Tag Archives: plays

KABOOM! Brandeis Cancels A Play About Political Correctness Because Students And Faculty Protested That It Wasn’t Politically Correct

I do want to thank Curmie, our esteemed drop-in commenter who is a drama teacher and chronicler of ethics outrages from the world of education, for ambushing me with this head-exploding story from Brandeis University. And my head had been doing so well.

Playwright Michael Weller had received a Creative Arts Award from Brandeis, and when he wrote a  a play, “Buyer Beware,” that satirized the political climate on U.S. campuses the University scheduled it to make its premiere there. The satire concerns a student who discovers the works of  iconic 50s era comedian Lenny Bruce, and attempts to stage a  production in the spirit of the taboo-challenging comic. The production offends  students affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as the Brandeis-like university, which worries that the controversy will offend a crucial donor. The script, channeling Bruce (think George Carlin but more abrasive, and not as funny) called for a white character to use “nigger” in several instances. The play quotes Bruce’s famous manifesto against strictures against mere words: “Imagine if we just kept saying these words over and over again, sooner or later they’d become meaningless noise.”

Without reading the script, it appears, so many students protested that Brandeis administrators, proving that their spines and principles were noodle-flexible, capitulated and cancelled the production, when the statements of the protesters should have made it obvious that such a play was desperately needed. For example, Andrew Childs is an Undergraduate Department Representative for the Theater Arts Department and a member of the season’s play selection committee, told the student newspaper,

“The issue we all have with it is that [Weller] is an older, straight…, able-bodied and white man. [ Wait! Isn’t it okay to be white?] It isn’t his place to be stirring the pot.”

What are they teaching at Brandeis? Only certain genders and races can “stir the pot”? Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics, Humor and Satire, Kaboom!

Is “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told” Being Produced By The Most Unethical Theater Company There Is?

Atlanta’s Out Front Theatre Company’s production of “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told”  opens on April 27, but Paul Rudnick’s 1998 silly comedy that recasts Bible stories with all gay characters is being protested as blasphemous. The outraged in this case is the conservative Catholic group America Needs Fatima, whose members are particularly offended by the spoof’s portrayal of the Virgin Mary as a lesbian. It has an online petition demanding that Out Front’s Artistic Director Paul Conroy cancel the production.

Sure. Like that’s going to happen.

“I fear God’s wrath will fall upon us if reparation is not made,” the hysterical screed concludes. Over 40,000 hysterics have signed it. Yes, I’m sure that God has nothing better to do than to punish humanity for a theatrical production of a 20 year-old comedy in Atlanta. The group then threatens to oppose the play “loudly, peacefully, and legally in as large a protest as we can help make possible” if the production goes forward. Idiocy, of course. Last I heard, nobody is forcing anyone to go to see the play, and the First Amendment is pretty clear about the ability of the law to censor performances based on content. The contention from the religious right in this case mirrors the Left’s fervent efforts at the moment to censor speakers they don’t agree with and “hate speech.”

If you don’t think that you will enjoy a play, the remedy is not to go see it. Simple as that. Trying to interfere with the production in any way, or to prevent those who want to see a production in which Adam and Eve become Adam and Steve, is unethical. It is also directly contrary to the principles the United States was founded to ensure.

Okay, that settles that.

Now about Out Front Theater Company….

Continue reading

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If You Know Anything About Ethics, You Don’t Even Ask These Questions, Because You Know The Answers Already

virtual reality

Darrell West, a Brookings scholar, believe it or not, queries, “What happens when virtual reality crosses into unethical territory?” It is the topic of his essay, but the question is self-answering. Virtual reality is, by definition, not real. Ethics is about determining right and wrong in reality, in interaction with real people, real consequences and real dilemmas in the real world.

