N word fatal to Wilmette production

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N word fatal to Wilmette production

Postby Amynameis on Thu Jun 26, 2008 9:34 am

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.
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Re: N word fatal to Wilmette production

Postby warbucks on Thu Jun 26, 2008 9:57 am

Didn't the Park District bother reading the show before they slotted it ? Personally I think censoring a show of this sort is absolutely ridiculous. MOS mounted a very fine production of "Ragtime" a few years ago. Though I wasn't involved in the production, I did see it and I honestly can't recall anything in the show that came off the least bit offensive.
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Re: N word fatal to Wilmette production

Postby The Laughing Bulldog on Thu Jun 26, 2008 9:57 am

1. Forward your post - intact - to the local newspapers, with the explanation "posted to a community theatre website". It probably won't help you now, but the ensuing outrage may stop them from doing that to anyone else. And -- speaking about an hour after originally writing this, there's already a news story available: http://www.pioneerlocal.com/wilmette/news/1025453,wi-cancel-062508-s1.article

2. I'm linking your post to the West Suburban Theatre Connection - this is a network of people who run area theatres, as opposed to those of us who just perform in them. They may be able to help you.

3. If you are a Yahoo member, sign up (free) for my theatre list and post this notice there. You'll reach nearly 400 more area theatre people. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CraigsTheaterList

I'm out in the western suburbs, so most of my contacts are out here. That's about all I can do to help.

Craig
Last edited by The Laughing Bulldog on Thu Jun 26, 2008 11:32 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: N word fatal to Wilmette production

Postby Alphadawg1 on Thu Jun 26, 2008 10:43 am

Political correctness is unfortunately not often correct and more often is sadly in the hands of faceless suits, who are reactive instead of pro-active. The same issues have been raised over "To Kill a Mockingbird," of all shows. What you're dealing with is a bunch of cowards who have more power than they ever have deserved. Ragtime is a seriously good piece of art that deserves to be seen ... if not only to show where we've been and how far we've come, but also to show how far we still have to go.
Just a few years ago, I was doing military exercises in North Carolina, in the back woods areas near Morehead City & Camp LeJeune. There were billboards along the backroads, to recruit members into the Ku Klux Klan! SERIOUSLY! That's the REAL U.S. in many places that aren't the coddled north suburbs. What you're dealing with are soft, privileged, scared north shore doofii with neither the testicular or cranial apparatus to fully appreciate their ability to create insight and understanding through art. Frankly, their reality is firmly rooted in dollars and misplaced ideals.
Sadly, their sheltered, ignorant, and dangerously stupid policies are affecting a presentation that I'm certain would have been wonderful and possibly even brought about discussion and insight. Remember, education does not equate to smarts, and this is obviously pathetic situation. As an experienced producer and director, I've faced these same issues with local policy wonks and near-sighted sycophants. It's maddening and makes zero sense, but sometimes, it's a reality we have to face, especially when using publicly-owned facilities.
If I were you, I'd get the media involved in this discussion, pronto. I don't think you'll be saving your show, but it would raise an issue that is inherently correct, and that's the role of art to educate and prompt real discourse about difficult issues. You may just head off future censorship and do something that has lasting positive effects. Good luck with this dilemma.
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Re: N word fatal to Wilmette production

Postby gpatterson on Thu Jun 26, 2008 11:27 am

My first post here. I hope nobody minds my failure to concoct a clever anonymous nickname.
This action by WPD is a ridiculous, unnecessary tragedy. I have participated in two productions of "Big River", both presented by public institutions in public school auditoriums. This show is absolutely littered with "the word", which is used in much the same way my grandfather used it: as a casual description, not a hateful invective. While I don't endorse resuming such use, one could hardly gather from its use that Huck hates Jim. He surely reflects the common thought of the time, that black slaves are inferior to whites, but comes to realize the error of that thinking, which "just may be" the point of Twain's story.

In these two productions, if there was ever any thought of sanitizing the language, I never heard of it. To my knowledge, no cast members objected, and no audience members complained.

The word has come to be regarded as so offensive that we cannot even bear to write or hear it: the "n-word" -- sheesh! In so doing, we've endowed the word and its users with more power than either could ever deserve.
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Re: N word fatal to Wilmette production

Postby Jamey on Thu Jun 26, 2008 11:34 am

warbucks wrote:Didn't the Park District bother reading the show before they slotted it ? Personally I think censoring a show of this sort is absolutely ridiculous. MOS mounted a very fine production of "Ragtime" a few years ago. Though I wasn't involved in the production, I did see it and I honestly can't recall anything in the show that came off the least bit offensive.


The Lawyers didn't. Wasn't it Shakespeare, who said "first, get rid of the lawyers"?
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Re: N word fatal to Wilmette production

Postby pubgal121 on Thu Jun 26, 2008 11:48 am

I'm sickened by this.

Contact the ACLU. Whatever people may think of this organization, the ACLU will fight for civil liberties. This is a topic which I believe they will be interested in.

