27 March 2010

Freedom of speech protected only sometimes

Alright, I know I haven't blogged in ages, but man oh man do I ever have things to blog about right now! First, the stupid er, standard disclaimer to dissuade any comments that will end up deleted anyway. This is my blog. This is my opinion. This is my own little corner of the internet in which I can gripe and whine, bitch and moan, and throw all the text hissy-fits I want. This is my chance to tell the story as I see it, as I'm living it.

Everything started innocently enough. I'm on the cusp of my senior year in school, still a theater student, still happy as a clam spending my days in the classroom learning to do what I love and look forward to doing the rest of my life. This semester, I'm enrolled in Acting II and finally getting to do some acting. I snagged two roles in one of our one-acts and a small role in Major Barbara, the last main-stage play of the semester.

The one-act plays were intended to be a project for the advanced directing class. They were to be performed for free. The directors chose their own shows and paid royalties out of their own pockets to have these shows performed. Auditions were open to the community, as they always are, and we got a lot of interest which was excellent since the acting class only has a dozen students this semester. One of the plays selected is entitled Corpus Christi by Terrence Mcnally. The play in question, as I've understood, is set in 1950 Corpus Christi, Texas and follows the life and death of Joshua, a young gay man who passes on a message of love and acceptance for everyone. At the end of the play, he is crucified. Yes, his life parallels the life of Christ. His followers are all homosexual and all retain their Biblical names. Because I was not cast in the show and have not read the script, that is all I know.

Big shock - living in the Bible-belt, this show has been surrounded by controversy for the entire rehearsal process. I know the director. I know he is both a gay and a Christian. I know he had no agenda in choosing the first available production date (today) with it being so close to Easter. I know he is an intelligent man and I doubt he would've chosen Corpus Christi simply to rile people up. I genuinely believe his claim that he is passionate about the play and wanted to deliver the message of the work.

Some readers might notice I'm using the past tense a lot. Well, in the midst of the storm of controversy surrounding a single play, everybody continued rehearsing. In addition to Corpus Christi, the plays Road to Rome, Women of Lockerbie, and The Importance of Being Ernest were scheduled to perform. There was talk of protests from the community, which I recognize is their right. I'd also point out that 1. these plays were free admission and not at all a part of the theater department's regular season; they were only performing once 2. attendance to the plays was not required for anyone excluding, possibly, those in the directing class; as I am not enrolled in that class yet, I do not know. The audience size was severely restricted with only parents and spouses of cast members allowed. My guest list of eleven was narrowed down to four, then two as my grandparents would be unable to attend. The plays were moved to early morning instead of the afternoon, when they were originally scheduled. Then, last night at the technical/dress rehearsal, we were told our family members could only come to see the play we were in.

Five hours after leaving rehearsal, our last one, I was told by another cast member that the plays had been canceled completely. Ten or so hours before the first show was scheduled to go up, everything got canceled. Apparently, the call was made because of threats of violence against the actors, directors, and technicians, as well as against music students that had a jazz festival to perform. It too was canceled. With rumors of protest from groups that varied from local community Christians to the KKK and Black Panthers, I understand the concern. I understand the objections from people who have probably not read the play and can't seem to give any specific examples from the text of what it is that offends them against the play. Frankly. I'm not that small-minded. However, I do not understand why my school's newspaper would air their March 25 edition with the headline "The Show Must Go On," why the University President and Fine Arts department faculty would go on about protecting the students, allowing the play, protecting our own rights to free speech, for everything to be taken away from us. After a month long rehearsal process, which involved students from the community and the theater department, it was taken away...but there are still protesters in the parking lot outside the theater building. What are they objecting? The play got canceled. All the plays scheduled for today got canceled for good. They're protesting nothing!

In my mind, the fact that protesters are still allowed to gather while the theater students are not allowed to do what we're going to school for, what we're seeking careers in, what we love, speaks volumes about the school administration's view on the issue of "free speech."

The reason cited for the cancellation was safety and security for the students involved. So many threatening emails and calls were received by faculty members over a simple 45-minute play that there were worries over protecting the students. I can't, in all fairness, disagree with this, but those who caused the move to become necessary... Frankly, they sicken me. What ever happened to "judge not lest ye be judged," "love your neighbor as yourself," love the sinner hate the sin, etc.? Everyone involved in these shows, from Corpus Christi to The Importance of Being Ernest, is a human being who has lost their right to free speech so that the rights of protesters can be upheld. It's so refreshing to attend college and learn lessons like this. Free speech is only permitted so long as religion is untouched. Never knew it was that sacred. Thanks for setting me straight, Hicksville!

Had the shows not been canceled, I'd be taking my bow right about now.

UPDATE: Less than two dozen protesters turned up. To protest nothing. There were no signs or megaphones, no way to hear anything they were saying. Fifteen police cars were in the fine arts parking lot with barricades set up around the building. Inside of two hours, all of it was gone.
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