Sunday, June 01, 2008

Hair and There

As often as I’ve derided the Times-Dispatch for its lackluster theater coverage in the past, I have to say I’ve been pretty impressed lately. By my recollection, for the last three weeks running the T-D has done a prominent theater-oriented story in their Sunday Arts section, including this week’s piece on “Charcoal Street” which is opening this coming weekend. One thing I think the story fails to mention is that “Charcoal Street” will move from Pine Camp to Dogwood Dell for an additional weekend’s worth of performances at the end of its run. Those kinds of changes of venue are always interesting to me from both a technical and an aesthetic point of view. Way back, I was involved in the move of a production of “Quilters” from the fairly intimate Shafer Street Theatre to the more spacious Empire. I always wondered whether it was quite as powerful in the big space.

The little CAT-Barksdale dustup seems to be working itself out via conciliatory / explanatory posts on the Barksdale Buzz blog, so I guess that’s good. I had a chat with a couple folks about it on Friday, one who commented that they would never have thought that, more than 30 freaking years after “Hair” played in Richmond (and almost exactly 40 years after the show opened on Broadway), that a show like “LDL” would have caused a stir. Perhaps after the current oldest generation of theater-goers (who were untrustworthy 30+ year olds when “Hair” first showed up) moves on we won’t be faced with these kinds of reactions? Call me tacky but I gotta hope it’s a possibility.

While I’m traversing on potentially tacky ground, I’d like to mention in passing something that has nothing directly to do with theater. I am both very excited and somewhat wary about the recent decision in California that will permit gay marriage to proceed, as well as the support of that development by New York’s Governor. I’m excited because I think it is an important step toward establishing this civil right for a consistently persecuted minority. I am wary because I know it will be the kind of divisive issue that some politicians will use to nefarious ends. But so it goes.

More to say but gotta hit the hay!


Andrew Hamm said...

Hey Dave,

Correct me if I'm wrong, but did you just essentially say, "I hope that older theatregoers with opinions different from mine die soon so everyone will have the same reaction to the kind of theatre I like?" It sure reads that way to me.

Nah, that can't possibly be what you meant, right? ;-)

Dave T said...

I didn't "essentially say" anything, Andrew. I said what I said and you can put whatever spin you would like on it. My statements spring from my frustration at living in a 21st century city that still holds on to significant aspects of its 19th century idiocy. And yeah, I want everyone to be and think EXACTLY like me because it is ALL about me.

I would add that theater has been full of sex and baudiness since your pal Bill Shakespeare's been writing but it seems to be some homosexual panic that sets some people into conniptions. Maybe if LDL was written in iambic pentameter people wouldn't have gotten so het up? I also think it's fine that some people find homosexuality offensive; I find their intolerance of a whole class of human beings offensive. So I guess we're even.

But I still find the fact that some people would go to a show clearly designated as full of material they might find offensive -- and then walk out and complain about it afterward --asinine.

Dave T said...

And another thing...

Some history here: my father was on the TheatreVirginia board back in the late 80s. My dad was a die-hard conservative, raised in Jesuit schools, died a Rush Limbaugh devotee. He quit the TVA board because they voted down staging a production with "offensive language" in it. As conservative as he was, I believe he understood that it was art's place to challenge people's perspectives as well as to reflect reality. He had no patience for intolerance.

That was his conservative take. My liberal take essentially boils down to this: People cuss, gay people exist, sex happens -- why do people have a problem with this?

Andrew Hamm said...


I concur with your father's conservative take on what art is for, as well as your liberal take. My radical moderate take is that nothing in today's America is more narrow-minded than insisting that everyone share your personal brand of open-mindedness. Diversity runs in all directions--including to the hard right.

You may disagree with the Hair-hating older conservative crowd, but they have a valuable and unique perspective on a lot of things, and if we younger and more liberal folks expect the more conservative people to listen to us, the least we can do is return the favor.

As for Shakespeare, we get complaints at Richmond Shakes quite frequently from patrons insisting that we've "added" sexual or other kinds of adult content.

