The cancellation of Point Park University’s theatrical production of “Parade,” which the Jewish Chronicle wrote about in the Jan. 3 issue, exemplifies our current disconnected society, serving up another helping of sadness, disappointment and despair.
University President Paul Hennigan is wrong when he says that the priority is the students. The priority is not the students, it is the education of the students.
These particular students may have come to the school with premade conclusions about a broad range of matters, and are maybe not yet open-minded enough to delve into the price to be paid by society for their opinions. They must be taught.
“Parade,” it seems (I have not yet seen it), not only addresses anti-Semitism, but also echoes the arrests and convictions (and deaths) of the many minority individuals who simply did not do the crimes. How will these students understand the subtleties of such matters, not to mention derive ways to stand against injustice, if they avoid the issues? Will they ever learn? Not if they don’t do the plays.
When I was a student majoring in theater, we were ready to produce anything from “The Mikado” to “Krapp’s Last Tape.” In presenting a play, we turn the singular voice of the playwright on the page into a collaborative interpretation expressing not only what is written but also what comes through those performing it in an immersive live experience unique with every performance.
During those years, we presented “The Merchant of Venice,” Shakespeare’s play in which a Jew is the title character. We didn’t hide from the controversy; we addressed it. Did the author write a real person? Did he write a stereotype? Did Shylock have a human side? Was he just grumbly because he had suffered so much loss? Those who are interpreting the play can collaboratively flesh out the words on the page as they find the meaning for themselves. We even questioned whether Shylock would wear tzitzit showing.
We also presented “The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd.” That musical would make a nice counterpoint (with a chance for multicultural casting) to “Parade” in a season. It also holds a timely message, and interestingly one of its songs has recently been a hit (“Feelin’ Good”).
In my years working in theater, I’ve seen an audience member try to censor the show before attending. I thought then and still think it wrong to say, in that instance, “Take the word ‘bastard’ out of ‘1776’ or I can’t take the middle-schoolers to see it.” Ben Franklin actually said the sentence quoted in the play, and ultimately the teacher did bring the students to the uncensored performance. The word did not make or break the experience, and the students learned a good deal about the human beings who created our country that they might have missed had that attempt at censorship succeeded.
This instance at Point Park, though, goes well beyond this sort of tight-tushy attitude toward a word. This is censorship based on misconception of what is “right” in society.
Censoring anything out of prejudice or hate masquerading as political correctness is part of a fatal descent through limiting art to the floral, making only happy movies, limiting news reporting, burning books, ostracization, segregation, torture and extermination. We know how this works, and we are in the middle of it once again around the world and right here. Shame on those students, and on their educators for permitting their ignorance to flourish.
If we must re-learn to appreciate art, then let us begin now. An artist’s job is to be a mirror, to reflect us back to ourselves. If we don’t take in the work, we cannot benefit.
Does the singer use an objectionable turn of phrase? Did the artist paint something hurtful? Did the author write a scathing indictment of the fashion industry with which you disagree? The answer is not to tell them to stop; the answer is to understand whether the artist wanted you to feel as you do, and what your next action as a human being should be.
Should George Carlin have made us feel uncomfortable? He thought so. Did we learn from it? Did it change us?
We are supposed to criticize art after we take it in, and not necessarily by criticizing the artist(s). We are
supposed to look at a work from all directions, interpret what might be shrouded or hidden, and understand and take away whatever message we derive. And then we should reinterpret it again and again through the years. (Sounds like the way we are taught to study our faith, too, doesn’t it?)
We do not get to delete the work; we may not break the mirror. Censorship only drives things underground, where a good idea dies and where a bad idea festers.
The very point of attending an arts university is to get a broad education in the arts. If these students want to major in theater, they had better learn to dig deep and find the meaning, application and relevance in any work they are presenting. And “no” is not an option.
Let’s help them learn the one lesson they might take away from this: how to navigate the public relations necessary to attempt to explain and apologize for a change of advertised season, rejection of a nationally acclaimed work and how their behavior compares with what we baby boomers did at their age (much as they may malign us), in being open to seeking the meaning of life. pjc
Audrey N. Glickman majored in and has worked professionally in theatrical production, as well as other fields. She has spent a lifetime among delightfully expressive artists, and is the author of “Pockets.”