West doesn’t seem to grasp that, and neither, according to him, does the playwright of a work being presented in my metaphorical back yard: Jennifer Haley, who authored “The Nether” playing at the Woolly Mammoth Theater in Washington, D.C. West tells us that Haley

“…explores the troubling questions that arise when the main character known as Papa uses advanced software to create a fantasy environment where adult clients molest young children and then kill them….  Should there be limits on human fantasies involving heinous thoughts? Do fantasies that remain in the private realm of someone’s brain warrant any rules or regulations by society as a whole?  Even if the bad behavior rests solely in one individual’s private thoughts, does that thinking pose a danger to other people? For example, there is some evidence that repeated exposure to pornography is associated with harmful conduct towards women and that it legitimizes violent attitudes and behaviors. Does that evidence mean we should worry about misogynistic or violent virtual reality experiences? Will these “games” make it more acceptable for people to engage in actual harmful behaviors?”

These are not troubling questions or even difficult questions, unless one is intrigued by the Orwellian offense of “thought crime.” Here, for the edification of West, Haley, those nascent brainwashers out there who find his ethically clueless essay thought-provoking of any thought other than: “How the hell did this guy get to be called a “scholar”?, let me provide quick and reassuring answers to West’s questions: Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Law & Law Enforcement, Rights, Science & Technology, U.S. Society

Ethics Dunce: Samuel French, Inc.

collage

A ridiculous and offensive example of misuse of legal process and interference with free speech was just flagged by self-exiled Ethics Alarms star, Barry “Ampersand” Deutsch on his blog.

In her one woman play Thatswhatshesaid, playwright Courtney Meaker cherry-picked lines from the female characters in the eleven most-produced plays of past theater season, according to one list, anyway. She mashed them up for effect, the effect being to show how “society forces women to conform to certain harmful and paradoxical gender stereotypes, and America’s most popular plays reflect those stereotypes. Playwrights perpetuate the patriarchy by creating roles for women that reduce them to one version or another of male fantasy or fear, and playhouses make sure those plays have a home.”

Okaaay, I think I’ll be passing on that one! Nevertheless, re-arranging bits and pieces of other copyrighted works to create a different work and message from any of the components is such a well-traveled and obvious tool of the modern arts that to say this play’s content is fair use, legal and ethical should be completely unnecessary. Collages that do this (see above) have been accepted as routine; musical works and videos too. Here’s a favorite of mine…

But law, ethics and art didn’t stop Samuel French, the theatrical publishing company which licenses some of the plays quoted in Thatswhatshesaid. The company  sent a last minute cease-and-desist notice right before a performance, demanding the play not be presented, and also left a threatening message on the voicemail of the show’s sole performer, Erin Pike, promising to “go after” her, “the presenter and the theater and all the folks connected to it.” Despite being warned by the theater not to defy the mighty French, Pike made sure her show went on anyway, like any good and courageous artist should.

What’s going on here? Continue reading

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The Greensboro College “It Stops Here” Ethics Train Wreck

Everybody’s unethical here.

As usual, however, it starts at the top.

It Stops HereGreensboro College in North Carolina  adopted a new policy on student sexual misconduct, and it requires all first year students to attend a performance of  a one hour play, “It Stops Here,” written and directed by student Michaela Richards, based upon “accounts of sexual assault submitted by survivors.”

Ethics Foul 1 (Greensboro): A female-authored play based on “survivors” accounts is a one-sided, biased and ideological work by its very nature. Do we know that the real incidents are being fairly represented, or would the claims of a “Mattress Girl” be included? Presumably proof of “sexual assault” is being validated by the infamous “Dear Colleague” letter from the Obama Administration that has led to multiple examples of male students being harshly punished in violation of basic due process principles.  It is entirely written from a woman’s/alleged victim’s point of view, and thus certain to be received as hostile and unfair by male students.

Ethics principles violated: Responsibility, honesty, fairness, competence.

Ethics Foul II (Greensboro): Using a work of fiction to inform students about a policy is incompetent. Fiction is always infused with the viewpoint, agendas and biases of the playwright; in this case, such a work is bound to be political. A sincere effort to instruct students on policy should have no political content at all.