Scott Wichmann said...

"Particular Brand of open-mindedness??" Umm, who is Dave trying to marginalize here, Andrew?? NOBODY. Is he advocating that people of an older Generation not be treated with respect and decency?? No, I don't think that's what he's saying at all. He just said it plain as day:

"I find their intolerance of a whole class of human beings offensive."

Hmm... Then you write back...

"and if we younger and more liberal folks expect the more conservative people to listen to us, the least we can do is return the favor."

When it comes to hearing from older generations on this issue, What should we listen to, exactly??
Somebody's personal Religious convictions telling G&L couples they are going to hell for being themselves?? A lecture on the social mores of the 1940's??

How about we ask for enlightenment on such other topics as: 'A woman's place is in the home'?? 'Chesterfield's are the cigarette brand doctors prefer'?? and 'Why old folks hate rap'??

My guess is, we may just get more vitriolic, old-school lectures about how "human morality is going down the toilet, and it's all Jack & Jack's fault." I Can't EVER have enough of that in my life.

I suppose we should have taken patient notice of the 'salient points' expressed by those who wanted to make sure Blacks and whites could never marry back in the day, too, no?? I'm sure we failed to take advantage of their 'Unique Perspective.' Perhaps there was something more to their position other than "It's an abomination." Too bad we all missed hearing it.

Correct me if I'm wrong, Andrew, but when it comes to same-sex couples and the types of vitriol spewed by the opposition to them, did I just hear you just 'essentially' say "be tolerant of others' intolerance??"

Yeah, I thought I heard that.

What two consenting adult people do in their home, as long as they are not infringing upon the rights of others, is nobody else's business. It has zero effect on my marriage if two men or two women decide to have a religious ceremony and express their commitment to one another publicly.

The right to own property jointly, to pass down estates and wills and to share a life together is nobody else's business. Certainly not mine. Yours, either. One should be able to transfer wealth to whomever one wants, and to have legally recognized domestic partnerships with whomever one wants. They have the right to--Dare I say-- A Gay Marriage??

They have it in Cali now, and my Beloved Tax-achussetts, and the rapture hasn't happened yet. Most people operate under the philosophy of "Mind your own damn business" I believe is the phrase...

Finally, the freedom to own property and to keep the Government from deciding for you just whom you can & can't build a prosperous American life with would seem to me-- at least on it's face-- to be a pretty conservative idea, no??

Andrew Hamm said...


Wow, it's been a long time since we've done this, brother...

I don't have a problem with Little Dog Laughed, and I'm glad Barksdale did it (though, for the record, I don't care for onstage nudity and I can't abide Hair). I actually agree with just about every word of your post. On the subject of gay marriage, I'm downright Libertarian; I'm all for the government providing civil unions to all consenting adults and getting out of the marriage business completely, leaving weddings for worship communities.

But I still cringe when I read Dave's initial post looking forward to the day when the older generation of theatregoers "moves on." I'm "calling it tacky," Dave, with all respect and love.

Yes, many older-generation conservatives have racist, sexist, and homophobic programming. It was part of their culture, sadly. But it doesn't constitute the entirety of their being or experience! We all have these people in our families; parents and grandparents, uncles and aunts. Do you stop loving them because they're a product of their culture? They've seen economic hardships and struggles that thirtysomethings like you and I can't dream of; they've seen seismic shifts in the culture of this country beyond our imagining; many of them fought in wars that make our current conflicts look like video games in comparison. And you know what? I bet they've had their minds changed on a lot of subjects that you and I take for granted.

You don't want to hear lectures on Bible-thumping morality from them? Well I promise they don't want to hear lectures on diversity and tolerance from you. So let's not lecture each other at all. Let's ask questions and listen to each other. Let's find common ground. Let's try to persuade instead of bludgeoning each other with rhetorical arguments.

Let's plant seeds of ideas in people's minds and give them permission to grow slowly instead of violently changing their perspective. These changes take years, decades, generations sometimes. Let's put on plays like LDL for an audience that may not be ready for it, knowing that some may not ever have their minds changed, but that some will.

