated his life to bringing the arts to town that needed them to stand out.