Ethics principles violated: Abuse of power, responsibility, respect, competence.

Ethics Foul III: Forced viewing of a work of art isn’t instruction, but indoctrination. In a play, any audience member should have the option of walking out. This is especially true of a play written and performed by amateurs. “The student actors on stage are telling stories of an extremely sensitive nature that should be viewed in a respectful manner,” the president of the college said. “We expect no less of our students, who should know better than to make light of an extremely serious subject that affects us all.” WRONG. Forcing students to watch a play consisting of a slanted view of the sexual assault issue on campus is not respectful. It is, in fact, an insult and a provocation.

Ethics principles violated (Greensboro): Abuse of power, respect, fairness, prudence, regard for personal autonomy.

When people, especially young people and especially American young people who, thank heaven, are still imbued by the culture with a natural detestation of arrogant authority and the courage to defy it, are commanded to do something they shouldn’t be, like to watch an agitprop play, they tend to resist. They did, too:

Members of the audience frequently heckled the cast and shouted sexually explicit remarks.“Many of the boys started calling out ‘She wanted it, it’s not rape,’ and making masturbation noises,” stage manager Claire Sellers told a local news station. Sellers said the remarks were so excessive that cast members “became physically ill and vomited after the show because they were so vulgar.”

Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Rights

The Ethics From U.N.C.L.E.

U_N_C_L_E_-logo-symbol-The-Man-From-UNCLE-TV-show

There’s nothing that can be done about this, but I’m going to complain about it anyway.

When I was a sprout, one of my favorite TV shows, indeed among my top 20 shows of all time, was “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”  At least for its first few seasons—that balance between satire, intentional silliness, cool and plots worth paying attention to was hard to hold—the show simultaneously kidded the James Bond craze and delivered an hour of thrills and intrigue. It was a period piece, to be sure, of its time as much as “Perry Mason,” which is why, I assumed, that it wasn’t in syndication any more.

When I heard that it was getting the Hollywood reboot treatment, I knew what was in store, and it was. The movie, which came out last week, is an unremarkable meh, and the middling to sneering reviews, by people less than half my age and who never saw the original, are taking cheap shots at Robert Vaughn (the first Napoleon Solo) and David McCallum (the only Illya Kuyakin) and the original as if it were crap too.  As has happened so many times before, a careless and disrespectful movie exploiting all the good will created by an older work of art—yes, art, dammit—is burying its better model and has effectively poisoned it in the culture. Ultimately, the loss is ours. Continue reading

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“Worlds Are Colliding!” If You’d Like To Meet The Ethicist And Blogger, Come See “Twelve Angry Men” And Meet The Director

12show_men

I’ve now received sufficient inquiries from readers to justify the risk of colliding my worlds as a professional stage director, an ethicist and a blogger.

The final production of my quixotic theater company in Arlington, Virginia, “Twelve Angry Men” by Reginald Rose, is playing through August 8. After that, the American Century Theater closes its metaphorical curtains (we perform in a black box theater, in the round for this show) forevermore after 2o rewarding, daring, frustrating years. I know a lot of Ethics Alarms readers live in the Washington D.C, area, and I would love to meet you face to face for a change, which, if you come to a performance, is easy (though you have to let me know when—I don’t see every one.)

You can get information and make reservations here; there are some representative reviews of the show here and here.  Some background on the theater’s closing is here. I’ve written about some ethics issues in the movie (which is the script I directed for the stage) here, here and here.

For many reasons, this is as good a version of the story as you are ever likely to see, and in all honesty and modesty, that includes the classic movie. The script is better live on stage than on film (it is about all the jurors and the jury as a unit, not just Henry Fonda), it cannot be done justice on a proscenium stage; the cast is superb, and the director is a lawyer, an ethicist and a successful stage director who has studied the script for 30 years and directed it three times before to work the kinks out.

If you come, I’ll seat you myself.

Hope you can make it.

Update: You can hear a podcast, hosted by me, about the production here.

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