The whole point of doing a challenging piece of theatre is to actually CHALLENGE the audience, and that means backlash is part of the equation. Bruce Cockburn once wrote, "Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight." I'm grateful for the people who buy tickets to my shows and write nasty letters about "I never want to see a cell phone in Shakespeare" or "Why did you have to add all that dirty stuff?" If I'm bothering someone, likely someone pretty conservative, in the audience, then I must be close to the bleeding edge I aspire to.

Scott Wichmann said...

Andrew, I never said that these people of different generations don't have valuable life experience and wisdom that we can learn from. We should respect all they have seen and done in their lives-- specifically those who rose up and fought against the tide of Nazi oppression and horror in perhaps the most historically important moment of all time. I also agree that we need to listen to the real, concrete concerns and fears of people everywhere.

But can't you see that when intolerance-- Biblically Charged or otherwise-- rears it's ugly head, it needs to be challenged, fiercely, right then and there?? Strongly saying to an entire conservative older generation "I'm sorry, but we cannot continue to treat these G&L men and women as second class citizens" is not a lecture, in my view. It's the TRUTH.

I mean, let's look back a bit. The entire mindset during the civil rights movement was "Come on, Black People-- Give these white folks time to digest all this stuff. Let them adjust to these incremental changes you're proposing. Let's move slowly. Don't shock them into the present, they've been through a lot."

If Civil Rights leaders listened to that load of hooey, (Yes, I said 'Hooey!!) nothing would have ever changed.

I think history has shown that People need their world view rocked every now and then by the courage of people who have the guts to say "Treat me like a human being, please."

(Funny enough, even in the Civil Rights movement, Bayard Rustin's important contribution was completely whitewashed-- because he was gay. Now there's some intolerance for you!!)

You just wrote "Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight.", but then you advise against pushing back too hard. I believe that one can fiercely challenge intolerance while still keeping a compassionate attitude towards those who seek to punish and condemn people they haven't even met.

I understand and can appreciate your point of view on the subject, and I take a great deal of inspiration from what you wrote about planting 'the seeds of ideas'... and I thank you for sharing your views... You're right, it has been awhile!!



Dave T said...

Scott took some of the words out of my mouth but I’ll try not to be redundant. I have increasing respect for older generations; as the saying goes, it’s amazing how much smarter my parents get as I get older. I totally agree that we should listen to and respect our elders, particularly in the realm of utilizing experience today to avoid the mistakes of the past.

But I don’t think the victims of intolerance should have to continue to suffer while the minds of people who think that homosexuality should be legislated against are changed. I have some very good friends who happen to be gay and who have had three darling daughters together. And they have had to redraw all of their estate, survivorship, custody, and medical decision-making documentation TWICE because of changes in the law and they are still not sure whether what they have will result in what they want because the new Virginia amendment hasn’t been challenged yet. This has been the cause of much cost and anxiety for them.

Should I tell them to relax and wait until generational change eventually turns the tide of intolerance in their favor? That’s a hard sell.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Scott and Dave, for being so tolerant and open-minded-you've certainly proclaimed it so loudly, and with so many historical references, that I'm convinced. Forgive me, though, if I get the impression that you want a litmus test before you let somebody into one of your productions.

I agree totally with the last three paragraphs of Andrew's 9:08 comment. Richmond theatre is not prosperous enough to choose its customers. If one wants to fight racism, sexism, and homophobia, railing against an RT-D letter to the editor or a few nasty comments isn't exactly storming the Bastille. Trashing the alleged small-mindedness of Richmond fails as a customer relations strategy.

Let art speak for itself. Most people have nuanced views on the hot button issues of the day, but they resent smug self-righteousness. You're never going to reach that letter writer in the RT-D, but you could reach a Christian person who didn't feel denigrated before he or she ever set foot in a show.

I wonder if this thread and others about "LDL" and "VR" would even be here if that offended RT-D letter writer had identified himself as a Muslim. I bet everyone would have looked away. Intolerance against Christians is the last intolerance that's widely accepted.

