Banned Together: Theatres across country take stand against censorship

Video: Selections from “Banned Together.” Caution: Some song lyrics contain profanity. Video by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

Local actors present censored pieces to raise awareness around the ongoing issue of free expression in live theatre.

By John Moore
Senior Arts Journalist

GOLDEN — Miners Alley Playhouse joined a national coalition of theatres on Sept. 28 in presenting an informal evening of censored theatre pieces to raise awareness around the ongoing issue of free expression in live theatre.

“Censorship of theatrical work is not some medieval practice that we’ve left behind,” Ralph Sevush, Executive Director of the Dramatists Legal Defense Fund, said in a statement. “It continues to this day.”

Banned Together. Photo by John MooreAn array of acclaimed local actors came together in Golden to present songs and scenes from controversial plays and musicals ranging from Cabaret to Fun Home to Rent to Spring Awakening to The Laramie Project to Angels in America to The Vagina Monologues. Seven of the nine featured titles have been banned from being performed in school and community theatres specifically because they address the issue of homosexuality.

Banned Together: A Censorship Cabaret was held in 16 cities from Seattle to Baltimore between Sept. 24-30, also known as Banned Books Week in America. Each city followed a 40-page script provided by the sponsoring Dramatists Legal Defense Fund, a non-profit organization created by The Dramatists Guild to advocate for free expression in the dramatic arts. The script was compiled by the fund’s president, John Weidman (Anything Goes, Assassins).

“What is it that’s peculiar to a live performance onstage that drives reactionary, narrow-minded forces right around the bend, often at breakneck speed?” Weidman asks in his introduction. He quotes Edward Albee’s opinion that while movies are a passive theatregoing experience, live theatre is active, happening in the present tense — and that’s what makes it dangerous, depending on how people react to it.

(Story continues below the photo gallery)

Photo gallery: Banned Together in Golden

Banned Together 2017

Photos from ‘Banned Together: A Censorship Cabaret‘ Sept. 28 at Miners Alley Playhouse in Golden. To see more, hover your cursor over the image above and click the forward arrow that appears. Downloadable photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

Recent high-profile examples of theatrical censorship have included the election controversy in New York when Bank of America and Delta Airlines withdrew their funding to The Public Theatre for presenting a Julius Caesar who looked like Donald Trump. Soon after, 36 playwrights and other artists signed a petition demanding that the Lincoln Center cancel its production of To the End of the Land because the production received some funding from Israel’s Office of Cultural Affairs. Lincoln Center refused to cancel the show.

But by far, the most censorship of live theatre happens in schools across the country that try to tackle topics touching on sex, politics, race or religion.

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

The Director and Emcee of the program in Golden was Colorado Theatre Guild Lifetime Achievement winner Jim Hunt, who introduced each cutting with anecdotes covering how each piece has been challenged in various ways. For example, a church group in Maiden, N.C., lobbied the local school board to keep its high school thespians from staging John Cariani’s vignette comedy Almost, Maine, because it comically shows two men (literally) falling in love. (The students raised money to produce the play themselves off school grounds.)

The actors who performed the challenged and challenging scenes in Golden were Jimmy Bruenger, Sophie Dotson, Josh Hartwell, Steph Holmbo, Jim Hunt, Curtiss Johns, Abigail Kochevar, Len Matheo, Kristen Samu, Suzie Scott, Luke Sorge and Jim Walker. The Music Director was Mitch Samu. The local producer of the event was Hartwell, on behalf of the Dramatists Guild.

The program included two songs from the 2015 Tony Award-winning Best Musical Fun Home, which was a copacetic coincidence for the host theatre. Miners Alley Playhouse is one of three Colorado theatre companies that will be the first to present homegrown stagings of Alison Bechdel’s coming-of-age story next year. Cabaret exists as a warning against the dangers of Nazi-era propaganda and the death of individual thought, and the program also brought back to Miners Alley the star of its recent production to perform the pointed allegory “If You Could See Her.” The finale was an audience singalong of the Rent anthem, “Seasons of Love.”

Admission was free, with donations accepted for the Dramatists Legal Defense Fund. About $500 was raised.

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

Banned Together. Photo by John Moore

Banned Together: A Censorship Cabaret: Songs and Scenes

  • “Class” from Chicago, performed by Kristen Samu, Steph Holmbo and Mitch Samu
  • Scene from Almost, Maine, performed by Suzie Scott, Luke Sorge and Curtiss Johns
  • “Ring of Keys” from Fun Home, performed by Sophia Dotson and Mitch Samu
  • “Changing My Major” from Fun Home, performed by Abbey Kochevar and Mitch Samu
  • “Totally F*cked” from Spring Awakening, performed by Jimmy Bruenger and Mitch Samu
  • Scene from The Vagina Monologues, performed by Suzie Scott
  • Scene from The Laramie Project, performed by Luke Sorge and Josh Hartwell
  • “If You Could See Her” from Cabaret, performed by Jim Walker, Steph Holmbo and Mitch Samu
  • Scene from Angels in America, performed by Len Matheo and Josh Hartwell
  • “Seasons of Love” from Rent, performed by all
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