Tuesday, July 1, 2008

People who annoy you

Planning an outdoor theatre production? You might want to read that script before you start rehearsing with the sound system. As Playbill.com reports, a Chicago-area outdoor production of Ragtime was canceled when a park executive got worried about what might happen if non-audience-members in the park happened to hear a certain term broadcast through loudspeakers.
Playbill.com learned that a June 17 letter to the show's licensing agent, Music Theatre International, asked for changes in the script, and even included suggestions from Robert Bierie, performing arts supervisor of Wilmette Park District.
As you can imagine, the folks at MTI just loved that. In fact, I hear they're putting together a list of suggested improvements to the infrastructure of the Willmette Park District as we speak.

...Not surprisingly, permission was denied. My favorite part of the story is the reaction of Ragtime lyricist Lynn Ahrens:
"It seems to sum up the blind ignorance of people who sit busily cherry-picking bad words, while not even bothering to read the script they are producing to understand its ideas or the context in which these words are spoken. We authors have always said that if people were uncomfortable producing the show, they shouldn't produce it. We feel the language is accurate and honest in the context of the era, and important to preserve. That hasn't stopped Ragtime from being produced in numerous theatres, high schools and colleges, where the heads of these institutions don't underestimate the intelligence of their audiences, whether comprised of children or adults, nor feel the need to censor and protect them from their own national history."
Do you get the feeling Ahrens missed the part about the show being performed outdoors? And also the part about the hypothetical (perfectly intelligent but possibly underinformed) parkgoers who are not audience members? This isn't about censorship, or whitewashing history, or respecting an author's intentions. It might be about respecting the intelligence of the general public, but I don't think the park executives' concerns are totally unreasonable. What are they going to do, put up signs all over the grounds that say, "Attention: art in progress. Please ignore any provocative racial epithets you may hear being shouted as you and your children are enjoying an evening stroll"?

I think the horse Ahrens is on might be a little bit high, considering she's the woman who wrote the lyric "I was your wife/It never occurred [sic] to want more." And who rhymed "negroes" with "gazebos." Do you think the Willmette Park folks suggested some improvements for those lines too?

(Related on Restricted View: more fond Ragtime-ripping.)

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