It seems (Theater drops Klan play | ajc.com) that the Arts Station theatre got cold feet over hosting a staged reading of a play about Klan rallies at Stone Mountain. It seems that the opening monologue was not only “racy,” but also “inciting, and slanderous about Jews and Catholics,” according to the director. So they’ve canceled the reading.
I have some questions, since I don’t know any of the people involved, nor have I read the script. I did, of course, run the Newnan Community Theatre Company for over twenty years, so I might actually have a little insight here.
First of all, every theatre has its mission. Ours was to provide a wide variety of theatrical experiences for our audiences. Notice the plural. We didn’t have an audience, we had several different audiences. This allowed us to do whatever interested us as artists, since we were not interested in limiting ourselves to material that it was safe to bring the kids to. (I use the past tense here because of course I cannot speak for the company in any official capacity, currently led by the inestimable Dave Dorrell, but they’re doing just fine without me.)
So my first question is, What is Arts Station’s mission? Is this the kind of play they seek to do? If not, then why did they agree to the staged reading? If it is, then why back off?
Did no one read the play before they agreed to do it? Did the playwright tack on the monologue after they got into rehearsals? How did the “problem” with the monologue go unnoticed until announcements had been made?
Was this an actor problem? Did some actor suddenly decide that “he” couldn’t say those words?
Why the sudden panic over community relations? Are their audiences so generally unsophisticated that such venomous language genuinely offends them personally? Their lineup is hard to read, but it doesn’t seem to be very “hardhitting.” That’s not a condemnation, by the way; it’s all a matter of what your mission is.
Aside, re: the language issue: there’s a good young adult novel, The Day They Came to Arrest the Book, by Nat Hentoff, about the attempted banning of Huckleberry Finn on the usual bogus racial issues, and for me the climactic moment is when a young black student addresses the school board and tells them, “I’m smart enough to know when I’m being called a nigger, and that’s not what this book is doing.” I’ve always assumed any audience that I’ve attracted is smart enough to know that the language in the play is not being addressed to them personally, nor is it being delivered personally by their friends and neighbors.
Still, this was just a staged reading, an agreement that you’ll give the playwright a chance to hear his words out loud, to hear if they work, and to share them with an audience who, because you’ve taught them, understand this is a work in progress. You even put up big red posters in the lobby warning them about the language and subject matter.
And if the opening monologue is too much, that’s when you work with the playwright to say that you understand what he’s trying to do, but it’s not working the way he wants it. Or something. You don’t tell him that you just can’t say those terrible words, because the time to do that was before you agreed to the reading.
And you don’t put out disclaimers that it’s the playwright and not you who’s doing the offending, because again, you agreed to an artistic partnership, and part of that partnership is that you agree with his message. You can warn people to gird their loins before the curtain goes up, but apologize for what you’ve produced? Grow some artistic balls, people. (That’s a generic commandment; again, I have no details about the situation at Arts Station, so I would not presume to issue directives to them.)
One more set of questions: Was this a board thing? Did some board member get antsy and then worry began to pile up and then panic began to set in and then “it was decided” that it would “better” if they didn’t go ahead with this thing?
Ah, well, who knows? Theatre companies are precarious, byzantine organizations, and those like Art Station who actually do provide playwrights with venues for new work are to be applauded. It’s just that when something like this actually hits the newspapers, unlike, say NCTC’s production of Pericles, which hadn’t been done anywhere in the Southeast at the time, or our world premiere of David Hyer’s Lying in State, currently playing at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, VA, nor even our Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, with a new translation, none of which got any coverage at all, then one does have questions.