Ask the "Powers That Be" if a warning regarding language is enough to address the content concerns and bring the show back.
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Re: N word fatal to Wilmette production

Postby Alphadawg1 on Thu Jun 26, 2008 12:05 pm

Warning language is something I did as a compromise to our local government as well. We did a distinctly adult show that had a few rough scenes and graphic language. I had to change the phrase "Nigger-Bitch" to "Black Bitch," "faggot" to "fruitcake," and drop an f-bomb or three. Mind you, these words were uttered by a fictional character who was written as a total cretin, and the character got his come-uppance a scene later. Regardless, a phallically-challenged middle/lower manager with no capacity for nuance made an issue out of this and the resulting headache I endured was, in my view, completely unnecessary. As I addressed our audiences pre-show, I also carried a 24' x 30" poster disclaimer, and tongue firmly in cheek, informed our audience that they might hear a blue word or two. I went so far as to offer money back to anyone who didn't like the show. No one took me up on the offer. I think some tend to underestimate our audiences, and that's not something I like to do, nor do many of us on this board!
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Re: N word fatal to Wilmette production

Postby Sally on Thu Jun 26, 2008 12:17 pm

Not to diminish the gravity of the original post, but I have to address Jamey's quotation from Henry VI, Part 2 (actual line: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" IV, ii, 59). That line is taken from a comic scene, which lampoons rebellious villagers (they also sentence a man to death for knowing how to write his name) and is spoken by a comic character. It is really there to show the need for law and order -- though, of course, it's funny, and Shakepeare's dislike of attorney-types is fairly well established.

That being said, Shakespeare was also very firmly anti-censorship, so a plague upon the Wilmette Park District for screwing with such a wonderful and intelligent musical. I hope all will be well for you fine folk.

ps: my apologies to Jamey for seeming to call him out; I meant no disrespect! If I had a nickle for every time I heard that line in my former profession (guess what it was?), I'd be driving a much nicer car now.

--S
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Re: N word fatal to Wilmette production

Postby Cait on Thu Jun 26, 2008 12:25 pm

Wow! The power of the press! Just went to pioneerlocal.com to see the local news and there's a story about this already!

http://www.pioneerlocal.com/wilmette/ne ... s1.article
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Re: N word fatal to Wilmette production

Postby OverTheHillGuy on Thu Jun 26, 2008 12:32 pm

The problem is that this is an outdoor venue. While everyone sitting in the bowl and the bleachers would have tacitly agreed to accept the word in context, casual passersby would not have been given the opportunity.

This show should never have been approved for production in that location in the first place, which Park District Executive Director Tom Grisamore admitted. I expect a head or two to roll.

Meanwhile, what to do for the cast and crew? I hope and pray they find a venue.
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Re: N word fatal to Wilmette production

Postby pubgal121 on Thu Jun 26, 2008 12:37 pm

Amynameis:

If a new venue could be found, would your group be able to move the show to later dates, or are you locked into those dates, either by cast/crew availability, or by the licensing company?

Are you also looking for an outdoor venue, or would you be able to move inside?
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Re: N word fatal to Wilmette production

Postby Amynameis on Thu Jun 26, 2008 12:58 pm

Hi, pubgal! A lot of the cast met last night to discuss the situation. We don't necessarily need or want an outdoor venue. Regarding the dates, I'm not sure how that would work. Understandably, this cast signed on for three weekends in July. I think we're at risk for losing key people if we try to change that. However, we are certainly open to any possibilities that would allow even one performance of this production. Someone from the group is finding out whether the rights can be transferred or whether we'd have to start from scratch. Thanks for your concern and any ideas.
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Re: N word fatal to Wilmette production

Postby ow...My Eye on Thu Jun 26, 2008 1:02 pm

How ironic: a town that is notorious for its police force using racial profiling when making traffic stops to keep a certain race from crossing its borders would get PC all of a sudden. Life's funny sometimes.
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Re: N word fatal to Wilmette production

Postby LallybrochLass on Thu Jun 26, 2008 1:32 pm

We have already written the ACLU and most of the major papers. I also sent an email to Oprah, hoping her show would do a piece on us.

I am so heartsick - can't stop crying everytime I catch myself singing Ragtime in my head.

What makes me the most angry is how the Park District pretends that they were unaware until concerns over the language came to their attention. BS! The 'concerns' were an inquiry as to the correct language to use in the playbill to advise the audience of the harsh language and violence. And seriously, if a word is used 5 or 6 times in a production, how likely is it to be 'heard' by those not in the audience? I know the songs and music carry, but how well would the spoken lines be heard outside the Bowl? Anyone who heard the lines and then the music would recognize it was a musical production!!

This is probably more a knee-jerk reaction on the part of the Park District as they had some type of problem at the local ice rink recently about offensive lyrics in the music played. Totally a different situation.

Sorry, tears are running again. Gotta go. :cry:
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