For more than one year, I have faithfully read the varied posts on this website, but have never had the nerve to post. However, I am in need of your help. Until yesterday, I was in a production of "Ragtime" scheduled to open in two weeks at Gillson Park in Wilmette. Yesterday, the entire cast was informed that the show was cancelled, and we were told not to show up at rehearsal. A week ago, after almost eight weeks of rehearsals, we were told that the Park District decision-makers wanted us to change some of the offensive language in the show - the N word. Most of the cast felt strongly that it was important to maintain the integrity of the show. We understand the brutality of the time (1906) and that the playwrights chose each word carefully to evoke an emotion. We also believe that while theater should be entertaining, it can also be educational, enlightening and a springboard for discussion as well. For the record, during this three-hour production, the N word is used approximately six to eight times. The show is also sprinkled with a few ethnic slurs.
The Park District felt that the N word was too offensive for family audiences, surrounding households, and for people who may be walking through the park. The Park District lawyers contacted the copyright holders in NY, who would not allow the language changes (unless the Park District paid a very large fee). The Board briefly considered moving the show to an indoor venue, but then voted yesterday to cancel the entire production.
I don't want to point fingers and blame anyone. My intent isn't to slam the Wilmette Park District Board. I'd like to hope that deep down they think they are doing the right thing for the community. What do you think? As you can imagine, it's hard for the cast to be impartial. You, more than anyone, understand the sacrifices we all make to do a show. Let me give you an example. Our Coalhouse drives in from Rockford every night for rehearsal.
So, here's the bottom line. We are outraged at this recent example of censorship. Secondly, the cast is scrambling to see if there is any other venue that might consider housing our fledgling production. You see, we believe, more than ever, that this story must be told. Some individuals are exploring the copyright issues, finding musicians, etc. Can anyone help us out here? At the risk of sounding like Judy Garland or Mickey Rooney, hey, kids, is there any way we can put on a show?
At the risk of sounding like a knucklehead, I have faith in the community theater community (?). At the very least, I'd so appreciate hearing from those of you whose posts I've come to respect. Thank you.