Andrew Hamm said...

Scott said, "I believe that one can fiercely challenge intolerance while still keeping a compassionate attitude towards those who seek to punish and condemn people they haven't even met."

I couldn't agree more; that's pretty much the gist of everything I've been trying to say. It is a perspective that is sorely lacking in our socio-political dialogue, on both sides. (That's actually one of the things that drives me crazy about Bruce Cockburn, actually; he has love and mercy for those he sees as oppressed, but nothing but vilification for those he sees as oppressors. There's only so much "Capitalism Is Satan" that I can stomach.)

Scott, I have some New England sport-themed presents for you next time we see each other.

Angelika HausFrauSki said...

We don't stop loving old people. We just don't listen to their crap about how the world is going to hell anymore. They have just as much a right to live, provided they let us be the morally bankrupt lust mongers that we want to be and stay quiet about it!

I kid.

But seriously, I do agree that the blanket term "Christians" is often used with an unfairly negative connotation. I think it would be more accurate to refer to them as "American Southern Fundamentalist Conservative Christian Hatemongers" than just "Christian."

I mean, *I'M* a Christian. And I'm about as open and chillax and accepting as any one human being can be expected to be. We Presbys are very come-as-you-are.


I don't think the Richmond theatre scene can afford not to pander to the wholesome tastes of the majority of its audiences, which really sucks, 'cause I'm bored as hell with a lot of the shows that get trudged out over and over again 'cause they may not be challenging, but asses will be in seats, by God!


In other news about naked people, you should all go see Reefer Madness at the Firehouse! There's naked people, homosexuality, murder, and lots and lots of drugs!! It's actually kind of one of my favorite musicals ever.

Scott Wichmann said...

Eraserhead, I'm sorry if I gave you the impression that there would be some sort of 'litmus test' for folks before attending a production of mine at any theatre. That would never, ever be the case. In fact, in all of my responses to this post, I don't think I even mentioned theatre once. I think everyone should come to the Theatre, and I've never said otherwise. I was merely commenting on the issue of G&L couples and their marginalization in society.

Also, don't presume that I wouldn't respond with equal force if the letter writer were a Muslim or a Jew or a Buddhist or a Sikh or a Hindu. I mean heck, There are Muslim countries where being gay or lesbian (or an apostate or an accused adulterer) gets one a death via public stoning-- Penalties that are far more barbaric than would ever be practiced here in the United States. It's horrible. The climate for alternative lifestyles in the US is still a virtual paradise compared to someplace like, say, Saudi Arabia.

Lastly, Christianity has nothing whatsoever to do with the issue at hand. However, when certain Christians drag their faith into the public square to justify the marginalization of a whole group of people, I'd say that those faith-based arguments are fair game. One cannot expect to loudly trumpet opposition to G&L people-- based solely on the tenets found in ancient religious texts-- and then expect those same religious tenets themselves to be above public criticism. And such public criticism isn't 'Intolerance against Christianity', it is what it is-- Criticism.

I hope to see you at the theatre sometime. Introduce yourself if the
opportunity arises-- I'd love to talk further with you about this.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Scott. I realize now that you were commenting well beyond any theatre issue at hand; I was still working through the flotsam of the hopefully long past Barksdale v. CAT case.

My real interest is why there isn't a larger audience for the "challenging" productions by the excellent theatre groups in Richmond. To me, the thread touched on some of the issues that might explain it.

I am embarassed that I have never seen you perform (although weren't you in that great Lottery commercial?). I'm looking forward to seeing you in "Richard." I'm a big fan of Henley and two of my favorite theatre people will be on stage with you--Dean Knight and Rebecca Muhleman. I will definitely try to meet you. Oh, I'm also a big fan of long distance running. Stay hydrated this summer!

Frank Creasy said...

As a morally bankrupt lust monger, Angie, I take GREAT umbrage at that remark!

Oops! Who said that?

Angelika HausFrauSki said...

Frank: It's a good way to be, in my humble opinion. :)