“When an artistic project maligns any faith group, that project clearly falls outside of our mission to highlight the good, the true, and the beautiful as they have been expressed throughout the ages.”
—William Spencer Reilly, the executive director of Manhattan’s Sheen Center, in an email announcing that it was cancelling an anti-censorship benefit event at its theater because the organizers refused to allow the Center to change a play’s title and redact the content of some speakers’ remarks.
Yes, a theater found an anti-censorship event unacceptable because it refused to submit to censorship.
Ethics Dunce is too kind for Mr. Reilly, though I suspect he is more likely a traitor to his art and profession because he wants to keep his job. He is, however, a strong candidate for Hypocrite of the Decade. He rents out the Center for a theatrical project to condemn censorship, and then attempts to censor the event.
There were two ethical courses open to him: either refuse to rent the space to the event, or rent the space, knowing its purpose, and leave the event alone. What he did instead was ludicrous, and indefensible.”The management of The Sheen Center actually suggested that we alter the title of Neil LaBute’s play, and alter the content of some of our panelist’s speeches,” said the artistic curator of “Playwrights for a Cause.” “Which we find completely out of line with the anti-censorship mission of the benefit.”
Ya think? Yes, I’d say that is res ipsa loquitur. Also indefensible was Reilly’s tortured interpretation of the Sheen Center Mission Statement, which is, admittedly, a pompous mess:
“The Sheen Center for Thought & Culture is a forum to highlight the true, the good, and the beautiful as they have been expressed throughout the ages. Cognizant of our creation in the image and likeness of God, the Sheen Center aspires to present the heights and depths of human expression in thought and culture, featuring humankind as fully alive. At the Sheen Center, we proclaim that life is worth living, especially when we seek to deepen, explore, challenge, and stimulate ourselves, Catholic* and non-Catholic alike, intellectually, artistically, and spiritually.”
What is true can only be sought by permitting and encouraging all ideas, expressions of ideas, and explorations of controversial and contentious ideas. What is good, as this blog proves daily, is much in dispute. Beauty, as it has been “expressed through the ages,” is a highly subjective concept. Thought cannot be encouraged by inhibiting thought, and culture requires the constant testing of boundaries, traditions and conventional wisdom, much of that testing administered by artists. We cannot possibly seek to deepen, explore, challenge, and stimulate ourselves, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, intellectually, artistically, and spiritually, if we try to stifle expression and ideas that make us uncomfortable.
The event, called “Playwrights for a Cause,” featured four new short plays about censorship in the arts, and was set to take place on June 14. The offending Neil LaBute play, written for the event, is about an actor asked to perform in an offensive satire: “The prophet ‘Mohammed’ stands on a barren stage, recalling the first time he made love to a white woman. Is this reality or a theatrical convention? Where do the lines between ‘satire’ and ‘censorship’ intersect or is nothing sacred when it comes to the theater?”
Apparently truth is best served by never finding out, or indeed asking the questions, according to Reilly’s circular and craven interpretation of the Sheen Center’s mission.
The irony is that it is the cancellation of the “Playwrights for a Cause” program that violates the mission, as well as the eternal mission of all the arts.
My guess: Reilly knows that as well as I do.
*NOTE: The Sheen Center, which opened last year, was funded by the Archdiocese of New York. It is named not for actor Martin Sheen, but in honor of former Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, whose theological musings went toe-to-toe with Uncle Miltie on live prime time TV in the 1950s.
Facts: New York Times